Why ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Keeps Getting Banned

Why ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Keeps Getting Banned

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A school board’s decision to remove To Kill a Mockingbird from eighth grade curriculums in Biloxi, Mississippi, is the latest in a long line of attempts to ban the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee. Since its publication in 1960, the novel about a white lawyer’s defense of a black man against a false rape charge by a white woman has become one of the most frequently challenged books in the U.S.

According to James LaRue, director of American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, challenges to the book over the past century have usually cited the book’s strong language, discussion of sexuality and rape, and use of the n-word.

“The most current challenge to it is among the vaguest ones that I’ve ever heard,” he says. The Biloxi School Board “just says it ‘makes people uncomfortable.’” LaRue finds this argument unconvincing, contending “the whole point to classics is they challenge the way we think about things.”

One of the earliest and most prominent challenges was in Hanover County, Virginia, in 1966. In that instance, the school board said it would remove the book from county schools, citing the book’s theme of rape and the charge that the novel was “immoral.”

The board walked back its decision, however, after residents complained about it in letters to local papers. One of the most prominent critics of the decision was Lee herself, who wrote a letter to the editor of the Richmond News Leader. It began: “Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board’s activities, and what I’ve heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read.”

Into the 1970s and 1980s, school boards and parents continued to challenge the book for its “filthy” or “trashy” content and racial slurs. LaRue says that over time, attempts to ban the book shifted from removing it from school libraries, as was the case in Hanover, to removing the book from school curriculums, as is the case with Biloxi (the city will keep the book in school libraries).

LaRue disagrees with the recent decision, arguing that the book, though imperfect, can spark important discussions among students about racial tolerance—especially in light of the increased targeting of libraries. Over the last year, he says, there have been 36 reports of hate crimes in libraries.

These incidences, he says, “typically include vandalism. Someone is writing graffiti on a library wall, and very very often they are racial epithets and anti-Semitic comments.” In at least two of the hate crimes, perpetrators threatened Muslim women who wear the hijab. “In a couple of cases,” he says, “we had people that destroyed the Quran and ripped it up and shoved it in toilets, that sort of thing.”

Moving Beyond the Ban Discussion

Many have denounced Biloxi’s ban by citing, as LaRue does, the book’s message of racial tolerance. Still others have taken a slightly different approach. Writer Kristian Wilson argues that although the novel shouldn’t be banned from schools, its use as a teaching tool should be reassessed.

“Lee’s is not the best book to teach white kids about racism, because it grounds its narrative in the experiences of a white narrator and presents her father as the white savior,” she writes.

Atticus Finch, the father and lawyer at the center of the novel, received a lot of attention in 2015 when Lee’s only other novel, Go Set a Watchman, was controversially published several months before her 2016 death, at age 89. In the book, seen as something of a follow-up to To Kill a Mockingbird, the main character Scout is shocked to spy her father at a Ku Klux Klan meeting.

Though many readers were dismayed, scholars have long argued that if you read To Kill a Mockingbird from a racial justice perspective, it’s clear that Atticus’ defense of Tom Robinson, the black man wrongly accused of rape, doesn’t mean that he favors changing the status quo of segregation. And in fact, his sympathy for the KKK is already present in the first book.

“Way back about nineteen-twenty there was a [local chapter of the] Klan, but it was a political organization more than anything,” Atticus tells his children at one point. When asked if he is a radical, an implicit question about his commitment to civil rights, Atticus says he’s “about as radical as Cotton Tom Heflin”—a white supremacist senator and member of the KKK.

Again, this doesn’t mean that To Kill a Mockingbird shouldn’t be taught in schools. But it does suggest that teachers should encourage their students to think critically about Atticus, not just the men who oppose him.

Why ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Keeps Getting Banned - HISTORY

News that a Mississippi school district has banned To Kill a Mockingbird was both amusing and concerning. Amusing, because school districts have been banning the novel that takes on racial prejudice ever since it was published in 1960. Concerning, because the need for young people to read this book is just as compelling as it was nearly 60 years ago.

