Blocking Gardner’s Grendel

A friend shared an recent article from the Washington Post titled In Virginia Classrooms, Should Parents Block Sexually Explicit Literature for Their Kids? by Jenna Portnoy:

Under the bill, K-12 teachers would be required to ‘directly identify the specific instructional material and sexually explicit content contained in such material’.”

The books in question include The Bluest Eye, by  Toni Morrison, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

GrendelMany English teachers have run into similar conflicts. In my first encounter with censorship, a fellow department member had assigned John Gardner’s novel  Grendel to her honors sophomores. One set of parents petitioned the school board to remove the book because of the sexual descriptions in a chapter where the monster Grendel fixates on a woman’s anatomy.

These parents formed a committee to prevent the spread of this “filthy “text. In order to prove their point, they xeroxed copies of a particularly objectionable page to share with other parents and build a case to block the use of the book.

During a Friday night football game, and executing a textbook example of dramatic irony, the committee distributed copies of that page.

The football game was attended by families who filled bleachers, but these families were more interested in the game then in reading a selection from English II. At the end of the game, hundreds of those copied pages from “Grendel” drifted in the cool night air or lay trampled underfoot…signaling another form of rejection for Grendel.




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