Literature has always been as provocative as it is thought-provoking. 

Many novels that are receiving widespread critical acclaim today were banned, and even burned when they were published. The main reason for such extreme reaction was the presence of adult themes or political and religious views in the books.

Besides the banning, these novels have also been challenged several times by parents, students, and educational institutions. Challenges are requests made by people to ban certain books with reasonable cause. However, very few novels that have been challenged are actually banned.

In this blog, we’ll talk about 5 globally-acknowledged books that were once banned in certain regions/countries around the world. Wait till you uncover the strangest reasons behind their ban and gasp – or roll your eyes – completely your call!

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood (1985)

The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel written by Margaret Atwood, a Canadian novelist, poet, essayist, teacher, critic, and environmental activist. 

The novel is set in the aftermath of a civil war in the United States. The fertility rates have completely collapsed due to environmental pollution and sexually-transmitted diseases. 

The fertile women of the society are called Handmaids and are enslaved and assigned to the houses of the ruling elites. They are submitted to ritualized rape by the commanders of the house in the presence of their wives for impregnation. 

The Handmaid’s Tale has been banned in the past in countries like Spain and Portugal and by school boards and libraries. As of 2021, the novel is banned in Texas and Kansas.

Nudity, sexual assault, and violence are some of the disturbing themes in the novel. It also approaches issues like feminism, fundamentalism, and reproductive rights. Lastly, the novel is condemned for being anti-Christian and anti-Islamic. 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J. K. Rowling (1997)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is written by J. K. Rowling, an English author and philanthropist. 

The novel revolves around the protagonist Harry Potter, who lives with his uncle and aunt because he’s an orphan. Little does he know, his parents were highly-gifted wizards, and he has a spot reserved for him at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  

The book was challenged because it apparently glorifies witchcraft and attempts to confuse children’s minds, tempting them to try out the curses they read. However, the main reasons behind the banning were religious.

People claimed the novel was anti-Christian, which didn’t make much sense. Still, the religious objections resulted in the banning of the novel in two Christian schools in the UK. 

The Color Purple – Alice Walker (1982)

The Color Purple is written by Alice Walker, an American poet, author, and social activist. She was the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, awarded for none other than The Color Purple

The novel is compiled in the form of letters written to God and covers 40 years in the life of an African-American girl, Cecile. It documents the severe trauma she faces from the men in her life as she clings to the hope of reuniting with her sister, Nettie. 
In the end, she finds her sister and creates a life for herself that she never thought was possible.

The book portrays sexual assault, violence, drug abuse, torture, incest, racism, and homosexuality, among other disturbing themes. From 1984 to 2013, the novel was banned in all school libraries in the United States. It has also been challenged numerous times in high schools and colleges for its sexual explicitness and violence. 

The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger (1951)

The Catcher in the Rye is written by J. D. Salinger, who has written several other short stories and served in the Second World War. 

The novel revolves around Holden Caulfield, a depressed seventeen-year-old living in a sanitorium in California in the aftermath of the Second World War.

A few days in Holden’s life give us a glimpse inside the mind of a young man who’s disillusioned with responsibility and always points out what he doesn’t like in adults. He’s conflicted between wanting to be an adult and not liking the adults around him. 

The Catcher in the Rye has been challenged a surprising number of times for its sexual scenes and excessive use of profane and vulgar language. The novel also explored homosexuality and ‘things concerning moral issues.’

Although the book is taught in educational institutions as a classic, it’s also banned in several schools & colleges across the USA. 

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carrol (1865)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Alice in Wonderland is written by Lewis Carrol, an author, poet, and mathematician. 

The novel revolves around a little girl named Alice, who’s sitting under a tree beside a lake and getting bored out of her mind. She suddenly sees a rabbit dressed in a waistcoat with a pocket watch grumbling about being late. A bewildered Alice follows him down a rabbit hole, where she has the adventure of a lifetime. 

The novel was banned in the 1930s in China as it contained talking animals. The country considered humans and animals speaking in the same language a religious atrocity. 

Also, many educational institutes in the US banned the book in the 1960s, believing that the caterpillar’s hookah promoted the use of hallucinogenic drugs. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky (1999)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower was written by Stephen Chbosky, a screenwriter, television writer, novelist, film director, film producer, and television producer.
The novel, Chbosky’s debut, is a compilation of letters that contain the story of Charlie, an introverted but observant teenager living in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Charlie, the protagonist of the story, writes these letters to his unnamed dear friend. In them, he discusses his struggles in his freshman year at his new high school.

He’s still dealing with the suicide of his only friend in middle school, Michael Dobson. His favorite aunt, Helen, also died in a car accident when she was going to pick up a birthday gift for him. Both of these incidents took place in the same year, which made it even more difficult for him to cope.

The novel contains scenes of sexual violence, drug use, rape, suicide, eating disorders, offensive language, homosexuality, and similar themes unsuitable for most age groups.

It has been banned in several libraries across the United States. It is a regular on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Challenged Books list.  

In the end

As we come to the end of this blog, here’s what we’ve discussed today.

Literature has always been a controversial topic; it can be good or bad, but controversial nonetheless. Everyone has their own taste in novels; but that shouldn’t stop us from acknowledging a literary masterpiece when we read one, right? Above, we’ve compiled a list of 5 books that were initially banned in certain areas, alongside the reasons deemed fit to ban them.

Which banned novel have you read, and do you think that banning it was a good idea? To dig deeper into the world of books and find the strangest, most extraordinary treasures to read, keep visiting the Books & Education space of The Countdown List!