Mockingbird is on the Library of Congress list of America's most banned or challenged books, along with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, 1884 Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, Alfred C. Kinsey, 1948 The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger, 1951 The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X and Alex Haley, 1965 and The Words of Cesar Chavez, Cesar Chavez, 2002.

The Biloxi, Miss., school district that banned Mockingbird didn't give an official reason, but a school board member said: "There were some complaints about it. There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable, and we can teach the same lesson with other books."

That's a shame. Making people feel "uncomfortable" is never a good reason not to talk about a subject that isn't talked about enough. The book, according to the school district's website, was being read in an eighth-grade language arts class to teach adolescents that caring for others should not be dependent on race or education.

That's a good lesson for young people across America. But it has additional resonance in Biloxi, which is where Confederate President Jefferson Davis built Beauvoir, the mansion he made his home after the Civil War. I visited Beauvoir in 1994 while on an assignment for the Baltimore Sun, all the time thinking the traitorous Davis' postwar home should have been a federal prison.

My oldest brother, Anthony, was stationed in Biloxi while in the Air Force in the 1960s. He said he and other black airmen and soldiers were cautioned against going downtown because of racism. I made it a point when I was in Biloxi 30 years later to have a meal at the finest white-tablecloth restaurant in town.

As I recall, both the steak and the service were excellent. I thought Biloxi had come a long way. But today, Biloxi middle-school students are deemed too squeamish to read a book about racism.

The word nigger is used in Mockingbird, but not in a flippant or incendiary manner. Atticus Finch, the white lawyer who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman, explains to his young daughter why people were calling him a "nigger-lover."

"You aren't really a nigger-lover, then, are you?" Scout asks.

"I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody. I'm hard put, sometimes — baby, it's never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is it doesn't hurt you."

Lee became frustrated by the frequent banning of her book, and in 1966 wrote a letter to the Richmond News Leader to protest the newspaper's praise of the Hanover County, Va., school district for banning it. Her letter references George Orwell's 1949 novel, 1984, which depicts a land ruled by a government that never means what it says and never says what it means.

"Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that To Kill a Mockingbird spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners," said Lee's letter. "To hear that the novel is 'immoral' has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink."

I hoped to meet Lee at the 50 th anniversary of the publication of her Pulitzer Prize-winning book. I was a guest of the Alabama Humanities Foundation at the commemoration, which included an auction of inspirational art at Wynfield Estate, a stately manor near Montgomery. But Lee, long a recluse, played to character and didn't bother to show up.

I did have a lovely conversation with Mary Badham, who played Scout to Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch in the Academy Award-winning film based on the book. The movie was released in 1962. Badham, who played only a few other movie and TV roles, seemed almost as much an enigma as Lee, who died last year at age 89. Badham was quiet, reserved, with none of the airs one might expect of a Hollywood actress.

Reflecting on that day, and my disappointment in not getting to meet Lee, I can't help thinking that for all the progress this country has made in race relations since she wrote Mockingbird, it hasn't come far enough — and in some respects, it has gone backward.

Some literary experts believe Go Set a Watchman, released in 2015 as the long-lost sequel to Mockingbird, was really the first draft of Lee's seminal work, which was finally discovered after being missing for decades.

By several accounts, Lee was asked by her publishers to rewrite her first draft from the perspective of a child. That child became Scout, who didn't reveal all the character traits of her father in Mockingbird. That was left to the adult Scout in Watchman.

"What would happen if all the Negroes in the South were suddenly given full civil rights?" asked Atticus in Watchman. "Would you want your state governments run by people who don't know how to run 'em?"

It didn't surprise me that the Atticus Finch depicted in Watchman was not without prejudice. After all, the character was supposed to be a white man in 1930s Alabama. Many fans of Mockingbird, however, refused to accept that Atticus had flaws. They didn't want to read anything that destroyed the fantasy they had created.

That's where our nation is right now, with too many of us refusing to accept reality.

