Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko remarked that “When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.” Every time a book is banned, the microcosm it contains, filled with ideas and observations, forever closes to the countless individuals it could have inspired. Instead, what remain are silent voids in the minds of readers now ignorant of yet another world, and yet left without the opportunity to explore this realm. Last week, after looking fruitlessly for A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, I learned from library staff that it had been removed in response to a challenge by a parent group. I am writing to voice my disappointment as well as the reasons for which the freedom to read must be respected.
Whenever a book is banned in a school or public library, it is frequently because the book has been controversial or has been deemed to touch upon themes that certain parents wish to shield their children from. While the sentiment of protecting young people’s minds from potentially harmful influences is admirable, banning books outright is not the way to approach this situation. Doing so will not only limit the worldview and inhibit the intellectual and moral development of readers themselves, but this ignorance will have implications at a broader societal level as well, not to mention that in the digital age, the controversial themes usually artfully discussed in published works is freely available in less polished forms online for the very youths that parents tried to ban these things from, thereby making the bans meaningless much of the time.
Part of growing into a mature, well-informed and open-minded adult involves having had the opportunity to understand a variety of ways to look at the world, including the darker realities that are no less existent or relevant in life than the lighter themes that parent-approved books typically touch upon. Young people’s worldviews, especially about more controversial topics like homosexuality, will be stifled and bound by a narrow range of experiences accrued through upbringing if certain books are banned before even having had the opportunity to inspire reflection. If a young person is curious and eager to learn, banning the primary medium through which such learning can occur goes against the goal of the education system itself: education.
Additionally, this limiting of individual development will, in turn, make society less enlightened. At some point in time, books like Brave New World and Animal Farm, now considered paragons of literature, have been kept from the inquiring minds of citizens. In Canada, under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, one’s “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression” is fundamental. This extends to people of all ages; banning books infringes upon this freedom by inhibiting one’s access to thought-provoking material, thereby limiting the freedom of thought.
Banning books, thus, is detrimental not only to individuals’ intellectual and moral development but also contravenes the enshrined principles upon which our society was built. In the end, we all deserve the freedom to read.