As a winner of the most prestigious awards on offer, as well as having written some of the most influential and widely-read books in recent American history, it is a brave man, indeed, who can find cause to take Toni Morrison to task. But Morrison’s prestige hardly deterred two parents, Matt and Barb Dame of Plymouth-Canton, Michigan, to speak out in anger about their high schooler’s reading choices. Morisson’s Beloved, a postmodern epic set in the aftermath of the Civil War, along with Graham Swift‘s Waterland, were both the long-undisputed choices of AP English teacher Brian Read of Salem High School, and were both challenged as being too sexually explicit (as well as–somehow–being too easy) for high school readership. While the issues with Waterland were not specifically disclosed, the family’s concerns surrounding Beloved were etched out in detail–particularly the fact that graphic sex takes place among humans as well as cows, as well as the name of God being taken ‘in vain’.
One really has to wonder what the Dame’s relationship to books could be, if these stand as their criticisms. Notwithstanding the ubiquity of ‘God’ as an expletive in practically any work written after 1905, there is hardly any book one doesn’t pick up these days that lacks an explicit sex scene between cows. I, for one, would question an author’s relevance if I found a book to be without this element, and that goes for most of the free-thinking people I know, as well. Unfortunately, the obvious signs of illiteracy (or at best, complete disinterest in reading) shown on the part of the Dames cannot count against them in the long run. It is Beloved, instead, that stand on trial. It’s an ironic touch, considering that if the Dames had managed to grasp the subject matter of Beloved, they could hardly think of a trial as anything but an additional indignity placed upon characters whose suffering forms one of the most critical narratives of the current literary age.