Welcome to this month’s Banned Books feature. This month we read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.
First published: 1937
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2004 (source)
Reason: offensive language, racism, violence
Chosen by: Chrissi
BETH: This is very difficult. The book was published a while ago (1937) which means attitudes were quite different to nowadays. In terms of offensive language, I don’t think there is anything particularly offensive to warrant the book being challenged but agree that there is racism and violence. I don’t think these particular reasons should lead to a book being banned however as long as it is geared towards an age-appropriate audience. Of course any type of racism or violence is abhorrent and uncalled for but in a book such as this it can be explained by the attitudes during that time (while still being wrong!) if that makes sense.
CHRISSI: Like Beth, I think it’s really difficult to judge. I can see why it can be a contentious subject as it includes racism, but I think it’s a book to be studied and discussed. Luckily, in the UK it is quite widely read in English Literature with 15-16 year olds. There is so much to be discussed in this book, and that can be achieved with a open dialogue between teachers and students. I hope that more secondary/high school teachers are taking this book on, because it’s incredibly educative.
How about now?
BETH: Especially not now! I did hate that Crooks, the only black man in the group was discriminated against and laughed about but with the right teacher and, as I mentioned, an age-appropriate audience, it could be a very interesting lesson in history about how the world is changing while still remembering there is some work to do. I don’t think children (or anyone) should be shielded or protected from tough issues represented in literature. We need to learn from our mistakes and try to prevent the younger generation from making similar ones.
CHRISSI: It should not be banned right now. As I said before, I know it’s studied in a lot of secondary schools in the UK and I hope it’s being studied more worldwide. It’s educative, important, and as Beth says is a lesson on how we’ve moved on from such racism, but we still have a way to go.
What did you think of this book?
BETH: I loved this book so much! Strangely for me, I’d never read it before and when Chrissi chose it as one of our banned books for the year I was very excited to finally see what all the fuss was about. I really tried hard to steer clear of any spoilers before I started it and was pleasantly surprised and shocked when I finished reading! This is easily one of my favourite classics now and is such a short read it is quite possible to read in a day.
CHRISSI: As I read this book, I remembered hearing it at school. It was definitely a different reading experience this time round. I took a lot more away from it. I didn’t have the most inspiring English teacher and she just read it out to us, not really engaging with the material.
Would you recommend it?
BETH: But of course!
CHRISSI: Of course!