GeneralShould Books Come with “Trigger Warnings”?

Should Books Come with “Trigger Warnings”?


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By Dolline Mukui.

According to Julian Barnes, The Man Booker Prize winner, books will soon need “trigger warnings” as some students do not like being faced with the ugly truth.

Over the last two years, a growing number of universities have introduced trigger warnings about distressing material to students and offered safe places in which certain behaviours are prohibited.

The suggestion was made after some undergraduates had taken to criticizing Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary on the basis of the protagonist’s behaviour.

Barnes spoke at the celebration of the Booker’s half century at the Royal Festival Hall and said “I sometimes get exercised by our stories being put up for examination on non literary terms and trigger warnings and all that stuff.”

He also used an example of US students who had criticized Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, who had said ‘I didn’t like it because Madame Bovary is a bad mother’. Barnes ultimately did not know how to respond as he said ‘I don’t know where to begin to unpick that’.

However, a play by Shakespeare called Titus Andronicus had been given a trigger warning from Cambridge University English faculty to a lecture discussing the play, as it would include discussions of sexual violence and sexual health. The play also contains depictions of rape, murder and cannibalism.

Titus Andronicus

Barnes said to his audience at the Royal Festival Hall that “as for students asking to hear in advance the bad things that happen in Titus Andronicus, we might as well have a trigger warning on all great works of literature”.

An article written two months ago by Lori Horvitz discussed and gave a new perspective on whether books should come with trigger warnings.

Lori Horvitz who has taught literature, creative writing and gender studies for 18 years has never given or been asked to provide a trigger warning.

Some time last year she revised her curriculum and omitted books of a sexually violent nature except for one book she had assigned but hadn’t finished reading. The book contained a gang rape scene from the perspective of a young child.

A student in an anonymous teacher evaluation, wrote ‘Not providing trigger warnings is not only detrimental to a student’s emotional well being… but it also represents further invalidation/insult of rape survivors.’

As a courtesy, she has begun to provide content warnings on her syllabi, as there is no way to know which issues will be a mental or emotional trigger for students.

She said in her article ‘I understand the need, if possible, to emotionally detach when discussing and reading about difficult topics, but isn’t discomfort the place where real leaning takes place?’

Do you think we need trigger warnings?


Dolline is a traveller, journalist and blogger who has palate to try new things. She is a very spontaneous person; you might find her skydiving over the Kenyan coast or kayaking on Lake Como. She can be an over thinker who considers every outcome, but when she isn’t on analytical overdrive, she welcomes the unplanned and unexpected. Dolline is a very simple person who is up for a good laugh or snuggling up with a cozy book and enjoys living in the moment. Dolline also writes for her small personal blog called ‘Swatches of Beauty’ and contributes to a radio show called a ‘A Chat with Elle Celeste’.

Twitter: @ceraz_x

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