By Joe Rector
Yes, I admit that my profession for 30 years was spent teaching English to high school students. During that time in the classroom, I enjoyed the students and especially stressed writing and grammar. My strengths were grounded in those areas. I also presented literature and found that the right kind of presentations of pieces can have lasting effects on students. Recently, I came across a picture of a stack of familiar books. To my shock, anger and disgust, I read the caption to discover these books have been banned in some schools. What is wrong with people?
I required some students to read “The Scarlet Letter” by Hawthorne. The book details the life of a woman who had a child out of wedlock. The father was the community minister. Hawthorne’s use of the red letter is one of the best examples of symbolism in literature. In addition, character development is excellently crafted in the book. Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale captivate readers and bring on a range of emotions.
This classic presents the weaknesses of humans. It also includes the psychological damages that befall the three main characters as they go through life. The mood of the book is not bright and sunny; no happy ending comes. In too many cases in this world, the events and outcomes mirror those of so many lives today.
What objections could people have for this book? Although it was written long ago, its relevance for today can be seen through the hypocrisy of the community, the damage to outcast children, and the results of a religion that fails to forgive.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” sits atop the picture of banned books. Most folks of my generation have either read the book or watched the movie that starred Gregory Peck. Set in Alabama during the Depression, the book tells of a Black man’s unjust conviction of the rape of a white woman. He is represented by a white attorney who becomes the target of hate and mistreatment by his community. His children are caught in middle of the hatred, and son Jem is harmed by an extremist as he protects his sister Scout. Their father Atticus loses his case but gains the respect of the Black community for his dedication to his client, Tom Robinson.
Some folks with too little to do find some of the language objectionable. The words “damn” and (the N-word) are used. Some declare the storyline is too far removed from the reality of life in the south during that time. I can only counter that the offensive words are still in use today. That doesn’t make them right, but removing something that accurately describes the reality of the time is essential in changing today’s world. Perhaps having Atticus serving as a hero is not an adequate portrayal of a white man during that time, but it works for the story. By the way, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a work of fiction but it sure sounds familiar in today’s world.
George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “Nineteen EIghty-Four” are books that should be read by every person in this country. Both tells stories of governments that control the citizens through lying, brainwashing, and monitoring. During the divisive times the U.S. is experiencing right now, citizens can become aware of the potential dangers of government by reading the events of the books. Some might be shocked by how similar our situations are to those about which Orwell wrote in 1949.
Special interest groups with complaints should never rule what books are read in schools. Acclaimed classics are deemed excellent literature because they usually teach lessons for an entire society or the world. To say “no” to a book because of a few offensive words or a morally questionable act by characters shows the ignorance of those objectors. Today’s people can learn much about how they should live life by opening their minds to ideas books present. If we don’t, our world will become the one that is the same one that “Fahrenheit 451” describes. Don’t be afraid. Knowledge comes from Reading.