Even when people see grown men kneeling on a football field to protest racism, they refuse to believe that's what they're doing. They dismiss the protesters as unpatriotic flag haters to avoid admitting that the racial prejudice that fuels the football players' demonstrations does exist, and that pride in their country, which they want only to make better, unites the men linking arms.

In this twisted version of America where truth too frequently is put on the shelf because it makes people feel uncomfortable, you might be labeled a racist if you insist on bringing the subject up.

Instead of using books like Mockingbird to explain to children how racism works, we pretend they haven't already experienced it, in one way or the other.

Instead of admitting prejudice exists and confronting it, we find excuses to change the subject. Harper Lee's banned book doesn't let us do that, which is why more people should read it.

Harold Jackson (@harjerjac) is editorial page manager for Philadelphia Media Network.

Why Are Schools Still Banning 'To Kill a Mockingbird' in 2017?

If we keep avoiding our discomfort, we'll never heal.

In 1966, six years after the publication of "To Kill a Mockingbird," Alabama-born writer Harper Lee was informed, to her surprise, that her novel had been banned in a Hanover County school. "To Kill a Mockingbird," she learned, was considered "immoral" &mdash and therefore "improper" for young American students to read.

Her book was not alone: That year, the Virginia school board had decided to remove a number of texts from its classrooms, banning any material not approved by the State Board of Education. Despite the fact that it was not on the State Board&rsquos list at the time, Lee&rsquos novel, which revolved around the controversy of a white attorney defending a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in a small Alabama town in the 1930s, was deemed so offensive, that the school board unanimously called for its banning, anyway. Lee responded to the ruling by publishing a saucy, affronted letter in her local newspaper: "Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board&rsquos activities," she wrote, "and what I&rsquove heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read."

Throughout her life, Lee would see her novel challenged ad nauseam, and, despite the fact that "To Kill A Mockingbird" is far milder and less subversive than other iconic texts with similar themes (such as Richard Wright&rsquos "Native Son"), she came to simply expect the blowback. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is so mild, in fact, that it was once famously (and pejoratively) described as "a child&rsquos book" by Flannery O&rsquoConnor. The book rarely even mentions the controversy at its story&rsquos center: the fatal mistrial of a black man. When I first read it, I was surprised that so little of the work directly confronted race &mdash which made me even more surprised, then disappointed in a familiar, gray way, that it had been so frequently pulled from schools.

But nevertheless, the fact remains that this quiet, resonant novel by an unassuming white author is, to this day, too unsettling, simply too much, for many Americans to bear. Last month, in 2017, 51 years since the book was first banned, a school in Biloxi, Mississippi called for "To Kill a Mockingbird" to be removed from a class after parents complained that it made them "uncomfortable." The decision has since been overturned, but it still mirrors a larger American political failure: the way that some white Americans, across state and political lines, wish to avoid discussions about the reality of racial discrimination.

It is reflected in the way that we respond to police violence &mdash how, when an innocent black American is presumed guilty by a police officer, it is often at the cost of their life, and how we are told that they somehow deserved it, that it was merely to protect the cop. It is reflected in the way Black Lives Matter, simply by mentioning blackness, is described as dividing the country. It is reflected in the way that the news reports on inarguable racism, and how these stories are routinely dismissed by right-leaning groups as "race-baiting." It is reflected in the resurgence in visibility of pro-Confederacy groups, the mildest members of which avoid publicly mentioning race, but, instead, use more oblique epithets, arguing that slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War. It is reflected in the John Kellys of the world, who say, with a straight face, that it was merely "a lack of an ability to compromise." And it is reflected in their more overt, often Nazi-sympathizing cohorts, whose stentorian racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia are clear for all to see and hear.

In all of these, race &mdash blackness most of all &mdash feels threatening when visible, and, therefore, must be erased. And the simplest way to "erase" it is by not talking about it at all. As people of color, we are often advised to be silent. We are told to live in a color-blind Eden, and that we are greedy consumers of the forbidden if we bring up the fact that all is not perfect in the garden. That by acknowledging inequality, we wish to cast everyone out of a racial paradise and sow a permanent discord between one group and another. In other words, merely mentioning race is divisive &mdash because sound and visibility will shatter the illusion of racial utopia. Discomfort, like the kind felt by some Mississippi parents over "To Kill A Mockingbird," should be avoided at all costs.

