For an entire semester now, we’ve been discussing the banning of books and continually asking the question: “Why?”. In Bob Abernathy’s profile on Madeleine L’Engle, I think she answers the question perfectly and concisely when she says, simply, “We have always liked banning.” It isn’t exactly the deepest or most profound answer, but it gets to the point: we do it, because we like it. People have a natural desire for power and the ability to control what is read is an easy way in which to exert it. Unfortunately, by exercising this power, we suppress the power of others by taking away their freedom of expression or communication.
L’Engle warns about this danger saying, “Hitler and his cohorts started banning books, and then to killing people. You have tot to be very careful about banning. What you ban is not going to hurt anybody, usually. But the act of banning is.” When it comes to books, there is little harm to be done amongst the educated, as our consensus in class seems to show, because all they do is spread ideas and create a medium through which to gain and give knowledge and in order to protect the uneducated, I would say, is one of the responsibilities of those with the privilege of having this knowledge. The removal of materials from the public sphere is dangerous in taking away a valuable source of innovation, education, and thought, only adding to the potential for ignorance, as we’ve discussed with other works throughout the semester, but L’Engle is getting at something deeper.
The suggestion made by L’Engle’s statement in her interview with Abernathy brings up the dangers of oppression and the abuse of power. The previously stated points about removing sources of knowledge and communication speak to the danger of oppression, but stemming from that is also the tendency for people to accept their oppressed state and to submit to the role of victim and stop trying to communicate or spread their thoughts and creativity at all. This would create a vicious circle in which innovation would cease altogether and we, as a civilization, would assume a state of stasis, never to grow or develop.
While a lack of growth is something to be wary of, it is not nearly as dangerous as something like Hitler’s regime and the abuse of power that can come from acknowledging and embracing one’s ability to control. That sort of power easily goes to one’s head and once it has begun, is hard to end. Once the banning begins and people realize they can have a say in such matters it is not likely to stop after one work is banned, or even after fifty are taken off the public shelves. This shaping of the potential views of others by imposing one’s own opinions is not only hypocritical, but highly detrimental.
According to the ALA website, 307 books were challenged in 2013 alone. Clearly literature is not something that is taken lightly in America and its influence is evident simply by the amount of controversy it causes. In this light, L’Engle’s point is something to be strongly heeded: It’s not really the books that are the dangerous one’s, it’s the banning of them.