7 Books that Were Banned in the U.S.

Think you live in a totally free society? Ask the authors of these 7 Books that Were Banned in the U.S. To be fair, all of these books are now available, but considering many were written in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, we’re not far removed from when they were hard to come by. Not all were banned outright by the government. Some were simply removed due to parental or administrative pressure at the high school level. Regardless, they are all proof you can’t just say whatever you want to in this country, even today.


Ulysses by James Joyce     Ulysses

What It’s About: A Modernist re-imagining of the poem The Odyssey set in 1904 Dublin. Leopold Bloom is the Odysseus character. Stephen Dedalus is Telemachus. Molly Bloom is Penelope. However, the 265,000-word novel takes several forks from the original work and emerges as a completely original stream-of-consciousness piece.

Why It Was Banned: Sex. Why else?

When We Wised Up: Ulysses was published in 1922 and faced a temporary government ban stateside, which finally went away in the 1933 case of the United States vs. One Book Called Ulysses. Most people who hate reading find the language and structure of the novel difficult to deal with and would probably prefer it stay out of the curriculum.


tropic of cancerTropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

What It’s About: Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer is an autobiography of sorts detailing his time as a struggling author in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Why It Was Banned: Many agree that Tropic of Cancer is the reason literature today has such a wide breadth in the U.S. It didn’t get there easy, however. Originally published in Paris, the first edition was banned by our government in 1934 for its overt sexuality and candidness. An American printing by Grove Press in the early 1960s led to obscenity trials as the book fought the label of being “pornographic.”

When We Wised Up: In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the book as “safe.” A 1970 film starring Rip Torn and retroactively rated NC-17 was to follow. Don’t know about you all, but Torn in an NC-17 film is something we’d be okay with banning.


Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrencelady chatterleys lover

What It’s About: A woman’s husband is crippled and rendered impotent. She loves her husband dearly, but also loves sex. With his approval, she seeks a resolution to the problem.

Why It Was Banned: The official ban was for the violation of obscenity laws. With “Lover” right there in the title, we think you get the picture. Best we can tell, this was banned in the 1930s. U.S. Senator Reed Smoot offered this critique of the book and the author: “I’ve not taken ten minutes on Lady Chatterley’s Lover, outside of looking at its opening pages. It is most damnable! It is written by a man with a diseased mind and a soul so black that he would obscure even the darkness of hell!” (It is believed he did not particularly care for the book.)

When We Wised Up: The ban was overturned in 1959.


In The Night KitchenIn the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

What It’s About: A young boy is awakened in the middle of the night and has an out-of-clothing experience that sees him almost getting baked in an oven. (It’s a children’s book, just go with it.)

Why It Was Banned: Author Maurice Sendak’s previous work Where the Wild Things Are was released in 1963 and already had folks on edge for its dark tone. When Sendak featured a naked little boy in the artwork of In the Night Kitchen – and we’re not talking just a butt shot – the censors took note. It wasn’t long before school administrators and teachers started seeing phallic and semenal symbolism in other parts of the book and drew comparisons to Sendak’s homosexuality.

When We Wised Up: The book is not banned outright – at least not by the government. However, schools are reluctant to include it in their curriculums, with some banning it outright even today.


Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly by Harriet Beecher Stoweuncle toms cabin

What It’s About: The story of a Christian slave, who stays true to his faith, even in the face of death. This is his story, and the stories of the lives he touches along the way.

Why It Was Banned: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as it is more commonly known, was initially banned in the southern United States for obvious reasons. It portrayed the atrocities of slavery, a practice very popular in the South, for what they were and mobilized the abolitionist movement.

When We Wised Up: Since the end of the Civil War, the novel’s main trouble comes in the form of its portrayal of African-Americans. There are many stereotypes throughout, and that gets it a bit of a bad reputation. However, many historians believe it was responsible for bringing about the Civil War and the end of slavery, so it’s tough to be too critical. One apocryphal story alleges that President Abraham Lincoln himself met the author and referred to her as “the little lady who started this great war.”


For whom the bell tollsFor Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

What It’s About: An American becomes embroiled in the Spanish Civil War and falls in love against the backdrop of a dangerous mission to ignite a vital bridge.

Why It Was Banned: For Whom the Bell Tolls contains several instances of brutality including a gang rape scene, but it was the perceived pro-Communist message that caused the U.S. Post Office to react, declaring the book unfit for mailing.