This, of course, is deeply naïve. American history, like its present, is "uncomfortable." The discomfort touches all of us in this country, regardless of where we came from, or how we reached these shores. Admitting that there is a problem is how we begin to attempt to heal it. If we earnestly yearn to make this country better, we will have to accept &mdash rather than avoid or deny &mdash our many "uncomfortable" histories. Even if it&rsquos unlikely that we will ever be able to fully mend the red scar of racism, it is still possible that we try &mdash to live together, to find the easy-hard love that reassembles, to find the love that at least begins to heal. But we cannot do so by pretending there is no scar, that there is no smoking vermilion chasm beneath the veneer of color-blind perfection that so many Americans seem to wish to live behind.

Banning a book like "To Kill a Mockingbird" is symptomatic of a culture that wants to avoid the issue of race altogether. I understand this instinct &mdash this fear that some might have towards being open about an issue that lives deep in the heart. We want to avoid pain, to avoid new losses and new scars. But when you cast an issue off instead of confronting it &mdash this issue, perhaps, most of all &mdash you not only fail at becoming better, you also fail at love. Because sometimes, love requires accepting shame, accepting failure, and accepting culpability, distant and direct.

If we teach students and their parents that "To Kill a Mockingbird" is too uncomfortable to handle, how will they handle James Baldwin or Toni Morrison, Jamaica Kincaid or Frantz Fanon? How will they handle reality, if their teachers&rsquo actions suggest they can just turn away when America&rsquos racial reality becomes too uncomfortable?

"To Kill a Mockingbird" remains as relevant today as when it was published in 1960. One of its core themes &mdash the sometimes fatal presumption that black bodies are guilty before proven innocent, and the old idea of black bodies as sites of danger rather than desirability &mdash remains all too starkly, cruelly visible in 2017. It&rsquos hardly the strongest novel of its genre, but there is a reason so many readers have fallen in love with its world, which is anodyne on the surface, and abyssal and horrific beneath. This sense of uncomfortable horror, partly, is why some Americans &mdash some of whom are non-white &mdash have also wished to avoid reading it, to brush it under the rug of history, to forget its existence altogether. But if we have a serious desire to try to understand how past and present connect, cluster, and crash, it is important that we face everything, especially those things which make us most uncomfortable.

It is sad that Lee&rsquos novel is still being banned &mdash but what is much sadder is that its tale could easily, with almost no alterations, take place in this country today. That its tale does take place almost every day, in the books that rarely get written, but which exist all around us, in a language too many cannot bear to hear.

“Remember It’s a Sin to Kill a Mockingbird”: Loudon Teacher Pushes To Ban Classic Book Due To Its “White Savior”

We have previously discussed efforts to ban classic books, including To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Lee’s book has been banned in states from Mississippi to California. The work, which exposed the deep-seated racism in our society, has been denounced as “violent and oppressive for black students.” I have opposed such efforts. Now, Loudoun County teacher Andrea Weiskopf has publicly called for the book to be banned in my neighboring county of Loudon. The reason? The character Attitus Finch is white and therefore the book is nothing but a “white savior” tale that traumatizes black students. The remarks reflects a harmful but growing movement to ban such books in public schools. The attack on this book in particular has left many of us dismayed. As Atticus himself said “remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Weiskopf told the board that not only is this classic work harming students but that, if any member does not accept that premise, they should not be making any decisions on book selections.

ANDREA WEISKOPF: It’s funny how they are so afraid of having their children seeing another view of sexuality, gender or religion…If you want to talk about books that are assigned, let’s read To Kill a Mockingbird together. If you aren’t able to consider the racial trauma this assigned book causes black children with its white saviorism, then you have no business discussing any books.

Her diatribe reminds me of the observation in the book that “It’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.”

