As cancel culture continues to rage across America, the scope of what’s considered offensive continues to broaden exponentially. As a result, the enriching history of poetry and literature – with all its complexities and contradictions – is being discarded and deconstructed into oblivion in academia and beyond. Books and authors once considered integral to a holistic education are now being removed or censored if they contain rhetoric that could offend. Here are nine examples of books and authors who could be the next victims of cancel culture:
Often touted as a prescient take on a dystopian future replete with authoritarian rule and censorship, it’s almost a kind of comic irony that George Orwell’s 1984 is now repeatedly brought up in a censorious manner as endorsing misogyny in current literary circles.
In ‘The Orwell Mystique: A Study In Male Ideology’, author Daphne Patai insists ‘‘Orwell assails Big Brother’s domination but never notices that he is the perfect embodiment of hypertrophied masculinity…[who] focuses on male power over females.”
Elsewhere, in The Atlantic, Noah Berlatsky argues, “George Orwell’s handling of his main female character in 1984 is clichéd, clumsy, and not a little sexist.”
The main thrust, scope, and vital relevance of 1984 is cast aside to pounce upon the misogyny and sexism the novel supposedly espouses.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain’s complex and classic novel that reads, at once, as a simple adventure story and also as a treatise on the American dream depending on the age of the reader, is no longer a masterpiece of American literature in the eyes of many. It’s now increasingly regarded as racist.
Twain’s novel has been among the most commonly banned books for decades now. In today’s cancel culture climate, however, it may finally be on its last legs for its language and characterization of black Americans.
That Twain’s novel was groundbreaking for its time for his views on race in America must now be discounted. We must also somehow look past the fact that Toni Morrison, a Nobel Prize-winning black American novelist, considered it a masterpiece as well:
“I was powerfully attracted to the combination of delight and fearful agitation lying entwined like crossed fingers in the pages. … It is classic literature, which is to say it heaves, manifests and lasts.”
Often heralded as the queen of Southern Gothic literature, Flannery O’Connor’s stories are often bleak and violent but also tinged with a strong moral tone owing to her Catholic upbringing. Her work received the National Book Award posthumously in 1972.
Recently, however, her letters and postcards have been made available to the public. Like most everyone else in the world, her views and opinions are rife with musings and contradictions. Regardless, she is now being chastised as a racist. The New Yorker recently ran a piece entitled ‘How Racist Was Flannery O’Connor?’ that stated the following:
[L]etters and postcards she sent home from the North in 1943 were made available to scholars only in 2014, and they show O’Connor as a bigoted young woman. In Massachusetts, she was disturbed by the presence of an African-American student in her cousin’s class; in Manhattan, she sat between her two cousins on the subway lest she have to sit next to people of color. The sight of white students and black students at Columbia sitting side by side and using the same rest rooms repulsed her.
O’Connor was still a teenager when she wrote those letters, but that is apparently no excuse and is somehow deserving of a lengthy piece in The New Yorker. She must now be posthumously vilified and held to an impossible standard even though the rest of her life as an adult and as a writer demonstrates none of the ignorance she may have held as an adolescent.
Known as the grandfather of the detective novel and a fiercely independent writer, Raymond Chandler’s style of writing has been endlessly mimicked and parodied in works of literary fiction, film, and television. His main character and protagonist, Philip Marlowe, remains the blueprint for the classic hardboiled detective.
Now though, his novels are under renewed scrutiny. As The Federalist details, “the more politically correct academics see no value in Chandler and dismiss him and his protagonist Philip Marlowe as homophobic and misogynist.”
Considering that notions of traditional masculinity are increasingly at a premium, it’s no surprise that Chandler and his character, Philip Marlowe, are viewed as unacceptable these days.
