Was Lord of the Flies Banned?

Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

This lesson will explain the reasons William Golding's ''Lord of the Flies'' is considered controversial, discuss the difference between banning and challenging a book, and answer the question of whether or not the novel has been banned.

Why Do Readers Object to Lord of the Flies?

Lord of the Flies, English author William Golding's classic novel published in 1954, certainly has controversial subject matter. Over the last 60 years, people have objected to the book due to its brutal violence, as well as its disturbing ideas concerning human nature and how humans differ little from animals when the boundaries of society are removed. Still, others have criticized the book for what some readers believe are racist, ableist, and misogynistic messages expressed by the characters. All of this controversial content may be seen as even more objectionable because it is primarily conveyed through fictitious children.

Banned vs. Challenged

Before we proceed, we need to understand the difference between a book being challenged and a book being banned. If a parent, student, or other member of a community finds a book offensive, they may submit a form to request removal. Generally, the form asks whether the person has read the entire book and to describe the reasons they think the book should be removed. Once this form has been submitted, a committee, which is made up of several stakeholders of the community (usually teachers, administrators, parents, and students if the challenge occurs at a school), reads the book in question and meets to make a decision about the book. At this point, the book has been challenged but not banned.

If the committee decides to remove the book from the shelves of a school or public library, the book has been banned. Banning a book does not mean it is completely wiped off the face of the earth; people can still purchase it in bookstores and online. When a book is banned, it simply means a local community, such as a school district or public library, has removed it. The book may even be found in public spaces in neighboring counties. This process allows for taxpayers in a community to voice their opinions about materials both funded by taxes and available in public spaces. It should be noted, however, that it is rare for a committee to decide to ban a book; in fact, there are many more challenges to books than there are actual bans.

Cultural Context of Lord of the Flies

When novels are challenged and banned, it is important to consider the time period in which people are reading the book, as well as how the political and social climate of that time period might affect people's reactions to literature. Lord of the Flies was published in 1954 but readers did not begin to challenge it until 1974. This may be because the book was not immediately popular and took some time to gain attention as teachers began to use it more and more in schools.

The reasons readers had for challenging the book have changed over time and even vary by geographic region. In 1981, the book was challenged at a school in South Dakota because its message implies humans are not much better than animals and are essentially governed by primal instincts when there is no organized society by which to abide. In 1992, the book was challenged in Iowa because of language and offensive references to minorities, women, and God. As we can see, when studying whether or not a book has been banned, we must consider how values and cultural context change over time and vary by place.

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