Weiskopf has become a flashpoint on both sides in the debate. She is unabashed in her activism. Her Twitter site features the quote from Lerone Bennett, Jr. that “an educator in a system of oppression is either a revolutionary or an oppressor.” She mocks the parents who appeared at the meeting to object to books with profane language and doubled down on her own position, declaring “Call me a Commie or a Marxist if you want, but I think working to form a more perfect Union makes me a patriotic American.”

Weiskopf added a suggestion that she has been told to be quiet by school officials:

Loudoun County Public Schools: We call for all staff to engage in the disruption and dismantling of white supremacy and systemic racism.

Me: Black lives matter! also

@LCPSOfficial: If you keep shouting, we’ll put a letter in your file.


My concern is that this movement is successful because board members and administrators are risk adverse. Rather than dealing with such dubious attacks on the book, they avoid the issue as quietly as possible.

In Fairfax county where I live, A Tale For Two Cities was removed as required reading in favor of a more diverse set of literature. Many students mocked and complained about the substituted readings as shallow and boring assignments. As a result, students lost the opportunity to read a riveting, classic work that is referenced in countless other works. It would have allowed for an engaging exploration of not just class struggles but historical events. Yet, it was replaced quietly by administrators to satisfy critics.

Lee’s book is a powerful indictment of racism and a glimpse into how it impacted the lives of this family. It uses the language of the time, including the n-word, in a raw and gut-wrenching account of how an innocent black man is lynched despite a lack of evidence against him. It is a tale of blind hate and rage in the South. It speaks to racism from the perspective of a privileged white family: “As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it…Whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.”

As a teenager, “To Kill A Mockingbird” was one of the most influential books in my life and contributed greatly to my interest in becoming a lawyer. I wanted to like Atticus Finch. Indeed, I often reference his character in classes with my law students, particularly the image of a lone lawyer standing in front of a jail in front of a lynch mob. He refused to move because to step to the side would be to walk away from what means to be a lawyer. The man in that jail, Tom Robinson, was his client. Whatever his race or his actions, he remained a man entitled to the protection of the rule of law. At that moment, the legal system was represented in a single man and the mob represented everything we stand against as lawyers. He could not step aside and still be a lawyer.

We cannot step aside as parents for much of the same reason. To do so would be to abandon what is essential in being a parent to yield to a mob of a different kind.

I welcomed public statements by people like Weiskopf precisely because it is public. These decisions are largely being made without public debate. In Missouri, Natalie Fallert, the 6-12 Literacy Speech Coordinator for the Rockwood School District, advised principals to go “old school” by being less transparent in changing the curriculum to add social justice and critical race elements.

This is a departure in that a board is faced with a public airing of the basis for banning a book and the views of the parents on such actions. Weiskopf and other activists want to emphasize what divides us and reject the notion from the book that “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” This is obviously one perspective of racism. It is clearly from the view of this white family, but it is an account of how racism inundated every aspect of our society.

In the end, Lee herself may have seen this coming when she wrote “People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.” That could make for a wonderfully intense and passionate discussion in class . . . if we let students read the book.

Banned Spotlight: To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird has a long history with censorship. It holds the seventh slot in the American Library Association’s top ten most challenged and banned books list for 2017, and it also appeared on the 2009 and 2011 lists. It has been challenged for the depiction of violence, offensive language, and racism.

To Kill a Mockingbird, which was published in 1960, is told from the perspective of 6-year-old Jean Louise Finch, whose father Atticus defends Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, in court during the Great Depression. Despite proving that Tom is innocent, the jury convicts him of the crime. The book explores themes of racial injustice, gender roles, and the loss of innocence. It has been a perennial bestseller since its release and won the Pulitzer Prize. It was also adapted into an Academy Award-winning film in 1962.

In 2017, To Kill a Mockingbird was removed mid-lesson from 8th grade classrooms in Biloxi, Mississippi, over complaints about language in the book, in particular the use of the N-word. The parent who filed the complaint was concerned about her daughter, who is black, and her classmates’ response to the book, which reportedly included laughter over the use of the slur. The complainant did not ask for the removal of the book, and the actions of school officials appeared to be in violation of the district’s materials reconsideration policy. The district maintained the act wasn’t censorship because the novel remained available in school libraries. After protest from free speech advocates, the book was restored to optional reading lists, but parental permission is required to read it.

