The Best Dystopian Novels About Banned Books
Happy Banned Books Week! This annual awareness campaign has been around since 1982, but decades before its inception, authors were publishing their own commentaries on censorship--often in the books that were themselves banned. Dystopian novels are among the most frequently challenged and banned books. These cautionary tales usually take place in a society where the written word is regarded as threatening to social and political order. Here, we highlight the books banned within some of the most famous dystopian stories.
George Orwell set the template for literary dystopian oppression--one that's been revered and imitated many times since. Winston Smith, an editor tasked with falsifying documents through historical revisions, becomes obsessed with discovering the truth behind the totalitarian regime in which he lives. After reading enemy of the state Emmanuel Goldstein's propaganda "The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism"--known to citizens simply as "The Book"--Winston marks his observations in a journal--and that act alone can get him arrested for thought crimes. The government wields its power through censorship and surveillance much akin to those who have endeavored to ban "1984" from school and library shelves.
In a world where the written word is regarded as not just evil, but irrelevant--and firemen start fires instead of fighting them--Guy Montag burns books for a living. That is, until he meets the eccentric Clarice: a young girl who relishes independent thinking and the illegal books that foster it. As the rebellious Montag attempts to escape his increasingly war-torn society, he pockets several illicit texts, among them sections of a ravaged Bible. It is the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1 ("To everything there is a season") and Revelations 22:2 ("And on either side of the river was there a tree of life… and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations"), with their themes of rebirth, that allow him to thrive with a group of outsiders who commit texts to memory. These "living books" will be the only hope of rising from the ashes of an intellectually barren society. While "Fahrenheit 451" has not been banned outright, it was released in censored form for 13 years--with passages altered to erase expletives--before Bradbury realized and fought back.
"Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night"
Access to art and literature is extremely limited in the dystopian future of Ally Condie's "Matched." With culture deemed "too cluttered," citizens are allowed to read only 100 poems selected by the government. Upon receiving a scrap of paper from her dying grandfather, 17-year-old Cassia Reyes is shocked to read an unfamiliar and forbidden verse: Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night." The poem inspires her to question her ultra-restrictive society--one that dictates marriage partners, as well as reading material--and conjures her rebel spirit. Taking on the poem as her mantra, in a sense, she "rages against the dying of the light."
In 1997, in an alternate-universe dystopian Britain, a masked revolutionary named "V" seeks to demolish the totalitarian government. His secret lair, which he calls his "Shadow Gallery," is filled with contraband texts that range from the philosophical (Plato) to the gritty (Charles Bukowski).
"Delirium" takes place in an alternate, present-day reality where love is considered a devastating disease. Unsurprisingly, media consumption is highly restricted. Just like in "Matched," citizens can read only approved literary works. Even the books that are permitted are interpreted far more rigidly. Take Shakespeare's classic "Romeo and Juliet": It's regarded as a cautionary tale about the madness love brings--one that the novel's protagonists Lena and Alex fail to heed.
Everything, from the Bible to Vogue
In a society where women are only valued for their child-bearing abilities, a young handmaid named Offred struggles with crippling political and sexual oppression. Reproductive autonomy is a fever dream, as every right and privilege is stripped away, including the freedom to read--women aren't even allowed to read street signs--in an authoritarian attempt to control minds and bodies alike. But, out of censorship comes temptation: The Commander, who Offred serves, begins seeing her illicitly--not for sex, but to allow her to read fashion magazines and other contraband texts.
Since its publication in 1985, "The Handmaid's Tale" has been misinterpreted and banned several times. Parents have asserted that the book is sexually explicit and offensive to Christians--clearly misunderstanding Atwood's commentary.