(Trigger warning for violence, drug abuse and sexual abuse.) It always seems that the most celebrated books are the ones that also have fueled a great deal of controversy for one reason or another. Maybe their exposure brings in wider audiences and therefore more criticism, or maybe the books are just a little too much for some audiences. Here are five historical fiction books, many of which have won a Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award, and why they are considered to be controversial!
CATCHER IN THE RYE
In 1951, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was published as a novel and has sold over 60 million copies since. This story is about a young man named Holden Caulfield who is recounting the events from his expulsion from Pencey Prep up to the present. After failing almost all of his classes, Holden embarks on a long journey home to avoid having to tell his parents about his expulsion.
The Catcher in the Rye is a story about losing one’s innocence through discovering the bogus world around us. Despite being one of the most taught books in high schools in the United States, it is also one of the most censored books in high school curriculums and libraries as well. The controversy mainly surrounds language, communist values, and the encouragement of youth rebellion. Unlike other books on this list, The Catcher in the Rye has also been associated with school shootings due to its theme of alienation among high school students.
THINGS FALL APART
Chinua Achebe published Things Fall Apart in 1958 and it has since become an incredibly celebrated piece of African literature. The story is about Okonkwo, who is a prominent strongman in his Nigerian village. His own obsession with having no weakness fuels his toxic masculinity which impacts every move he makes. At one point, a neighboring village needs Okonkwo’s help, and he discovers that European missionaries have come to the villages to colonize and take power in the area. Okonkwo is left to deal with European imperialism of a developed and culturally rich Nigerian community.
Things Fall Apart was banned at one point for its discussion and portrayal of colonialism. Additionally, the book stirred some controversy because it was written in English. Many critics suggest that this book with strong anti-colonial themes subverts its actual intention by being written in English, a language strongly associated with colonialism.
THE COLOR PURPLE
The Color Purple is a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning novel by Alice Walker. First published in 1982, the story is about 14-year-old Celie who is poor and living in the rural South. Her life is narrated through letters she writes to God. She recounts violence and sexual abuse that she faces at the hands of her father. She also communicates with other women during this restrictive period, and develops friendships and romantic relationships. Together, they band through the systemic oppression imposed on black women in the early 1900’s in hopes of a brighter future. Despite being a prominent book in literature, The Color Purple was heavily censored and challenged for its depiction of violence, sexual abuse, language, drug abuse, and homosexuality.
THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE
The Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is an American classic that combines historical fiction and science fiction to create this anti-war novel. Billy is captured by the Germans after the firebombing of Dresden and he becomes stuck in time in two places: as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany and as a doctor in New York. The bombing of Dresden has left him in a state of shock and trauma despite his success in New York, causing him to detach from traditional thoughts of life and death.
This story was deemed controversial and subject to censorship because of its portrayal of sex and its use of profanity. In addition, it was one of the first novels to write about how homosexual men were subject to the horrors of the Holocaust. A case in which a school banned the book from its literature curriculum was sent to the Supreme Court in 1982, but the Court ruled against the school.
Catch-22 is a historical fiction novel by Joseph Heller. The story is about Joseph Yossarian, an American captain fighting in the Mediterranean during World War II. He is astounded by the brutality of war and the aimlessness of those around. Yossarian starts to believe that the war is the government’s way of intentionally sending him to his death. In other words, Yossarian believes that World War II is a personal attack on him. As a result, Yossarian begins to find new ways to avoid his missions.
This story was mainly controversial due to its humorous approach to its anti-war agenda. In addition, some schools attempted to challenge the book due to its vulgar language. Despite its challenges, Catch-22 has sold over 10 million copies worldwide.
Which of these controversial books are you going to read first?
Featured image via The NEw York Times