In early 2018, To Kill a Mockingbird and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were removed from required reading in the Duluth, Minnesota, school district over the use of racial slurs. The removal wasn’t triggered by a specific challenge in this case, instead resulting from the accumulation of complaints over the course of several years. District teachers were not consulted in the decision. Free expression advocates protested the unilateral removal, calling on the district to include those best positioned to make decisions about educational content in future curricula review.

Find more of ALA OIF’s top ten challenged and banned lists here.

4 Comments On &ldquoBanned Spotlight: To Kill a Mockingbird&rdquo

Parents talk to their kids all the time about what values they want their children to have and explain that not everyone does or says the right things.
Some controversial subjects can best be explained in a novel which allows discussion and enables children to develop empathy for characters they can
“know” in the unique way of the novel.
Parents could be apprised of the curriculum and meet with the teachers and other parents in order to reach a decision best for their child. Non-inclusion
in a reading assignment poses its own problems: feeling left out and different,being ridiculed, etc. Not an easy solution.

‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ remains among top banned classical novels

“To Kill A Mockingbird,” considered one of the best novels of the 20th century, is also one of the most controversial. According to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, the Harper Lee novel is one of the most challenged and banned classical books. Many of these objections come from parents, school administrators or advocacy groups who contend that its racially and sexually-charged themes are inappropriate for young readers.

Chris Sergel, vice president of Dramatic Publishing, once acknowledged they receive many requests for specific words to be changed or removed, but they’re always denied them.

“Being uncomfortable with history is not means to change it,” he said. “People need to figure out how to confront issues.”

Most of the school and library challenges have been unsuccessful, but some managed to have the novel removed, even if only temporarily. Still, “To Kill A Mockingbird” remains banned in many classrooms and public libraries around the country and the world today.

Here is a look at some notable challenges of “To Kill A Mockingbird” over the decades since its release:

Challenged and temporarily banned in Eden Valley, Minn., for vulgar language.

Challenged in Vernon-Verona Sherrill School District (N.Y.) for content, called “filthy” and “trashy.”

Challenged in Warren, Ind., by black parents who felt it represented “institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature.”

Challenged in the Waukegan School District (Ill.) for use of racial slurs.

Challenged in Kansas City and Park Hill, Mo., middles schools for profanity and racial slurs.

Challenged by local NAACP & black parents of Casa Grande Elementary School District (Ariz.) for sexual and racial content.

Challenged in Santa Cruz, Calif., schools for racial content.

Banned in Southwood High School in Caddo Parish, La., for profanity and racial content.

Challenged in Moss Point (Miss.) School District for racial slurs.

Banned in Lindale, Texas, for content that “conflicted with the values of the community.”

Challenged by a Glynn County School Board (Ga.) member because of profanity.

Challenged at Muskogee High School (Okla.) for use of racial slurs.

Challenged at Normal Community High School (Ill.) for racial slurs and content.

Challenged at Stanford Middle School in Durham, N.C., for use of racial slurs.

Challenged at Brentwood Middle School (Tenn.) for profanity, racial slurs and sexual content.

Challenged by residents of Cherry Hill, N.J., for racial slurs and content. Challenged rejected by board of education.

Banned in St. Edmund Campion Secondary School in Brampton, Ont., for use of racial slurs.

A student at Colleyville Heritage High School in Texas was given an alternate book assignment when parents challenged the novel’s use for racial and political content.

Plaquemines Parish School Board in Belle Chasse, La., lifts a 12-year ban on the novel.

