Novels About Change or Transformation

These novels have characters who are dealing with change in various ways—in their environment, the role they play, their goals, mental state, circumstances, and sometimes physically.

See also Coming of Age

Novels with Change, Transformation or Metamorphosis

American Pastoral | Philip Roth

Swede Levov is a Jewish man, successful in business and a former athlete, who wants to live a peaceful life. His plans are thrown into chaos when his daughter Merry, sixteen, plants a bomb at the local post office in protest of the Vietnam War.

Memoirs of a Geisha | Arthur Golden

Through interviews, Sayuri, a retired geisha, tells her life story. When she was nine, she was sent to a geisha house to work. She deals with the extensive politics of this life, and tries to pay off the expenses related to her training. She gets separated from her sister at an early age and tries to find her.

Nectar in a Sieve | Kamala Markandaya

Rukmani’s marriage is arranged to a poor rice farmer. They are happy and have several children. They deal with changes and adversity, such as a tannery being built in their community, a monsoon that destroys their property, and the maturation of their children.

My Antonia | Willa Cather

Jim Burden recollects the life story of Antonia Shimerda. As children, their families moved to rural Nebraska where they became neighbors. They become friends, being close in age, and with Antonia eager to learn English. An upset in the Shimerda family creates some distance between the two. Years later, the Burden’s move in to town and Antonia takes a job nearby.

Read “My Antonia”

Les Miserables | Victor Hugo

Jean Valjean, just out of prison, receives hospitality at the home of Bishop Myriel. He has a profound interaction with the bishop, which turns his life around. He becomes a good citizen and rises in the world. He also becomes aware of Fantine, a woman with a scandalous past who was fired from her job, and he wants to help her. Meanwhile, Valjean is being tirelessly pursued by Javert, an inspector devoted to duty.

“…the march from evil to good, from the unjust to the just, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from rottenness to life, from hell to heaven, from nothingness to God.”

Read “Les Miserables”

The Wrestling Match | Buchi Emecheta

Okei is a sixteen-year-old living with his uncle’s family because his own family was killed in the Nigerian Civil War. Okei feels some conflict between his traditional culture and his education and violent experiences. Some boys from Okei’s village and a neighboring village are bored and causing trouble. The elders of the respective villages come up with a diversion for the young people.

Flowers for Algernon | Daniel Keyes

Charlie Gordon has an IQ of 68. He’s going to undergo a surgical procedure to vastly increase his intelligence. He records his experience in a series of diary style “Progress Reports”. He describes how he is treated by his workmates, his interpersonal interactions, and his childhood.

Read “Flowers for Algernon”

Things Fall Apart | Chinua Achebe

It’s the 1880’s in the Nigerian village of Umuofia, a time before any outsiders have influenced the clan. Okonkwo is strong and determined, becoming a great warrior and successful farmer. His abilities make him a revered member of his community. His success goes to his head, and his extreme masculinity causes friction. Eventually, an accident causes a major rift between Okonkwo and his clan.

Wise Blood | Flannery O’Connor

Hazel Motes spends four years overseas in the army. After his release he goes back to his hometown in Tennessee with the intention of doing things he has never done. His religious upbringing enters his thoughts, leading him to follow a preacher down the street. When the preacher talks about Jesus, Hazel says he is also a preacher and is going to start The Church Without Christ.

The Color Purple | Alice Walker

Fourteen year old Celie writes letters to God about her life. She was raped by her stepfather and he threatened her not to tell anyone but God. She is essentially sold to a man who beats her often. Celie is a hard worker and struggles thru her oppression.

The Accidental Tourist | Anne Tyler

After the death of their son, Macon and Sarah divorce. Macon has to travel for work, and he writes guidebooks for those who have to travel on business but don’t like it. Before a trip, Macon boards his dog at an animal hospital and meets Muriel Pritchett, a woman who is supportive of him. He becomes increasingly isolated, staying at home. He starts to worry about where he’s headed.

The Call of the Wild | Jack London

Buck is a dog living a life of ease at the California ranch of Judge Miller. A ranch hand, Manuel, needs money because of his gambling problem. He sells Buck to a dog breaker, who, in turn, sells him again to Perrault and Francois. Buck has to adapt to the hierarchy of living with other dogs, as well as dealing with human masters.

“He had been suddenly jerked from the heart of civilization and flung into the heart of things primordial.”

