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Maus: Banned Books and the Freedom to Read

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

I was practically raised by books. My father read me Harry Potter almost every night, and by kindergarten I could read full sentences with no assistance. You could find me in the library of my elementary school more often than not. I had conversations with my middle school librarian about which book series to purchase more of. I would recommend books to my mother at Barnes and Noble. I loved fantasy books and couldn’t read them fast enough! Although this genre is almost never challenged, I did encounter some books and material that were challenging. These moments are not unpleasant memories, scars on the age of innocence, but rather a gentle impression banked away, a seed waiting to sprout. Just because a child may not fully understand something reading on their own, doesn’t mean it’s pointless, or that it’s harmful. I grew up in a bubble, and times are changing, as are parenting methods, but books passed easily through that bubble. Because of my early experiences, I feel very passionately about reading, and in turn, the banning of books.

I first heard about Maus from a professor in passing. At that time, it had been banned by The Tennessee Board of Education of McMinn County for swearing and nudity.  This instance was heavily publicized, but the novel was also challenged in California and Russia.

In summary, Maus is a graphic novel depicting the Holocaust by a father who survived it and his son, the author. The author uses an animal allegory to show the separate categories of people, with the Jewish characters shown as mice and the Germans as cats, while also combining his own narrative with his father’s, switching between the past and the present. It’s a unique piece of work, and it’s hard to classify it as any one genre. It’s also the only graphic novel to receive the Pulitzer Prize (1992).

I feel that students won’t benefit from a sanitized version of this book. Children are exposed to so much outside of school and presenting the Holocaust with a concentrated artistic perspective will leave behind a positive impression, not only educating kids about such a widely taught event, but doing so through a vulnerable, personal narrative that will ground them in the story of Spiegelman and his father. This was what struck me about Maus; the incredible story of his father’s survival, but also how it impacts his son.

From a NYT article released shortly after the Tennessee banning, the author responded; ‘After reading the minutes of the meeting, Mr. Spiegelman said he got the impression that the board members were asking, “Why can’t they teach a nicer Holocaust?’” Many other banned books are also about the Holocaust, such as Number the Stars by Lois Lowry and Night by Elie Wiesel. 

My university hosted a Banned Book reading during Banned Book Week, an international event promoting reading and discouraging banning. It is so difficult to get a book published, but to be banned, you must already be published! What does it say about us, about a portion of society, that we want to censor information, to hide important stories from ourselves that are so often revealing and truthful. To ban books is to challenge freedom, and I was happy to participate in an event that stood for the freedom of expression, as well as the freedom to read!

Carissa Soukup

Coastal Carolina '23

Carissa Soukup is an English major with a minor in Communications. Her hobbies are reading, listening to music, and brushing her cat. Her goal is to work in the publishing industry. She dreams of eventually living in a log cabin with several more cats after traveling the world.
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