A The Tennessee school board voted unanimously to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel, “Maus,” from an eighth-grade curriculum.
“Maus” is a story told by cartoonist Art Spiegelman, as he tries to come to terms with the survival of his family, and especially his father, in Hitler’s Europe. Jews are mice and Nazis are cats. This device allows Spiegelman to tell these familiar, yet indescribable events in a way that vividly shakes the reader and helps them understand this story.
So naturally, in these times, a school board banned it. Telling the truth about the story itself is prohibited.
Spiegelman appeared stunned, saying, “It just leaves me speechless, like, ‘What?'” when he learned about it a day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
He called the school board “Orwellian” for its action. Indeed, this Tennessee School Board vote is right up the alley of George Orwell and his warning, particularly in his novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” about a dystopian future where a fascist regime attempts to control the thought.
The banning of books has a terrible, even bloody history, leaving burnt pages scattered over many years. Wars and persecutions ensue. This is a very, very bad idea.
As you walk into Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Israel, many books are scattered under a transparent floor. To advance in the museum, you have to walk on these books banned by the Nazis, books like those of HG Wells or Thomas Mann, books that advocate democratic principles or criticize the “own” racial structure of German culture and, of course, pretty much anything that’s written about sexuality or sex education.
The reason given for banning “Maus” in Tennessee was profanity and nudity (in a mouse?). Sure.
Why are award-winning books banned? The Pulitzer Prize for “Maus” is the only one ever awarded to a graphic novel.
Toni Morrison received a Nobel Prize in 1993 for his “novels characterized by visionary force and poetic scope (which) brings to life an essential aspect of American reality”.
American reality? Well, today it is forbidden.
“Beloved”, Morrison’s breathtaking novel is set in the midst of slavery, was a target of conservative GOP candidate Glenn Youngkin during the race for Governor of Virginia.
Youngkin won and immediately issued executive orders to teach a diverse range of subjects in Virginia. Its Executive Order No. 1 on Education is deeply misleading, using the language of “excellence” in education and citing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while removing the opportunity for children in this state to learn about struggles over race, the class and sex that shaped not only Virginia, but this whole nation.
On the other hand, can you show me an example of a great literary work by a QAnon conspirator? By one of the Proud Boys? So far I haven’t found any. Graffiti is not literature. Tweets are not literature. T-shirt slogans are not literature.
The truth of the story is on the chopping block here in the United States. There are vocal groups of conservatives who don’t want their children or yours to know the truth.
The Christian scriptures say, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
Ask yourself who does not want our children to be free and why?
Reverend Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is President Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now call Vail Valley their home.