Read “The Call of the Wild”

Sister Carrie | Theodore Dreiser

Carrie is eighteen living in 1889, headed for Chicago. She moves in with her sister and her husband and gets a low paying job. After living in poverty for a while, she meets up with a man she had previously met, Charles Drouet. He gives her some money and sets her up in a room. They start living together. She meets his friend George, and they have an attraction to each other. Charles is looking for an actress for a play and casts Carrie in the role.

Read “Sister Carrie”

Empire of the Sun | J. G. Ballard

Eleven-year-old Jim lives with his parents in Shanghai, in a wealthy European part of the city. When Pearl Harbor is attacked, many Europeans are evacuated, but Jim’s family stays. In the chaos following a Japanese attack, he gets separated from his parents. Jim is sent to a detention camp where survival is the main concern.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde | Robert Louis Stevenson

Dr. Jekyll is walking with his lawyer, Gabriel, and another man, Enfield, when a story is told of a man named Hyde with a highly displeasing appearance and manner, who knocked down a little girl in the street. Gabriel discovers that Jekyll has Hyde in his will, having bequeathed all his possessions to him. An associate says that Jekyll’s mind hasn’t been right for ten years. Gabriel looks into Hyde, finding him to be disgusting and evil. A witness later identifies him as the man who committed a serious crime.

“With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to the truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two.”

Read “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”

Silas Marner | George Eliot

Silas lives in the village of Raveloe, working as a weaver. He had to leave his hometown fifteen years ago after being falsely accused of stealing. He turns his back on people and his faith and becomes a miser. The Cass family, prominent in Raveloe, deals with some scandal, the effect of which eventually reaches Silas.

Read “Silas Marner”

Parable of the Sower | Octavia Butler

It is July 2024 in a southern California where water is scarce, there is high unemployment, and the weather is extreme – either droughts or massive rains. Lauren Olamina is fifteen-years-old and lives in a walled off community for protection, as crime is rampant. Lauren is highly empathetic toward others. After a frightening experience, she tries to organize an effort to be self-sufficient by living off the land. She also develops a religious belief system called Earthseed, which espouses the thought that God is change, as change is inevitable and constant.

Farewell My Concubine | Lillian Lee

Xiao Douzi is taken by his mother to Master Guan, a famous opera teacher. Along with another Guan apprentice, Shitou, he distinguishes himself, and they qualify for leading roles – Xiao as a dan, a female lead; and Shitou as a sheng, a male lead. They become celebrated performers, and are introduced to a glamorous life, along with the sordid interest it attracts.

Nausea | Jean-Paul Sartre

Antoine Roquetin, a thirty-year-old man, lives in Bouville, a small seacoast town in France. He is working on a biography of an obscure political figure. Roquetin notices a subtle change in his perceptions of himself and others. He grapples with his existence, and the existence of objects and others.

“Nothing happens while you live. The scenery changes, people come in and go out, that’s all. There are no beginnings. Days are tacked on to days without rhyme or reason, an interminable, monotonous addition.”

Read “Nausea” (Begins with Editor’s Note, Page 5)

The Magnificent Ambersons | Booth Tarkington

George Minafer is the only grandchild of Major Amberson, and the heir to the family fortune. He is brought up luxury and given unconditional love; he is spoiled and insolent. The family has lost a lot of money in bad investments, and the family’s fortunes are declining.

Le Pere Goriot (Old Goriot) | Honore de Balzac

In 1819 Rastignac, Vautrin, and Goriot live in a Paris boardinghouse, the Maison Vauquer. It is a dismal, grimy place. Rastignac is a young, smart social-climber. Vautrin is a bit mysterious and seems to be hiding something. Goriot has been living there several years, his fortunes gradually deteriorating as his daughters spend his money, but he is still devoted to them.

Read “Le Pere Goriot”

Humboldt’s Gift | Saul Bellow

Charlie has just graduated from college and loves literature. He moves to New York to become friends with Humboldt, a manic depressive poet. Later, Humboldt’s career falters while Charlie writes a popular play. Humboldt dies years later. Charlie has problems with the I.R.S. and his ex-wife. His life continues to be affected by his former friendship with Humboldt.

Jasmine | Bharati Mukherjee

Jasmine, twenty-four, lives in Iowa with Bud, her partner. He is in a wheelchair and she is pregnant. She relates significant events from her life from her birth and childhood in Punjab, her illegal emigration to Florida which begins traumatically, and her move to New York where she works as an au pair and earns her own money.

The Waves | Virginia Woolf

Six characters relate their thoughts and life experiences thru stream-of-consciousness monologues. A prose poem about waves coming in to shore begins each chapter, giving insight into the characters’ lives.

Read “The Waves”

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