Rather than examining the actual criteria of Rowling’s views, Vanity Fair posited that the author was simply ceding to white privilege and uncritical dogma:
So Rowling, a British feminist, is soaking up these anti-trans views—she’s transphobic because everyone she reads and listens to is. Why? That’s the real mystery. Some pin the blame on many British journalists’ close ties to 2000s “skeptic” movement, largely built around dismissing pseudosciences such as homeopathy and “anti-science” views. My view is that it’s about just how white and privileged journalism is in the U.K.
Rowling responded to the criticism and sought to clarify her position in a much-maligned blog post:
“I’m concerned about the huge explosion in young women wishing to transition and also about the increasing numbers who seem to be detransitioning (returning to their original sex), because they regret taking steps that have, in some cases, altered their bodies irrevocably, and taken away their fertility.”
Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that epitomizes classic western folklore is now increasingly considered antiquated and destructive. In a recent list of books one should now actively avoid according to GQ, author Lauren Groff singled out ‘Lonesome Dove’ as contributing to the ‘degradation of America’:
I’m convinced that the cowboy mythos, with its rigid masculine emotional landscape, glorification of guns and destruction, and misogynistic gender roles, is a major factor in the degradation of America.
Groff also stated that McMurtry’s novel was full of “old toxic stereotypes we all need to explode.”
Unruly, funny, salacious, and even gross, Charles Bukowski’s stories and poems often championed destitute blue-collar men, loners, and outcasts. As with all good literature and poetry, his work offered an insight into a perspective often hidden away or obfuscated by the stuffy pretense of academia.
Feminists insist that Bukowski’s work is misogynistic and filled with sexist tropes, as though his stories were written as an actual personal affront to them in some hopelessly solipsistic manner.
In a review, Slate quoted feminist Dayna Tortorici’s odd read of Bukowski that somehow managed to confirm her own body dysmorphia:
I will never forget reading Bukowski’s Post Office and feeling so horrible, the way that the narrator describes the thickness of ugly women’s legs. I think it was the first time I felt like a book that I was trying to identify with rejected me. Though I did absorb it, and of course it made me hate my body or whatever.
From Stephen King to Guillermo del Toro, Lovecraft’s influence on the horror genre is undeniable. However, many of his personal views were indeed abhorrent, especially with regards to his racism and anti-semitism.
According to Literary Hub, Lovecraft exclaimed “the Negro is fundamentally the biological inferior of all White and even Mongolian races.” And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
Though the lunacy of Lovecraft’s personal views has little bearing on his works of fiction, only time will tell if his entire canon will be discarded by society.
To Kill A Mockingbird
Harper Lee’s classic novel was often considered a profound and compassionate take on inequality and race in America and was assigned to prompt conversations on tolerance and dispel notions of prejudice.
Now it seems even ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is too offensive for many. According to School Library Journal: “Many believe Harper Lee’s classic novel to be problematic, if not outright racist.”
Writing for the New York Times, Roxane Gay, the author of ‘Bad Feminist’, dismisses the novel entirely because it’s not relatable to her own experiences, stating, “I don’t need to read about a young white girl understanding the perniciousness of racism to actually understand the perniciousness of racism. I have ample firsthand experience.”
It’s as though the entire point of great literature is lost on the likes of Gay and her cancel culture contemporaries. Compelling stories and poems offer an insight into another’s perspective often wholly different from one’s own. One doesn’t need to be a Greek warrior to appreciate Homer or dying of tuberculosis to understand Ode to a Nightingale. If anything, Gay’s criticism highlights the self-absorption and odd entitlement that rampages through cancel culture and society-at-large today.
Worse, if classic literature is read at all these days, it’s often simply to find parts to disavow. Writing for Elle, Elissa Straus proclaims:
We need to read books by and about macho, sexist proto-frat boys because they are our past. Misogyny was not a minor player in the cultural history of the world. Women need to know it and feel it in order to understand its internal logic. Only then can we set to dismantling it…In other words, know thine enemy.
As literature and history continue to erode under the auspices of “social justice,” outrage, and cancel culture, we risk a return to a state of ignorance and obedience fundamentally counter to the American way of life.
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