Banned Books: 15 Controversial Classics & Why | Explore the Censored

Banned Books: 15 Controversial Classics & Why | Explore the Censored

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Throughout history, the written word has been a powerful tool, capable of provoking thought, challenging norms, and inspiring social change. Yet, there have been numerous instances where books deemed too controversial or dangerous have been banned or challenged. These banned books offer a fascinating glimpse into the fears, prejudices, and social anxieties of different eras while highlighting the enduring fight for intellectual freedom. Join us as we delve into the world of 15 controversial classics and explore the reasons why they were targeted for censorship.

15 Banned Books: One-Line Facts

  1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – challenged for its use of racial slurs and depictions of racism.
  2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – banned for profanity, sexual content, and perceived immorality.
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – challenged for its exploration of racism and sexual violence.
  4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – banned for its references to sex and excessive materialism.
  5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – challenged for themes of dystopia, genetic engineering, and social control.
  6. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien – banned for themes of witchcraft and satanic symbolism.
  7. Ulysses by James Joyce – challenged for obscenity and its unconventional style.
  8. The Color Purple by Alice Walker – banned for its depictions of sexual abuse and violence.
  9. Harry Potter Series by J.K Rowling – challenged for alleged promotion of witchcraft and the occult.
  10. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – challenged for profanity, sexual content, and anti-religious themes.
  11. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – banned for profanity, sexual references, and depictions of substance abuse.
  12. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – challenged for its irreverent portrayal of war and anti-war themes.
  13. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – banned for its themes of pedophilia and child sexual abuse.
  14. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie – banned for blasphemy and inciting violence.
  15. Animal Farm by George Orwell – challenged for its critique of Communism and totalitarian regimes.

Book 1 : The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Image of the book cover for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Cover of the book «Adventures of Huckleberry Finn» by Mark Twain, 1884
Image Source: wikipedia

Mark Twain’s classic novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” has long been embroiled in controversy since its publication in 1884. The book’s frequent use of racial slurs and its portrayal of racism in pre-Civil War America have led to numerous attempts to ban or censor it. Critics argue that the language is offensive and perpetuates harmful stereotypes. Others defend the novel, stating that it offers a realistic and essential portrayal of the era’s deep-rooted racism and serves as a tool to foster discussion about social injustice. Despite the ongoing debate, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” remains a powerful and thought-provoking work that prompts critical reflection on race relations in America.

Book 2 : The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Cover features a drawing of a carousel horse (pole visible entering the neck and exiting below on the chest) with a city skyline visible in the distance under the hindquarters. The cover is two-toned: everything below the horse is whitish while the horse and everything above it is a reddish-orange. The title appears at the top in yellow letters against the reddish-orange background. It is split into two lines after "Catcher". At the bottom in the whitish background are the words "a novel by J. D. Salinger".
Cover of the book The Catcher in the Rye. Image Source: wikipedia

J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” has been a frequent target of censorship attempts since its release in 1951. The novel’s protagonist, Holden Caulfield, and his cynical, rebellious attitude, use of profanity, and explorations of sexuality and mental health have led to numerous challenges. Critics argue that the book promotes immorality and rebellion, while defenders see it as an honest and relatable portrayal of adolescent angst and disillusionment. “The Catcher in the Rye” continues to spark debate, highlighting the anxieties that often surround themes of youthful alienation and nonconformity.

Read More: 15 Mind-Blowing Facts About Shakespeare You Didn’t Know

Book 3 : To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Cover of the book showing title in white letters against a black background in a banner above a painting of a portion of a tree against a red background
Cover of the book To Kill a Mockingbird
Image Source: wikipedia

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” stands as a timeless classic, but its powerful treatment of racism and sexual violence in the American South has made it a controversial read. Challenges against the book often focus on its frank discussions of racial injustice and the harrowing trial of a Black man falsely accused of rape. Despite attempts at censorship, the novel’s enduring message of empathy, integrity, and the fight against prejudice has ensured its place in the literary canon.

