“The reading process does not end with comprehension. In the adult world, people do not ask friends or colleagues to recall specific information from a book or article they have read. Instead, they ask for an opinion on a lead story, or for analysis of the latest Wall Street trend, or for an interpretation of a controversial article… “(Karen Tankersley)
Just short of a month ago, I decided to pick up The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Initially, I was not impressed with the text, but prepared for a boring lecture on philosophy, I carried it to class. The novel, peaking out of my bag, caused the strike of conversation between myself and the guy one seat over, as he jokingly accused me of being a rebel for reading a banned book. His comment immediately caught my attention. Intrigued by his statement, I decided to do some of my own research and close reading of the novel. To my surprise, the book was indeed banned in Boston, Massachusetts, and in schools in both Riverside and San Jose, California (Banned Books Awareness). According to the 2011 banned book blog, it is “’Too Accurate on account of war” and centered sound sex and promiscuity while containing “anti-Semitism” and “inappropriate sexual content.”
I can recall sitting in my 7th grade social studies class listening to my teacher, a rather humorous man, Mr. Tom, speak about the KKK. As the discussion progressed, the new African American student –whose name I can no longer remember- that sat next to me, turned his face and several hours later, sat alone for lunch. I recall the look on my Jewish friend’s rattled face after hearing a “Jew” joke the day we learned about Hitler and the Nazis. Most of all, I recall my middle school crush Anthony, directing his attention to the pretty and popular strawberry blond girl as he made an inappropriate/sexual comment on how she would look as a flapper from “The Roaring 20’s”. As The Sun Also Rises includes sexual and historical content, it is understandable why it is a book of such controversy. Although, after consideration of the experiences and the knowledge I had as a younger child, I began to have some second thoughts. Because of everything taught in school and the exposure to both historical and sexual content children experience throughout everyday life, going as far as banning The Sun Also Rises just does not quite seem necessary and the most effective with respect of shielding society from particular content.
While on the topic of educational environments in school, teachers usually do their best to protect students, it is important to note that between material a child learns in class and their playground interactions, school is far from innocent. For example, Unit 8 of the WS/FCS Unit Planning Organizer displays the middle school social studies curriculum. The organizer includes a section on racism, as if it is a distant issue from today’s society or that it would not cause children to look negatively upon other races. Also incorporated is the reasoning for why the United States entered various wars and the post war effects, as though such content would not instill destructive views upon other countries and their people. History classes in school definitely delve into touchy material. Then, during their lunch break or after class on the bus ride home, to a young teenager the word sex is nothing unfamiliar and maybe a little stimulating even if at that age, they are not currently engaging in such activity. The Sun Also Rises was banned because of accurate war material and sexual content as if they are foreign concepts in society. Yes, the content in the novel may be a tad rough and while I wouldn’t recommend it to a 13 year old, it hold valuable and more specific information on things being taught in school while exploring some crudity that is an absolute truth among humans and history and people will be exposed to such content regardless.
The relationship between law and banning books occurred to me, and after some research I began to question the purpose of banning the book. The first amendment which one may or may not know, addresses freedom of speech for political and racial topics. However, since forms of speech containing obscenity is so controversial, it is not completely protected by the law. The Miller Test gives freedom to obscenity unless something is porn, actually shows sex, or contains something that “as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” With that being said, The Sun Also Rises does NOT contain material that contravenes with the law. In the novel a positive message may not exactly be present but the government definitely isn’t banning every movie with more than a “PG” rating, they are simply allowing parents to make the rules for their individual household. (Cornell University Law School)
The logic in banning The Sun Also Rises because of particular content does not quite make sense. It is understandable that schools may want to keep inappropriate content off of their grounds but as long as the school library doesn’t order the book, it should be the least of their concerns. A child may bring it to class in their backpack but considering all the other things they most likely bring on a daily basis, who cares? My younger cousin’s iPod is practically sewed to her hand. What parent would prefer their child listening to Jay-Z rap about “Ni**as In Paris” while asking “how many hot bitches I own?” than Ernest Hemingway’s characters being unfaithful or leaving to Spain and merely mentioning sexual activity. Banning iPods would be the most effective strategy for eliminating such material.
Lastly, a conversation with my mother at the dinner table lead me to the idea about the difference in of today’s society as opposed to when she were a child and even before that. According to Banned Books Awareness, The Sun Also Rises was banned originally between 1930 and 1960. The contrast of society between then and now is great and could be considered as much worse regarding music and other media. Banning the book in the past was reasonable especially since it was during a time just after war; however, with the content accepted by society today, the content in the novel hardly compares.
As a conclusion, The Sun Also Rises does indeed contain some controversial content so wanting to shelter a portion of society from it is understandable; however, compared to everything else one can experience on a daily basis, banning the book is useless, ineffective, and quite extreme. Just as people choose to watch rated R movies, they should be able to choose the literature they expose themselves and their children to. Perhaps labeling the book as rated R would be a more reasonable tactic. As Karen Tankersley would say, such content will even prepare a child for topics of the adult world so either way, it is important to be read.