Challenged Books: The Bluest Eye and The Color Purple

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Recently East Wake High School, about 30 minutes from my apartment, banned the use of The Bluest Eye in English classrooms after parental complaints, and relegated The Color Purple to alternate assignment lists. I hadn’t read either of these before, and I was excited for the excuse to get some more Toni Morrison in my life. In the end, I think I liked Alice Walker better, but I can see why these books are often taught together, as they treat similar themes in different ways.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I get why some people objected to these books. They deal with serious topics and harsh realities that we wish didn’t exist. You should feel uncomfortable reading these books, because the reality experienced by the characters is upsetting. It’s not the kind of book someone picks up for a fun escape, and therefore might be largely ignored for the majority of casual readers outside a classroom context. And I think that’s why it’s important for books like these to be read. For anyone dealing with the issues of poverty, racism, and abuse in their own lives, it’s important to see themselves in literature, realize that they’re struggles aren’t their’s alone. Breaking free of the isolating nature of these problems is the first step to overcoming them. For any of us lucky enough not to have to face those issues firsthand, books like these teach us empathy. It’s one thing to read statistics or factual reports about other people’s problems, but works of fiction can get us to feel for them and really understand their lives in ways that news reports often can’t. I really think the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position is one of the greatest assets to becoming a compassionate human, and reading literature outside of our comfort zone is an important way to gain that skill. That’s why I’m grateful to my high school curriculum, for assigning books I definitely would not have picked up on my own even though I’m an avid reader, about characters whose lives were so distant from mine that their struggles shouldn’t have been able to touch me. Good writers can take us outside our own narrow experience and broaden our worldview in a way that’s needed more than ever as society becomes more interconnected and global.

So, I’m sad that these books won’t be able to change lives, but I’m happy that the controversy at least let them change mine.

Previously: A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl

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