Book 4 : The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The front dust jacket art with title against a dark sky. Beneath the title are lips and two eyes, looming over a city.
Cover of the book The Great Gatsby
Image Source: wikipedia

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, renowned for its glittering portrayal of the Roaring Twenties, has faced censorship challenges due to its references to sex, adultery, and excessive materialism. Critics have deemed the book amoral for its depictions of social decadence. However, the novel’s enduring popularity lies in its deeper commentary on the American Dream, the pursuit of wealth and status, and their ultimate hollowness.

Book 5 : Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Cover of the book Brave New World
Cover of the book Brave New World
Image Source: wikipedia

Aldous Huxley’s dystopian masterpiece, “Brave New World,” has been challenged for its unsettling exploration of genetic engineering, social control, and the loss of individuality. The novel depicts a future where human beings are manufactured, conditioned, and manipulated for societal stability, leading to accusations of immorality and promotion of a chilling future vision. Yet, the book serves as a powerful warning against the dangers of unchecked technological advancement and a society devoid of free will.

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Book 6 : The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

Cover of the book The Lord of the Rings
Cover of the book The Lord of the Rings
Image Source: wikipedia

Surprisingly, J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved epic fantasy series, “The Lord of the Rings,” has been the target of censorship attempts due to perceived satanic symbolism and witchcraft in its depictions of magic and fantastical creatures. While such challenges seem unfounded to many readers, they reveal anxieties surrounding the portrayal of magic and the supernatural, as well as a misunderstanding of fantasy literature.

Book 7 : Ulysses by James Joyce

Image of the book cover for Ulysses
Cover of the book Ulysses
Image Source: wikipedia

James Joyce’s modernist masterpiece, “Ulysses,” was once considered so scandalous that it was banned for nearly a decade in the United States. The novel’s stream-of-consciousness style, frank depictions of sexuality, and perceived obscenity led to a fierce legal battle over censorship. Today, “Ulysses” is celebrated for its literary innovation and its groundbreaking psychological realism.

Book 8 : The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Cover of the book The Color Purple
Cover of the book The Color Purple
Image Source: wikipedia

Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Color Purple,” is celebrated for its unflinching portrayal of a Black woman’s journey through hardship and self-discovery. However, it has also faced challenges due to its graphic depictions of sexual abuse, violence, and unorthodox religious views. Critics argue that such content is harmful and inappropriate, while defenders praise the novel for its honesty in confronting difficult subjects and its inspiring message of resilience.

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Book 9 : Harry Potter Series by J.K Rowling

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Book Cover
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Book Cover Image Source: wikipedia

Incredibly, the wildly popular “Harry Potter” series has seen its fair share of censorship attempts. Challenges often stem from religious groups who allege that the books promote witchcraft, the occult, and disrespect for authority. Defenders counter that the series celebrates courage, friendship, and the fight against evil, providing rich themes for positive discussion.

Book 10 : The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Image of the book cover for The Handmaid's Tale (1stEd)
Image of the book cover for The Handmaid’s Tale (1stEd)
Image Source: wikipedia

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” presents a chilling vision of a totalitarian society where women are stripped of their rights and used solely for reproduction. Challenges against the book often focus on its profanity, sexual content, and anti-religious themes. However, the novel remains a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of patriarchal oppression and the importance of fighting for women’s rights.

Book 11 : The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Image of the book cover for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Image of the book cover for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Image Source: wikipedia

Sherman Alexie’s award-winning semi-autobiographical novel, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” has been challenged for its profanity, sexual references, and frank depictions of poverty and substance abuse on a Native American reservation. Critics argue that the book is unsuitable for young readers, while supporters praise its honesty, humor, and insightful commentary on the challenges faced by Indigenous youth.

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Book 12 : Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Cover of Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) by the American author Kurt Vonnegut. First edition, Delacorte Press
Cover of Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) by the American author Kurt Vonnegut. First edition, Delacorte Press

Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical masterpiece, “Slaughterhouse-Five,” uses elements of science fiction and a non-linear narrative to offer a darkly comedic yet brutally honest portrayal of war. Censorship attempts have often focused on the novel’s irreverent tone, its anti-war themes, and graphic descriptions of violence. Yet, the book stands as a powerful testament to the horrors of war and its lasting psychological impact.

Book 13 : Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Image of the book cover for Lolita
Cover of the first edition of Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov.

Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel, “Lolita,” tells the disturbing tale of an adult man’s obsession with a young girl. The book’s themes of pedophilia, child sexual abuse, and highly unreliable narration have made it a target for censorship since its publication. While widely recognized for its literary brilliance, its morally reprehensible subject matter raises questions on the limits of artistic expression.

Book 14 : The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

Image of the book cover for The Satanic Verses
1988 Salman Rushdie The Satanic Verses
Image Source: wikipedia

Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” sparked an international firestorm due to parts of the novel deemed blasphemous by some Muslims. The book’s magical realism and dream sequences led to accusations of heresy and resulted in a fatwa (religious decree) against the author. The controversy surrounding “The Satanic Verses” highlights the extreme dangers that can arise when freedom of expression clashes with religious sensitivities.

Book 15 : Animal Farm by George Orwell

Cover to first edition of Animal Farm by George Orwell
Cover to first edition of Animal Farm by George Orwell

George Orwell’s satirical novella, “Animal Farm,” provides a thinly veiled critique of the Soviet Union and the dangers of totalitarian regimes. While widely studied for its political commentary, it has faced challenges from both the political right and left for its anti-Communist themes and its depiction of revolutions gone awry.


The history of banned books serves as a constant reminder of the power of literature to challenge, inspire, and unsettle. Each attempt at censorship reveals underlying anxieties about social change, control of information, and differing moral perspectives. While some challenges stem from a genuine desire to protect readers, particularly young ones, others seek to suppress ideas that make certain groups uncomfortable. By understanding the reasons behind these challenges, we gain a deeper appreciation for the freedom to read, think critically, and participate in open dialogue.

15 Frequently Asked Questions about Banned Books (FAQs)

  1. What is the difference between a banned book and a challenged book?

    A banned book has been successfully removed from a library or school curriculum, while a challenged book is an attempt to remove or restrict access to a book.

  2. Why are books often banned?

    Books are often banned or challenged due to concerns about sexual content, violence, profanity, religious themes, political viewpoints, or the belief that they are age-inappropriate.

  3. Who decides if a book should be banned?

    Challenges usually begin with individuals or groups who file a formal complaint with a school board or library. The fate of the book is then decided by a committee or board who vote on whether to remove or restrict it.

  4. What are some of the most frequently banned books?

    Some frequently banned classics include “The Great Gatsby”, “The Catcher in the Rye”, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and “The Color Purple”.

  5. What is Banned Books Week?

    Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and highlighting attempts at censorship. It typically takes place in late September.

  6. Are there any positive effects of book banning?

    Ironically, attempts at banning a book often have the opposite effect. It brings greater attention to the book and fuels curiosity, potentially increasing readership.

  7. What can I do to support intellectual freedom?

    Speak out against censorship, attend Banned Book Week events, support your local library, and most importantly, read widely and think critically!

  8. How does the banning of books affect students?

    Banning books limits access to diverse perspectives, impedes critical thinking, and can foster a sense of intellectual suppression in the classroom.

  9. Are certain age groups more affected by book banning?

    Yes, challenges often target books aimed at young adults and children, potentially limiting their exposure to important themes and diverse experiences.

  10. Does book banning differ in various countries?

    Yes, the reasons for banning books and the level of censorship vary significantly across cultures and political systems.

  11. Have there been any recently banned books?

    Unfortunately, book challenges continue. Notable recent examples include “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison.

  12. Are only fiction books challenged, or does nonfiction face censorship too?

    Both fiction and nonfiction face censorship attempts. Nonfiction dealing with controversial historical events, scientific topics, or social issues can often be targeted.

  13. Are there organizations that fight against book banning?

    Yes! Organizations like the American Library Association (ALA), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and PEN America actively defend intellectual freedom and track censorship attempts.

  14. Is there a list of commonly banned books?

    Yes, The ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom maintains a regularly updated list of the most frequently challenged books.

  15. I’m interested in learning more about banned books. What are some good resources?

    The American Library Association’s Banned Books Week website (
    The National Coalition Against Censorship (
    PEN America (

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