Source: American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom

Left: Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird" is one of the most challenged and banned classical novels. Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

Why ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Keeps Getting Banned - HISTORY

To Kill a Mockingbird is the the most popular novel taught in high schools in North America. In my high school it has been taught since the 1970’s, but around 12 years ago, we had to make the decision to either invest in new copies of the book or to try something else. We decided to drop it because we had had a few students refuse to read the novel because of the “n” word and because we weren’t sure that it was the right novel for grade 9, which is where it is most commonly taught. Twelve years later we decided to reintroduce it on a trial basis in grade 10 because we were about the only school in the board that was not teaching it. Having taught it now, off and on, for over 30 years to different generations of students, here are my thoughts:

5 reasons to teach it

1. It is about discrimination, racism, cruelty and growing up-all topics that teenagers connect with.

2. It is well-written and has a pleasing, somewhat circular plot. I suspect Harper Lee had read a fair amount of Dickens and Alexandre Dumas.

3. The characters are archetypal. We love the wise father, the pitiable monster, the villain etc.

4. The narrator, Scout, is a delight. She has an ironic view of life but at the same time, is innocent. She is also a strong female role model.

5. Written at the time of the civil rights movement but set in an earlier time period, it reflects an important part of American history and exposes practices that young people may not be familiar with.

6 reasons to not teach it

1. It has an old-fashioned writing style and the vocabulary is very sophisticated. There is nothing wrong with students learning new words but it may also prevent a lot of students from understanding and connecting with the novel. The first chapter alone has at least 20 uncommon and archaic words like “flivver” “beadle” “unsullied”.

2. The characters are stereotypes especially Atticus, Bob Ewell and Tom Robinson.

3. It is about racism seen through the eyes of a white person trying not to offend too many people in 1960. In spite of the storyline, it really doesn’t expose the ugliness of racism and of the world that she describes. It’s all very benign even though Tom Robinson dies. Today’s student is used to a harsher view from both the media and their own experience. They understand what happens but don’t necessarily connect with it because it is sugar-coated in the story.

4. The book was written for adults not teenagers. We see the world through the eyes of a wise child looking back at the events. Many of my students do not see the irony in her voice because they lack either the background knowledge to recognize the references or they are not mature enough readers to appreciate it. If it has to be explained a lot, there is something missing for the reader.

5. The movie version, though dated, is very true to the novel . How many of our students have “watched” the novel and read only pieces of it? In the same vein, there is a plethora of summaries etc. available online to boost the students’ understanding.

6. Finally, there is the ongoing attack that has been leveled at the novel: Atticus, the great white father etc. This is really like # 3 but from a more scholarly perspective. There are many critics of the novel and their points cannot be ignored.

I have tried to give a balanced view of the novel here. Ultimately, I believe the following:

It no longer has the power it did 30 years ago. My students will say that they liked the book but were disappointed because it is so famous that they expected something else.

It should not be taught at grade 9 or 10 because it is very sophisticated in its style.

In 1960, it was ground-breaking. Not so today, there are thousands of novels that deal with the same topics in more contemporary ways. Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes is a good example.

I want my students to actually read their texts not pretend to read. The plot is not compelling enough for a lot of boys who on their own read graphic novels and comic books. If we want them to read literature we have to give them stories with more action.

Teachers have to reflect on the value of what they are teaching. Too many teachers love things because of their wonderful lesson plans or their own nostalgia for a text. There is too much of that going on in your average English class and it is not keeping pace with our ever-changing generations.

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Should To Kill a Mockingbird Be Banned?

To Kill a Mockingbird has widely been criticized for the themes and language used in the book, but many believe it should still be read. Some want to ban To Kill a Mockingbird because of the racism, but the book actually denounces racism and prejudice. An example of this is when Atticus tells Scout that he hopes he can get his kids through the case without them "catching Maycomb's usual disease", implying that Maycomb’s people are overcome with racism. Also, the book shows us both sides of racism. While the book mainly supports the people against racism, it also tells us why some people are prejudice against other races.

This story has been put on the National Education Association’s list of titles receiving the most complaints from private organizations in 1968, and 4 of 5 students in one classroom said that the book is hard to read and comprehend. It also ranks at number 21 of 100 books most frequently challenged of 2000-2009. This has happened because people don’t understand the academic value of this book, let alone the moral value, which they definitely don’t see. Parents see words that they don’t want their kids to repeat and automatically don’t want them to read it, no matter how great the book is otherwise.

