Censorship Theme: Sexuality – 1


Sexuality is a common theme among many works of literature. It depends on the individual when deciding if he/she finds a work too sexually explicit. In the cases of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky or The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger there has been much debate on the theme of sexuality being too present for younger readers. Both these books have been challenged and in some cases banned from various high schools across the United States. Some of those for the ban believe they are preserving the innocence of America’s youth by not allowing their minds to be exposed to such racy themes. Some of those on the other side argue that the reader should have full discretion on how he/she reacts to the literature. There are also those that believe a piece of written work is intended to be a medium for which the writer to express his/her ideas and emotions uncensored to the reader.

Sexuality Theme Reflection Paper

            There is no doubt that sexuality has long been a topic of note vastly throughout humanity no matter where in the world. The spectrum of sexuality can span from time honored tradition to sacred ritual and for some, societal taboo. I would not consider myself especially in the know when it comes to censorship in literature, or censorship of any kind for that matter.  Before I started this class, I really was oblivious to the various policies and oppression of writers and other creative minds alike. I knew that other countries had it worse when it came to governmental control, but I was ignorant to the scope of which some regimes spanned.

I have a certain set of personal views, opinions, ethics, and morals. Though, my blindness could be attributed to the fact that I was born in the United States where I experienced very little censorship to my knowledge. I never gave much thought to the media coverage of foreign countries growing up, nor did I follow politics even within my own nation until as of late. I was not raised in a religious environment either, so religion was never a controversial topic to me. I knew many people who cared a great deal about their faith, but it has always had little concern to me. Now that my eyes are open to the turmoil many people face, I am in awe at the controversy something as simple as a piece of literature can cause.

One target I have found to be infamously of controversial is the theme of sex and sexuality. Many parents throughout the United States have petitioned to school boards to ban books that they feel are obscene. For some I think the very topic of sex and sexuality is enough for them to deem it unfit in a school setting. Perhaps they find it uncomfortable that teenagers will be reading sexually explicit passages. They may find it dangerous due to the thought of youths deciding to try said acts themselves. In regard to one frequently challenged book, Christine Spines says, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower has been targeted for censorship by concerned parents groups and cultural conservatives for its “sexual situations and gay-positive themes” since shortly after it was first published in 1999.”(1) This particular book by Stephen Chbosky has been a title in the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged books since its release in 1999. The reasoning is mainly due to the themes which include teenage sex, homosexuality, and bestiality. I have not read this book, but I have heard the title, and I know there is a film based on the book that came out in 2012. In most cases it is my opinion that the publicity any controversy receives also provides an opportunity for capitalistic gains. The movie was a box office success, despite the book being banned in several schools across the country.

So one question I have is: what causes parents and school boards worried about books of this nature? I think it would be unfair to label these individuals as conservative, although many probably have according to at least the standards of my environment near urban areas of Illinois such as Chicago. I believe challenges on sexually explicit literature will become scarce as time goes forth. Nowadays obscenities are a common fare in media. Movies and television in particular have become more and more explicit in the production and portrayal of sexuality. Television shows such as Spartacus or Game of Thrones are perfect examples of sexuality, violence, and obscenity in general.  Television shows like these could very well have been considered borderline pornographic years ago. Spartacus, while being very graphic and risqué, is also fairly historically accurate given it is not an educational production. It depicts how Roman society was around 70 BC. Such a rather obscene television series is something many individuals are exposed to on a daily basis just for entertainment purposes. There does not seem to be any controversy around these types of television shows. While I understand high school teachers are not showing these series in classrooms around the United States, I believe these types of sexually explicit television shows display obscenities in a more vivid way literature may. Literature can be a potent form of conveying emotions and ideas. Unless it is a blatant form of propaganda or a purposeful ruse to cause controversy, I think literature should be a medium to disseminate a writer’s ideas and emotions uncensored to the reader.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger is among the most banned books in America. One reason why it has been so widely challenged is due to its sexual references and promiscuity. While there are some certain sexual themes, including prostitution, it is rather off putting to think that a portion of the public find Salinger’s work offensive. While some parts of the story are arguably not ideal for teenagers, June Edwards argues that the main character, Holden Caulfield, actually is a considerate guy when it comes to the dealings with women in the book. Edwards defends Holden by stating, “Holden upholds femininity to its highest standard, treating his girlfriends and complete strangers as if they are his own sister.” (3) So while in fact there are some mature situations, the character reacts in such a way as to preserve healthy morals. In the 1960s shortly after it was published, I can imagine society was a bit different. A teacher in the 60s was the first victim of contention after being fired for implementing it as an assigned reading to class. The idea of exposing students to these carnal themes would very well be concerning to many back then. Yet The Catcher in the Rye made the ALA’s list of frequently challenged books in 2009.

Realizing I have merely scratched the surface of the heated world of controversy in literature, there simply is no tangible solution. When a book is banned and a controversial debate is started, parties will always favor to either side of the argument. Whether it is an extremist individual finding an issue rather unintended author or a blatant societal shock penned in plain view, there seems to always be something to start a controversy about. The question I think should come first and foremost is: should we restrict a person’s right to intellectual freedom in any way, due to the fact we are perhaps uncomfortable reading the author’s work or trying to protect the morals and ethics of that person and the wider audience? I am inclined to believe a person’s moral compass is calibrated by the environment of their upbringing by parents, peers, and teachers. That may seem counterintuitive since most books in question are being taught to teens still in school, but if the schools and homes are doing their intended jobs otherwise, the students will be able to make rational decisions and think for themselves. Bruce Lee said, “A teacher is not a giver of truth; he is a guide, a pointer to the truth that each student must find for himself or herself. A good teacher is merely a catalyst.”(5) I believe the same rings true in the context of literature. For many of the books of debate, one must keep in mind that it is fiction. I think many students and individuals in general are capable of appreciating the value of a book, but not mimicking the themes within. Invoking a passion for knowledge on a certain topic is reasonable, but only if they seek to form their own views or opinions but educating further rather than adopting what the text reads. Students should not be stifled by what issues other individuals may have with a work of literature; rather they should be encouraged to decide for themselves what they may make of the text.

“Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?”

-Kurt Vonnegut


Works Cited

1)      Spines, Christine. “Banned Heat: The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the Allure of Literary Contraband.” Word and Film. 19 Sept. 2012. Web. 11 Mar. 2013

2)      Abad, Eli, Erin Coyne, Ashley Fallon, and Emily Meyer. “Censorship in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye” Louisiana State University. 22 Nov. 2006. Web. 14 Mar. 2013

3)      Edwards, June. “Censorship in the Schools: What’s Moral about The Catcher in the Rye?” The English Journal (1983)

4)      Massara, Kathleen. “10 Fantastic Banned Books That Talk About Sex.” Flavor Wire. 26 Sept. 2011. Web. 14 Mar. 2013

5)      Nxtgeneration. “The Teacher Is Never A Giver Of Truth.” Experience Project. 16 Aug. 2012. Web. 19 Mar.2013

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