When We Wised Up: The ban occurred in 1941, but lasted only briefly. By 1943, Gary Cooper was starring in the film version alongside Ingrid Bergman.


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainHuckleberry Finn

What It’s About: The adventures of a mischievous youth and his friend, an escaped slave, along the Mississippi River.

Why It Was Banned: Huck Finn is one of those books that continues to be problematic for word choice. The easiest time it had was in England where it was first published circa 1884. As early as the 1885 U.S. Edition, libraries were nixing it from their inventories. Censorship of the novel persists even today with “updated” editions like The Hipster Huckleberry Finn, which replaces the notorious N-word with “hipster.”

When We Wised Up: The constant use of the N-word is difficult to get around for many, especially in the high school environment. As a result, urban areas are reluctant to teach it in its pure form. Well into the 21st Century, school districts are still playing avoidance, though the novel remains accessible.

What about your experiences? Ever had a book removed from your school’s curriculum for objectionable content? Share your experiences below!

  • Mr. Williams

    Most if not all were banned due to their sexual nature. How Ironic that is considering that most peoples greatest physical experience in life takes place when having sex and sex keeps the human race going. For the life of me I don’t know where people got the idea or notion that having sex is something to be kept behind closed doors and to be ashamed of talking about or discussing it. To me, the people who think “Sex” should not be talked about are the people who are ignorant and are the dangerous ones.

    • Steven Paul

      It’s not sex, it’s the morality that is the problem. Sex is a precious gift from God, but when it’s sensationalized, commercialized, made pornographic, perverted, that’s when it becomes something bad!

  • i have only read two of these books all the way through: uncle tom’s cabin and huckleberry finn. they should be read as written. wonderful books! read some of tropic of cancer, put it down as just another unworthy smutty book. ditto lady chatterley’s lover. maurice sendak’s nude book shows in some ways the origins of his original sexual molestation as a boy and reveals his tendencies towards pederasty himself. a study of mental and sexual abnormality, but an honest one. not a book for children, but for students of psychiatry. ulysses and for whom the bell tolls remain on my reading list as to dos. have already read the iliad and the odyssey. i am not that great a fan of male centered sagas or war centered reading, which is why i have lagged behind. however, one must read everything in order to evaluate it and get what one can out of it. both are great writers in many ways. i have enjoyed other books by them. the old man and the sea. the big two hearted river. just about everything else joyce wrote besides ulysses.

  • Bluestocking

    What about ‘The Catcher in the Rye’? Was that never banned from US schools? I remember my English teacher (in Scotland) making it available to us in the mid 60’s, but not ‘officially’.

  • darla

    Here is one that was banned from US schools back in the 60’s and still is today….The Bible.

    • MichaelLust

      It isn’t banned. It isn’t a history text, and it certainly isn’t a science text, but it isn’t banned, either.

  • saintfighteraqua

    The Oz books were banned for awhile too.

  • When I was in high school in Chicago in 1969, I wrote, published and sold a mimeographed story to my classmates about two guys who pick up two girls at a dance; then the girls knock them out and steal their money. The school wanted to ban the story for its realistic dialogue and crime elements, and expressed surprise that my parents knew that I’d written the story and had no objection to it. So in the end it wasn’t banned and I went on to sell quite a few copies at 5¢ a piece! 🙂 (Those were the days, of course, when you could buy a candy bar for 5¢.)

    The title of the story was “You’ll See” as in, “You’ll see what happens when you pick up sleazy chicks at a dance!” 😉 Haven’t thought about this episode in my life for quite awhile…

    This has been another Irv O. Neil Comment from the Fringe!

  • march 29, 2011 crossville-chronicle page 1, the top story was a motion made at the cumberland county board of ed. to remove the ‘the catcher in the rye’ from the school system.

  • thaddeusbuttmunchmd

    The SToopid PTAs wanted to ban “The Fixer” because it was “about drugs.” BULLSHOT. It was about a Jewish man framed in Czarist Russia for blood libel. “Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack” a not bad teen book is actually an early foray into Obesity.

  • JM

    I grew up in a Christian school. I loved reading Judy Blume books growing up, especially the Peter and Fudge Hatcher books. When I was in middle school, I decided to reread them. I found out the elementary principal had them banned from the school, all her books, because he felt some were not appropriate and did not agree with all she taught, so he banned all her books. That was early 1990’s.