Banned Books Week – The Top 5

Books have been challenged since the early days of the 20th century. Even in 2009, many books continue to be challenged because people find the content offensive. In honor of Banned Books Week, here is a list of some classics that have been banned. These are the top five novels off of the “Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century” that have been banned and/or challenged throughout the last century. Some are still challenged and banned today.

  1.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldBook summary from “Jay Gatsby is the man who has everything. But one thing will always be out of his reach. Everybody who is anybody is seen at his glittering parties. Day and night his Long Island mansion buzzes with bright young things drinking, dancing and debating his mysterious character. For Gatsby – young, handsome, fabulously rich – always seems alone in the crowd, watching and waiting, though no one knows what for. Beneath the shimmering surface of his life he is hiding a secret: a silent longing that can never be fulfilled. And soon this destructive obsession will force his world to unravel.”

    Reason for banning: A Baptist College in Charleston, S.C., banned it in 1987 because of language and sexual reference.

  2.  The Cathcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger 

    Reason for banning: Attempts have been made to ban this coming of age story since1960. These attempts were made based on obscene language and situations, excessive vulgar language, and sexual scenes. This book is still challenged and sometimes banned today for these reasons.

    Book summary from Books: “Superficially the story of a young man’s expulsion from yet another school, The Catcher in the Rye is in fact a perceptive study of one individual’s understanding of his human condition. Holden Caulfield, a teenager growing up in 1950s New York, has been expelled from school for poor achievement once again. In an attempt to deal with this he leaves school a few days prior to the end of term, and goes to New York to ‘take a vacation’ before returning to his parents’ inevitable wrath. Told as a monologue, the book describes Holden’s thoughts and activities over these few days, during which he describes a developing nervous breakdown, symptomised by his bouts of unexplained depression, impulsive spending and generally odd, erratic behaviour, prior to his eventual nervous collapse.”

  3.  The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck 

    Reason for banning: This has been challenged since being published in 1939. It was banned for reasons such as vulgar language, using God and Jesus’ name in a profane manner, and inappropriate sexual references.

    Book summary from “Shocking and controversial when it was first published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer prize-winning epic remains his undisputed masterpiece. Set against the background of Dust Bowl Oklahoma and Californian migrant life, it tells of the Joad family who, like thousands of others, are forced to travel west in search of the Promised Land. Their story is one of false hopes, thwarted desires and broken dreams. Out of their suffering Steinbeck created a drama that is intensely human, yet majestic in its scale and moral vision; an eloquent tribute to the endurance and dignity of the human spirit.”

  4.  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 

    Reason for banning: This novel was first banned in Eden Valley, Minn, in 1977 for its use of “damn” and “whore lady.” Other places banned the books because they claimed it was trashy or represented institutionalized racism. It was also banned due to its profanity and racial slurs. It was recently banned in Cherry Hill, N.J. because people feared the race relations in the novel would upset children.

    Book summary from “Set in the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus–three years punctuated by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman. Though her story explores big themes, Harper Lee chooses to tell it through the eyes of a child. The result is a tough and tender novel of race, class, justice, and the pain of growing up.”

  5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker 

    Reason for banning: This book has been challenged and banned since 1984, and continues to be challenged and banned today. It has been banned based on its sexual explicitness and its portrayal of homosexuality and rape, as well as its ideas about race relations.

    Book summary from Google Books: “Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to “Mister,” a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister’s letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self.”

 For more information about Banned Books Week, go to and click on the “Issues and Advocacy” link on the left. Then click on “Banned and Challenged Books.” Also, check back next week for information about books that were banned in 2008-2009. Some of these are more modern books, while others are classics that continue to be challenged and banned.

*Information on Banned Book Week and the books taken from, unless otherwise cited.



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