To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird is largely autobiographical, with the character of Scout based on Harper Lee’s experiences as a young girl, Atticus Finch based on her father, and the young visitor Dill on Lee’s childhood and lifelong friend Truman Capote. The book was extracted from a larger work (the remainder was completed as Go Set a Watchman) and her editors warned Lee that it was unlikely to sell well at first. Instead, it was a sensation, a Book of the Month Club selection, and it was made into a motion picture in 1962, also a major hit.
To Kill a Mockingbird contains quite a bit to draw the ire of those determined to decide for others what they may or may not read. It contains racial slurs, including the dreaded n-word, despite its prominence in dialect at the time the book was written. It has a frank discussion of a black-on-white rape, later shown to be a false accusation, and profanity is common throughout the book.
The book has been continually challenged as to its fitness for classroom use and presence on school library shelves. One frequently cited is the book’s discussion of the attraction towards Tom Robinson, a black man accused of rape, by Mayella Ewell, the alleged victim. This was a particular area of concern among white parents and school boards in the south throughout the 1960s. As recently as 2016 the Commonwealth of Virginia had the book removed from school libraries.
In 2017 the school district of Biloxi Mississippi removed the book from its eighth-grade curriculum, claiming that the lessons formerly taught through its reading could be provided using other books. It did not specify which other books. The action drew a scolding from a US Senator, Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, who said, “Our kids are tough enough to read a real book.” The Biloxi action began when a student, who claimed to feel uncomfortable hearing the n-word read aloud, returned to school wearing a shirt with the full word written all over.
The removal of books from curricula is somewhat different than denying access to the book by removing it from library shelves. In many areas the only library access students have is to the one in their school, a fact known to the school boards which exercise censorship through their actions. To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of the most frequently challenged books available, according to the American Library Association it was 21 on the list of the 100 most challenged books as recently as 2009.