What to Do With Books That Are Insensitive to Social Norms


Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

Hi SEers, John here with you today. The last time we were together, I talked about sensibilities in writing. I made the point that authors should be careful when writing characters of a specific race, gender, age, nationality, and sexual orientation because of changing social norms. I also stated that I didn’t believe writers should not exclude themselves from writing about these groups because they are not part of them. If you would like to read that post, you can go HERE.

Today I would like to take it one step further and discuss books written in a different time of our societal development. I intend to explore the idea of what should happen to books or stories that reflected older periods and older thoughts about race, gender, age, nationality, and sexual orientation.

We have heard that Gone with the Wind has come under criticism recently due to offensive slurs, typecasting, glorification of the Antebellum plantation-style of life, and gentle treatment of the KKK. The book was first published in 1936 when our society was not as enlightened as today. So, what should the current reaction be to the book Gone with the Wind? Should it be banned because of its representations?

We know the movie is out of circulation in some places for the exact representations. We also know the Seuess foundation discontinued six Dr. Seuss books because they don’t fit how we think of minorities today. Laura Ingles Wilder’s name is now off the Lifetime Achievement Award given out by the American Library Association because of her portrayals of Native Americans in her Little House on the Prairie book published in 1938. Barbar’s Travels is off the shelves of a British library since 2012 because of its apparent stereotypes of Africans. Critics also have faulted the Curious George books for the premise of a white man bringing home a monkey from Africa.

There are plenty of opportunities to ban a book like Gone with the Wind, yet one wonders if it wouldn’t be better to use the book’s offensive parts to teach what is precisely wrong with stereotypical descriptions of characters in the book. Also, wouldn’t it be better to use the book to discuss how fictional characters’ stereotypical depictions can hurt and affect real-life people? Even talking about the changing social norms would be better than simply declaring a book unfit to read because of some content.

Maybe because I’m an author, I hate to see a book be declared undesirable, but it does seem that we should embrace a discussion of any book that is outside our social norms. Include in the discussion why a text no longer reflects current attitudes. If we were to discuss why certain depictions in a book are wrong, we all would better understand each other. Maybe, more importantly, we could learn more about what actions and depictions are especially hurtful.

My vote is for more discussion around the issues pertaining to race, gender, age, nationality, and sexual orientation and less censorship of literature. I would love to hear your ideas. Use the comment section, and thanks for reading.


158 thoughts on “What to Do With Books That Are Insensitive to Social Norms

  1. Pingback: A quick Look at Books that Have been Challenged or Banned | Story Empire

  2. So this discussion has finally begun in my family because of the news media’s focus on those books and movies being banned. I must say, it has been eye opening to me to hear my own families take on how they don’t notice nor have ever tried to look at things from another’s perspective besides their own. Being white, my Mom and Dad who are now in their 70’s overlooked the references and negative depictions of other races. Even when I pointed them out, they still said we get it but back then it was just how it was. I guess what I’m saying is I’m torn. If this bent toward an awakening to how much racism still permeates our society didn’t happen, the media wouldn’t have focused on what is being removed. If media didn’t focus on it, my family probably would not be having these conversations about specific books and movies. Now, do I think we should take them away? I do in some circumstances. There are some things written that just spew hate. However, I think these books and movies should be available for us to continue to use as teaching tools so those like my parents can be enlightened and have an awakening of what they just accepted as the norm and overlooked. The younger generations need to see or read and study the why and how these books or movies affected others. If we take away instead if teach, our society runs the risk of not learning and repeating our past mistakes. Just my humble thoughts on this topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Erin. Thankyou so much for sharing your comment today. I agree it is good for families to discuss current trends around race. I think my premise was that banning any kind of writing curtails the learning possibilities that could lead to a more productive attitude change. Your comment seems to agree with that premise even if your own family experience does not lead there. I think eventually if the ugliness of racism is brought into the light, future generations will be the beneficiaries. Thank you again for your comment and visit.


  3. Honestly I agree with you.. it funny how we keep making the same mistakes and hoping for change.we want to learn but we refuse to talk about the things we’reto learn from or even admit they exist.. we want them to die a natural death.. we have to stop treating history like a horror movie and start learning from her

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: What to Do With Books That Are Insensitive to Social Norms – Site Title

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