Graduation Year


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

John Peavoy

Reader 2

Warren Liu

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© 2015 Christie Kweon


In this paper. I attempt to prove that obscenity as a legal concept is actually a moral judgment made by patriarchal powers and a political tool used to police female sexuality. I analyze James Joyce’s Ulysses as a case study, using Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary as a precedent. While I believe that literature can transfer and inspire ideas, I don’t believe that transferring or inspiring perversity was the intent or effect of these novels. I argue not only that the trials’ prosecutions incorrectly claim that the novels sexually arouse the average or reasonable reader, but also that they do the opposite, or fail to meet expectations to do so. In the case of Madame Bovary, I further argue that the defense incorrectly claims that the novel has and enforces a set of morals, as the novel neither punishes nor lauds its protagonist, or any of its characters for the matter.

These so-called obscene novels don’t convert the everyman into a pervert. However, Ulysses and Madame Bovary do reflect and thus reveal a reality that is inconsistent with the censors’ imagined utopia: the characters in the novels’ world as well as the readers in the real word are all sexual beings, women included. I argue that censors banned novels such as Ulysses and Madame Bovary because they wished to police female sexuality under the guise of protecting the public from obscenity. Specifically, they prevented the publishing and distribution of these and other Modernist texts in an attempt to erase realistic representations of female sexuality, thus illegitimating it. Nevertheless, the perseverance of these texts proves that moral values, particularly those regarding sexuality, cannot be enforced by the law (and neither should they be).

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.