Thursday, December 21, 2006

Who's Banning Gilbert Grape?

What's Eating Gilbert Grape has been removed from a Carroll, IL High School class, according to a story in the local news. School Board Superintendent Rob Cordes pulled the book from the literature-to-film class following parents' concerns over an oral sex scene in the book. He had not read the book. Critics of the pulling of Gilbert Grape are upset that one person was able to have the power to ban the book without a hearing in the court of public opinion. A committee will be reviewing the book. However, for now the book remains out of the classroom.

At the school board meeting, one parent held up copies of both the book and a Penthouse magazine to make a comparison. Mr. and Mrs. Huckas who object to the use of the book wrote in a letter to the school district, "We would not want to fill our minds with such garbage. It promotes immorality, adultery, fornication and self-indulgence." They had not read the book. The parents also want the district to consider removing more books from both the library and the curriculum.

Students from local high schools along with alumni have formed "Un-ban Gilbert Grape! Censorship Is Wrong," an organized group on the Web network Facebook. Several of the high school's students have created T-shirts that have free-speech quotations such as, "Censorship feeds the dirty mind more than the four-letter word" and "Think for yourself and let others do the same" and "books won't stay banned and ideas won't go to jail."

What's Eating Gilbert Grape, a novel by Peter Hedges, is about a young man's experiences with his troubled family in a small Iowa town. One of its main characters is mentally challenged. One student is quoted as saying that the characters in the book are "going through a lot of the same things our classmates are going through. They're stuck in a small environment, everyone knows them." He added that the book is the only one he can recall reading in the class written by an Iowa author. Carroll High School teacher-librarian Kelly Fischbach says the book deserves to be judged in its entirety, not for a few sentences. She calls it a 'great book' that connects with rural Iowa teens.

Apparently parents were already notified of its content before it was used in class and had to sign a permission slip for their child to read it. Students or parents who object to their child reading the book are able to be assigned alternative assignments.

Photo from Daily Times Herald


Peggy said...

According to the class description posted on Carroll High School’s website, the purpose of the Literature to Film class at CHS is to, “evaluate how a short story, play or novel is changed for the film. It further states that discussion is a “focus of the class.” If this syllabus were adhered to, the majority of the classroom discussion surrounding What's Eating Gilbert Grape would logically be dominated by the vast differences between the sex-saturated book and its relatively tame film counterpart.

However, a CHS student was quoted in a Daily Times Herald article (“CHS Students Take “Grape” Fight to Net,” 11/22/06) as saying, “In class we never discussed those portions of the book. We only discussed those portions of the book that were meaningful to our lives.”

In what the book’s supporters would have us believe is a typical 27-day slice of small-town Iowa life, the reader is treated to 24-year-old Gilbert’s six erections, five occasions of masturbation, his reception of fellatio from a married mother of two, with whom he has been having an affair since he was 17, Gilbert watching while the local insurance agent has sexual intercourse with his secretary on her desk, Gilbert’s lustful obsession with a 15-year-old girl whom he is desperate to bed, and his 16-year-old “Born Again” sister having sex in the back of a hearse with the town’s 29-year-old mortician.

In addition to the incessant sexual references in the book, Gilbert repeatedly calls his mentally challenged brother a retard and uses derogatory terms to describe his morbidly obese mother. Another blatant theme is Gilbert’s disdain and mockery of Christians, which defenders of the book seem to have missed - or purposely glossed over - altogether.

This dark, hate-filled story ends with the Grape children burning down their family home to save their now-dead mother the embarrassment of having to be extricated with a crane. There is no happy ending, there is no moral to the story and there is no epiphany for Gilbert. In short, there is no redeeming literary value to this book.

If Peter Hedges’ story were put to film - as written - it likely would have received an NC-17 rating for its numerous, sexually explicit depictions, one of which is particularly lengthy and graphic, easily qualifying as porn. However, the PG-13 movie is almost completely devoid of the moral transgressions outlined above with the exception of Gilbert receiving oral sex from a married woman which is alluded to without nudity. It seems some clear-thinking movie producer, or perhaps Hedges himself when he wrote the screenplay, came to the logical conclusion that the gratuitous sex in the book would not be embraced by the general public as entertainment.

Those who fought the removal of this tasteless book from Carroll High’s curriculum and library did so for selfish reasons. For the students, theirs was an exercise in rebellion against authority. For the teachers, it was a condescending defense of their own poor judgement. (Maybe if the scene in which Gilbert urinated on his former teacher’s fresh grave had been brought to the forefront, they would have reconsidered.) As for the local press, it appears to have been about preserving Carroll’s image, even though one student remarked in her letter to the editor that the book was about “dead-end, small-town life” and the kids could “relate to this book.” (DTH, 11/24/06)
Sadly, the entire Gilbert Grape debate was a botched opportunity on the part of many adults to teach children, who rely on them for guidance, about striving for higher standards and choosing right over wrong.

Anonymous said...

Sorry peggy but you are extremely stupid and close-minded if u think that whats eating gilbert grape doesnt have "any redeeming literary value". You point out the many masturbations, erections, and supposedly inappropriate sexual scenes in the story. Don't you know young men at all? That's what they do. The novel is a very realistic representation of life that many can relate to, of all ages and both genders. Finally, you said that "Maybe if the scene in which Gilbert urinated on his former teacher’s fresh grave had been brought to the forefront, they would have reconsidered". If you paid more attention to book, you would realize that he has a very good reason for doing so. She refused to let him go to the bathroom during class, resulting in him accidently relieving himself in front of the entire class, a humiliating experience. All this was happening at the same time his father was commiting suicice.