October 4, 2011

Banned Books Week reminds students of their freedom to read what they want

By Ryan Considine–

Banned Books Week was led by reference librarian Tocarra Porter and held at the University of Louisville’s Ekstrom Library from Sept. 26-28. The American Library Association hosts this event annually. “I put the Statue of Liberty up behind our display because our liberties that we have take precedence over any type of restriction, stifling our freedom of expression and freedom of speech,” Ms. Porter said, referring to the library display beaming with the beautiful red, white and blue colors of the American flag. The International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights Article states under Article 19 that “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”. Not only does this law hold internationally, but also the first amendment of the United States clearly states that we have the freedom of speech and the freedom of press.

But what exactly is freedom? “Freedom is the ability to read and write whatever you like, no matter what you learn, no matter what you do, it’s all about how you present yourself and how you record your history,” said Blaire Phillips, a sixth-year English major. So the question is, why are certain books “banned” or “challenged” if we have the freedom as human beings to publically express any idea we want, no matter how unorthodox or unruly it may seem? The government is not specifically banning books but rather smaller groups of concerned parents and religious groups like the American Family Association and the Christian Coalition of America. This year’s Banned Books Week includes many recently banned books, like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

In 2011, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” was republished by New South Books to replace the word “n—r” with “slave” because it was a better way to “express Twain’s ideas in the 21st century.” Twain explicitly wrote the book using this vulgar language to demonstrate how disgusting and inhumane slavery was during the Civil War period. He had a specific intention in writing the novel, and if he intended it to say “slave,” then that is how he would have written it. Huckleberry Finn is a quintessential book that has shaped American literary history and literature.

In addition to Huckleberry Finn, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was banned during the Civil War period because of its anti-slavery content. The book has recently been challenged by the NAACP for its “alleged racial portrayal of African Americans and the use of the ‘N’ word,” but the real underlying problem is the racist behavior that took place during the 1850s when it was being written. Anger should not be expressed towards Harriet Beecher Stowe for her publishing of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” but rather at the horrifying racial behavior that occurred during this time period. Imagine the book had never been published and the impact on American society we would’ve lost. The book was considered one of the main triggers of the Civil War, demonstrating to millions of Northerners in the United States how brutal and inhumane slavery was. Even Abraham Lincoln, upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, said, “So you’re the little lady that made this big war.” Envision where we would have been without this monumental milestone in history and how critical it was to the Emancipation Proclamation, one of America’s finest moments in history.

Besides being banned and challenged, books have also been burned throughout history. Madison Passafiume, a senior Sociology major, said, “Banning books is one step closer to burning books.” Madison was referring to the famous dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, a book in which an American society is forced to burn books. The burning of books dates back to 3rd century BC China in the Qin Dynasty and its history includes the destruction of the Library of Baghdad and the Library of Alexandria, the abolishing of Aztec codices and the Nazi book burnings of Jewish literature. Imagine how much irreplaceable knowledge we have already lost to our own destruction and feeble-mindedness. Banned Books Week causes us to ask important questions about literature and its place in our society. Do we really have to rid ourselves of the literature we have available to us as Americans just because it may seem offensive or obscene? Americans, as well as people all over the world, should have the liberty to shape their own realities through literature without any limitations.

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