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Why Was James Joyce's Ulysses Banned In The United States?

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Ulysses, a novel by Irish writer James Joyce (1882-1941), was banned in the United States for eleven years because it was labeled as obscene and radical by the U.S. Customs Court. At this time, the U.S. Post Office and Customs Service were both free to reject works they considered "obscene." Joyce's use of curse words and radical techniques such as stream-of-consciousness narrative (uninterrupted flow of thoughts and speech) challenged the tradition of U.S. censorship laws. These radical techniques have since earned Joyce high praise as one of the greatest writers of the English language.

Ulysses was originally published in 1922 in Paris, France, by Shakespeare and Company, a bookstore owned by Sylvia Beach, an American ex-patriot (someone who has left his or her country to live in another). Ulysses tells the events of one day in the life of a Jewish advertising salesman named Leopold Bloom in Dublin, Ireland. The book is structurally based on the Odyssey by the Greek poet Homer (before 700 B.C.), and each chapter of Ulysses parallels one in the Odyssey. Joyce also associated each chapter with an hour of the day, a color, a symbol, and a part of the body, a writing technique unheard of at the time. By 1928 the book was officially listed as obscene in the United States and banned until 1933, when Random House Publishing took the case to court. Judge John Woolsey then determined it to be a "sincere and honest book" and ruled that it be admitted into the country. This was a landmark case, which began an era of reduction in government censorship.

Further Information: Ellman, Richard. James Joyce: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982; Garrette, Peter K. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Dubliners. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1968; James Joyce. [Online] Available http://www.jough.com/joyce/, October 23, 2000; James Joyce. [Online] Available http://www.bibliomania.com/Fiction/joyce/ulysses/index.html, October 23, 2000; Schutte, William M. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1968.