Sunday, December 21, 2008

Don't Burn Down the Little House

Recently someone in my book group expressed a strong opinion that the Little House on the Prairie Books were pretty much useless in terms of literary significance because of Ma's racist references to the Native Americans. She felt these references impugned the value of the entire book. It was an interesting idea to consider, because of course no one would be supportive of anything that even suggests racism. But somehow, her stance felt wrong to me and I had to let it sit for a while to consider it, and eventually (as always) my thoughts settled and I understood how I felt.

There are many books with racist overtones that are highly valued in literature because they present the complete picture of life at a particular point in time. We don't stop reading them because of a racist remark. If we did, we would lose some of our greatest literary treasures. Would we change Gone With the Wind, for example?    That's tantamount to censorship and really, what is the next step? Shall we start book burning? Or maybe just red-lining the parts that offend us?

I think this woman is assuming that one would read Little House and think it is somehow correct to make these racist references. But for heaven's sake -- this was written hundreds of years ago. No intelligent person would make that leap today and, in fact, it makes perfect fodder for thinking about how much life has changed. (Along with thinking about how we no longer blow up pig bladders to toss around as balloons.)

Please God, let us never in our world start to edit our book choices based on some individual's decision about what they decide seems inappropriate to them. It has happened too many times in history and is happening right now in this world. If anything, as readers we should fight against this kind of controlling behavior because what are we as a society if we are not, at the very bottom of it, able to be free thinkers? While often well intentioned, it never, ever ends well.


Holli said...

I completely agree with what you wrote here. I feel people are a little too censor happy these days, it seems like everywhere I turn someone else is telling me that their way is the right way. I hate it.

trosekay said...

Amen!!! My mind is flooding at the moment with all the classics that line of thinking would affect. Strong literary classics that "they" (the literary gods) have deemed important works of literature. I agree with you whole-heartedly!!! Urgh!

~Barb~ said...

I just think that literary works of art should reflect the times in which they were written, how can they not? That's just silly. It's as though people want us to forget things in our past and that is impossible. Racism IS a part of our can we learn anything if we don't take note of where we've been? UGH!

Yes, I agree with silly to believe that we should rewrite/censor literary works!

Peace & Love,

paperqueen said...

In agreement here....of course I abhor racism, but it's a short hop from banning books with content I dislike to banning those that don't offend me. In other words, who gets to decide what offends, what is "wrong," what should or shouldn't be read? In terms of what I read, that someone should be no one but me! Thanks for the thought provoking entry, Teri.

GardeningJo said...

I feel the same way - so many people in today's society are too willing to force their pov's on others, forgetting that we're priviledged in this Country to be able to read (and do) what we wish & voice our opinions. They need to look at other countries and see what happens when the opposite is true.

Hannah Banana said...

Well put, Teri. Literature would be nothing without freedom of expression.