Friday, September 27, 2013

Banned Books Week: Modern Classic--The Color Purple

My second (and final, as it turns out) classic for Banned Books Week is The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I finally got around to reading the book almost two years ago after loving the film for years. I think it is such a wonderful story and though it does show the strained relationship between the whites and blacks of that era, it really is a story of a woman who spent her life being abused by men who finally learns to stand up for herself. The reasons given below for challenges of the book really do not make sense to me. It almost seems that because it's a book written by a black woman about black people...well, darn it, it has "troubling ideas about race relations..." (see first point below). My commentary is in red.

  • Challenged as appropriate reading for Oakland, CA High School honors class (1984) due to the work's "sexual and social explicitness" and its "troubling ideas about race relations, man's relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality." After nine months of haggling and delays, a divided Oakland Board of Education gave formal approval for the book's use. As I said above, "troubling ideas about race relations?" Um, yes, race relations during that time were troubling actually, but let's shield our (almost grown) high school kids from scenarios that actually did happen historically, if not exactly what happens in the book.
  • Rejected for purchase by the Hayward, CA school's trustee (1985) because of "rough language" and "explicit sex scenes."
  • Removed from the open shelves of the Newport News, VA school library (1986) because of its "profanity and sexual references" and placed in a special section accessible only to students over the age of 18 or who have written permission from a parent. Challenged at the public libraries of Saginaw, MI (1989) because it was “too sexually graphic for a 12-year-old.” I might agree (somewhat) that it might be a bit much for a twelve year old.
  • Challenged as a summer youth program reading assignment in Chattanooga, TN (1989) because of its language and "explicitness." 
  • Challenged as an optional reading assigned in Ten Sleep, WY schools (1990).
  • Challenged as a reading assignment at the New Burn, NC High School (1992) because the main character is raped by her stepfather. 
  • Banned in the Souderton, PA Area School District (1992) as appropriate reading for 10th graders because it is "smut." Challenged on the curricular reading list at Pomperaug High School in Southbury, CT (1995) because sexually explicit passages aren’t appropriate high school reading.
  • Retained as an English course reading assignment in the Junction City, OR high school (1995) after a challenge to Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel caused months of controversy. Although an alternative assignment was available, the book was challenged due to "inappropriate language, graphic sexual scenes, and book's negative image of black men." There are plenty of books that portray negative images of white men. Abusive men, regardless of the color of their skin, deserve to be portrayed negatively. Also, maybe they should have kept in mind that the author is African American....
  • Challenged at the St. Johns County Schools in St. Augustine, FL (1995). Retained on the Round Rock, TX Independent High School reading list (1996) after a challenge that the book was too violent.
  • Challenged, but retained, as part of the reading list for Advanced Placement English classes at Northwest High Schools in High Point, NC (1996). The book was challenged because it is "sexually graphic and violent."
  • Removed from the Jackson County, WV school libraries (1997) along with sixteen other titles. Challenged, but retained as part of a supplemental reading list at the Shawnee School in Lima, OH (1999). Several parents described its content as vulgar and "X-rated."
  • Removed from the Ferguson High School library in Newport News, VA (1999). Students may request and borrow the book with parental approval.
  • Challenged, along with seventeen other titles in the Fairfax County, VA elementary and secondary libraries (2002), by a group called Parents Against Bad Books in Schools. The group contends the books "contain profanity and descriptions of drug abuse, sexually explicit conduct, and torture.” 
  • Challenged in Burke County (2008) schools in Morganton, NC by parents concerned about the homosexuality, rape, and incest portrayed in the book. 

source: Bibliography accessed from the site (see below)

This bibliography represents books challenged, restricted, removed, or banned in 2012 and 2013 as reported in the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom from May 2012 to May 2013.

Books Challenged or Banned 2012 - 2013

“Challenges are as important to document as actual bannings, in which a book is removed from the shelves of a library or bookstore or from the curriculum at a school. Attempts to censor can lead to voluntary restriction of expression by those who seek to avoid controversy; in these cases, material may not be published at all or may not be purchased by a bookstore, library, or school district. It should be noted that this bibliography is incomplete because many prohibitions against free speech and expression remain undocumented. Surveys indicate up to 85 percent of actual challenges to library materials receive no media attention and remain unreported. Moreover, this list is limited to books and does not include challenges to magazines, newspapers, films, broadcasts, plays, performances, electronic publications, or exhibits.

Have you read The Color Purple? What is your opinion on the reasons for its being challenged/banned?


Follow on Bloglovin


Thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment. It means so much.

I apologize for word verification, but as soon as I changed the settings from only users with Google accounts, I started receiving a ton of spam comments...within one hour of changing the settings. The bots are on high alert apparently.

  1. I haven't read it yet. I started The Color Purple but the writing was turning me off. Banned though? Never.

  2. I had to read this book for my English Lit AS level and I found it to be quite good. Obviously based on the themes in the book, it is a little harrowing for some people but then it gives us an idea of what race relations were like back then and how some women suffered. What I actually found most illuminating about this book was the strength of the women once they had forged friendships and how they used that to their advantage. It is not so much about race relations as it is about personal strength which gives it a good enough reason for it not to be banned.

- See more at:
- See more at: