Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" Banned By North Carolina Schools
It is with deep regret this writer must inform you about yet another unwarranted book banning spurred on by pearl-clutching parents. In Randolph County, North Carolina, The Courier-Tribune's Kathi Keys reports that Ralph Ellison's classic novel Invisible Man, which "addresses many of the social and intellectual issues facing African-Americans in the first half of the 20th century," will be removed from school library shelves. The Randolph County Board of Education banned the book with a majority vote of 5-2.
The board's decision to review Invisible Man stems from a complaint by Kimiyutta Parson, who was upset about the book's inclusion in the school's official summer reading curriculum. Students could choose between Ellison's novel, Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, or Passing by Nella Larson. Parsons did not register a complaint about the other two books.
So what's the big deal? Well, apparently, Invisible Man features a potty-mouthed first-person narrator. Here's an excerpt from Parsons's 12-page essay on why the book should be banned:
The narrator writes in the first person, emphasizing his individual experiences and his feelings about the events portrayed in his life. This novel is not so innocent; instead, this book is filthier, too much for teenagers. You must respect all religions and point of views when it comes to the parents and what they feel is age appropriate for their young children to read, without their knowledge. This book is freely in your library for them to read.
Sexual content was also a problem. The board, overall, sided with Parsons, with one member, Gary Mason, stating, "I didn't find any literary value."
Hmm. Really, no literary value? I'm going to let The Huffington Post field this one:
Mason's blunt assessment however, runs counter to decades of intellectual criticism of the novel, which won the 1953 National Book Award for fiction, beating out Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and John Steinbeck's East of Eden.
In 1995, writing for the New York Times, Roger Rosenblatt praised the novel as a masterpiece.
‘Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953, was instantly recognized as a masterpiece, a novel that captured the grim realities of racial discrimination as no book had,’ Rosenblatt wrote. ‘Its reputation grew as Ellison retreated into a mythic literary silence that made his one achievement definitive.’
Including the book in its list of 100 Best English Language Novels since 1923, Time literary critic Lev Grossman also expressed great admiration for Ellison's work.
‘Evenhandedly exposing the hypocrisies and stereotypes of all comers, Invisible Man is far more than a race novel, or even a bildungsroman. It’s the quintessential American picaresque of the 20th century.’
Thanks, HuffPost. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
This isn’t the first time Invisible Man has been banned for its “offensive content,” according to the American Library Association.
Okay, here’s where we roll out the usual arguments about book banning—is it okay in some instances, or is it never okay? Cath Murphy tackles this issue pretty well in her column Should Some Books Be Banned?
While I think in some instances—like, as Cath points out, when we’re dealing with issues of national security—it might be wise to limit access to certain books, this business with Invisible Man is nonsense. Sheltering and shielding youngsters from reality is never a good idea. I’m particularly irked by Parson’s complaint that the county’s children are required to read a book “without their [the parents’] knowledge.” That indicates you’re not very involved with your kids, lady, and the only person really capable of polluting their “impressionable” young minds is you.
What do you think? Is Ellison’s novel really that offensive?
To leave a comment