Why Was Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck Banned?

Reading Steinbeck
Considered to be one of the great American literary works of the twentieth century, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck has also managed to make the list of the most frequently banned books in the United States. In fact, according to Banned in the U.S.A. by Herbert N. Foerstel, it is ranked second, behind only Impressions, and right ahead of The Catcher in the Rye. Why was this book banned? Is a book that includes controversial issues and themes more threatening than not talking about controversy?

When Was Of Mice and Men Banned?

Many students have had the opportunity to read and discuss Of Mice and Men in the classroom. Many will continue to do so as long as educators find a value in including this literary work in their lesson plans. However, many students have not been able to read the book, at least not in school.

As an example, according to the National Coalition Against Censorship, Of Mice and Men was banned in 1997 in an eighth-grade classroom in Peru, Illinois. The teacher, who had been covering Steinbeck's novel for thirteen years, was told to stop due to three anonymous letters. Despite the reputation as a valuable literary work the book was deemed inappropriate and banned from the classroom.

The Marshall University Library points out, it's possible to find instances of the book being either challenged or banned in high schools or middle schools somewhere in America each year from 2001 to 2008. In September of 2008, a concerned mother in Kansas City asked for the book to be removed from the required reading list of her son's high school.

As Steinbeck's controversial book has a rich history of censorship in American schools, in this case as well as other more recent cases, students are given the opportunity to read an alternative book rather than having to completely remove the work from the school's curriculum.

Why Is Steinbeck's Work Considered a Controversial Book?

Of Mice and Men offers a wealth of rich themes, insight into the deeper levels of the human mind, and an open doorway into some of the darker issues of life — death, racism, sexism, false hopes, and the harshness of poverty. For educators interested in stimulating the minds of their students and encouraging critical thought John Steinbeck's controversial book is perfect; so, why was it a banned book? The following are complaints that have arisen in the past, are of concern to parents today, and will probably be brought up in the future:

  • Use of the 'N' word;
  • Some claim it's derogatory towards African Americans;
  • Some claim it's derogatory towards women;
  • Profanities;
  • Racial slurs;
  • Violence; and
  • Absence of traditional values.

Is Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck Dangerous for a Young Mind?

The concern over Of Mice and Men is due to the fear and tension related to young students reading about very serious issues. Can a fourteen year-old handle violence and racism? Should a teenager be exposed to profanities in the school system? While there is no reason to criticize a parent who is uncomfortable with this book, or any other controversial book, movie, or video, to actually ban or censor a literary work based on the subject matter is a dangerous precedent. It is maybe much more threatening to society if young people are not allowed to read about and encouraged to talk about some of the more troublesome, shameful, and honest issues of America's past and even the history of humanity.

Of Mice and Men has been banned in U.S. schools. This may have stifled a valuable dialogue. At the same time, when people try to have a controversial book banned, that literary work becomes much more discussed and examined then it otherwise would have been if it wasn't challenged. A new question develops for the student to answer when reading Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men – why was this book banned?

References:

"Of Mice and Men 'Inappropriate' in Illinois." (National Coalition Against Censorship, Spring 1997).

"Woman: School Should Drop Steinbeck Book." (KMBC News, September 22, 2008).