Then there is the historical and academic aspect of To Kill a Mockingbird, which is priceless because it shows the views of various people from that time. Although it uses what most consider inappropriate words, it uses words that people would have used in that time. Also, the writing, such as sentence structure and vocabulary, is a great example for students.

Some people would like to ban To Kill a Mockingbird from schools, but they should carefully rethink that. This book is valuable because it teaches students about racism, which is a very real thing in society. It also teaches about the history of the era and authentically shows how they lived, although it was cruel at times.

Should “To Kill a Mockingbird” be banned from schools?

Discrimination. An act or instance of discriminating or of making a distinction. Harper Lee’s novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, was written during a time in which this was acceptable. The Racial Slurs written in the authors one and only novel were not meant to discriminate, but to inform. Without the Racial Slurs and Slang used in the text, the time and setting would not be as obvious. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is full of authentic words. Some of these ‘replacement’ words used in other books with similar situations use unfit terms as well.

Many agree that taking away these words would change the lovely southern charm the book possesses and constantly displays. The book takes place in the 1930’s in Alabama. The 1930’s was a time of great American Depression due to the stock market crash in 1929. This time and setting was also before the civil rights movement began to bloom. Due to Jim Crow Laws that were very common in the South after the Civil War, Discrimination was not viewed as a negative thing.

Although it is unfortunate and is not the case today, given the context and timing of the book it would be more incorrect and untrue if the publishing company were to remove the slang and racial slurs from the original version. In the book ‘Huckleberry Finn’ the publishing company decided that the racial slurs and terms that are now seen as racist and un-politically correct, should be removed so that the school boards could permit students to read them. In these books they removed racial slurs such as ‘negro’ and changed them into ‘slave’.

This should not be done to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, because the term ‘Slave’ used in addressing an African American, would be just as if you were to call someone who is Caucasian a ‘Slave owner’. These African Americans could or could not be descendants of slaves, and these Caucasians could or could not have slave owner lineage. Therefore, substitute words that are common in replacing racial slurs are just as un-politically correct as the terms they would replace.

People of all ages, social standing, and nationalities all over the world have read the remarkable novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Removing the slang and slurs would take away form not only the book itself but also the underlying meanings incorporated in the book. The text of the novel would lose its authenticity expressed in the original version of the book. In a way, the generations who would read the ‘revised’ books would be reading a different book than that of their elders. To Kill a Mockingbird’ is one of the most celebrated book in history, and removing the terms would take away from it, the book would not be the same without slang and slurs. Education. Many people first read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in school or for a project. If the slang and Racial Slurs were to be removed, from a student’s stand point, it would be much harder to analyze and review. Certain key points Harper Lee makes in the novel would not be as obvious as they are with the slang. Overall it would not be as easy to decipher and find the true meanings of the text.

Also, the quotes and important hidden meanings in the book would not be as obvious, and therefore not as recognized and acknowledged as they are currently. “Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts. ” –Harper Lee ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. It’s not just racial injustice and discrimination that are highlighted in this novel, but also the Gender, Social, Economic, and age discrimination. In general the theme of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, is Discrimination and acceptance. If not for these certain words as stated in the book, the novel would not be as recognized or celebrated. To Kill a Mockingbird’ reminds us all of the rough times African Americans went through before the time of equality and civil rights, and the slurs and slang written by Harper Lee were not intended to hurt anyone. So, at the end of it all, its better just to keep these words and sayings than to remove them. For removing them from the novel would make the novel lose its authenticity, tradition and not give the reader correct insight on the plot and setting in which Harper Lee intended to have her novel based on.

Watch the video: To Kill a Mockingbird Audiobook


  1. Breac

    Quick Answer, a sign of comprehensibility)

  2. Ruford

    No I can't tell you.

  3. Akinogor

    The author noted everything very aptly

  4. Saadya

    You write well! Continue in the same spirit

  5. Jubei

    I congratulate, a brilliant idea

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