New Tools Looking at Old Texts: Taking a Look into Banned Books

Together we decided to look at verbal trends in the banned books that we chose using Voyant Tools. After uploading the files containing the books after finding them on the public domain, we were able to see what words were most common throughout the books and able to see the trends of these words on graphs. The graphs we focused on displayed a few common words that we felt were potentially connected to themes and shows how much it was used in each book. From here we analyzed the graphs to see if the themes we believed to be prominent in banned books existed. Some of the graphs were inconclusive. For example, some words were equally uncommon throughout the book or was really common in one but not the other and therefore does not help us look at the overall themes or ideas in the books. Although the online data analysis tool looked at more concrete words instead of general themes, it still helped provide a useful insight into similarities and differences between the pieces of literature we worked with.

Here are the ten banned books we chose to compare:

1984 by George Orwell
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Lord of the Flies by Wiliam Golding
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Origin of Species/The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
Call of the Wild by Jack London

What We Found

Taking a look at the theme of good vs evil in the ten books we have chosen, it can be seen that there is a strong correlation between the the words white, light, dark, and black, with only a couple of outliers. Although the theme of good vs evil is prevalent in all of these novels, the relevant frequencies for each isn’t that prominent. Using this data analysis tool, we can see that the theme doesn’t attribute to a book being banned, which is something that surprised us because we thought there would be more of an association between good vs evil since banned books seem to have these major conflicts against our society.

Time has one of the highest relevant frequencies in all of the banned books we chose to take a look at. Comparing it with young and old, it seems there is some relationship between the words, but the use of young and old isnít as relevant as time (with the exception of old in A Clockwork Orange). Therefore, it seems that the concept of time seems to be an important aspect of the banned books and it would be an interesting investigation to continue looking into.

After looking at the graph comparing God and violence I was surprised to see that the word God was used so much in the banned books with such a low correlation to the word violence. I expected people criticizing God or religion by matching it up against violence. I thought one reason people would ban a book would be because it was anti-religious or by showing a negative side to religion or even just lack of faith but in this graph which measured these particular words in these ten books, this was not shown. The word God was used many times in some of these banned books. This shows that there was a theme of religion or God but doesn’t show how it was applied in the books, whether religion was shown in a positive or negative light. The word violence was not used much in the books which had the word in it; most book did not have the word at all.

After analyzing the graph of religion and revolutionary it is clear that the word revolutionary was used very little in these banned books for the exception of Animal Farm. I was surprised by this because I thought that challenging the norms and values by the act or talk of revolution would be a common cause for a book to become banned. Religion on the other hand, played a bigger part in the vocabulary of the books it was in. This might have been a cause for some of these books to become banned depending how religion was talked about.

After looking at the graph of end and dark it is clear that the words end and dark are used at opposite amounts in the first five books listed. This shows that even though in the first five books that the words were used at different amounts but they were both used, meaning that even it the graph shown one word to be lower it still was used and had relevance to the book. In the first half of the graph the word end is used a lot the word dark is used lightly. But, in the second half of the books use the words changed from being used at different ends of the spectrum they were used the same amount for the same last five books. This means that probably both of these words have the same value in the books. This also hints to a correlation between the words and then possibly being used to show the same theme.

About the Authors

Shannon Grossman and Sabrina Farley are English majors with writing concentrations at Westfield State University. They are both very avid readers of literature and especially enjoy reading banned books. Shannon, a passionate traveler, writes about her experiences abroad in her blog Travels with Shnay. Sabrina loves discovering new places near or far and has chosen to focus her blog on local travel, and you can follow her adventures at Walking With Eyes Open.

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