These novels have characters who are faced with a difficult decision or have already made one. Sometimes we are shown their choices and given insight into how they come to a conclusion. Often, the narrative will show the character dealing with the consequences of their decision.
Theme: Choices and Consequences
The Natural | Bernard Malamud
Roy, nineteen, is on a train with his manager to try out for the Chicago Cubs. Also on the train is Walt Whambold, a batting star in the American League. When the train has to make a stop, the passengers go to a nearby carnival where Roy excels at a baseball contest. This leads to a little baseball showdown between Roy and Walt. The narrative jumps ahead fifteen years with Roy signed, now as a batter, to help a losing major league team. Neither the reader nor the characters are aware of the details of Roy’s life these past years.
The Pigman | Paul Zindel
John and Lorraine are high school students who don’t like school and aren’t close to their parents. While engaging in a telephone prank, they come to know Mr. Pignati, a lonely, hospitable man whom they start visiting regularly. When he has a heart attack, John and Lorraine are allowed to spend time at his house.
Invisible Man | Ralph Ellison
An unnamed narrator tells the story of his life from segregation in the 1920’s American South to living in Harlem many years later. He feels invisible in the world, believing people refuse to see him.
“What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?”
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.
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman | Ernest J. Gaines
A high school teacher interviews and then edits the responses of Jane Pittman, a woman who’s a 110 years old and has lived from her emancipation as a slave to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement a hundred years later.
The Bean Trees | Barbara Kingsolver
Taylor Greer saves some money for a car and leaves her small county in Kentucky. On her trip she takes in an unwanted baby girl. She takes what work she can get. She ends up in Arizona looking for a roommate, who turns out to be Lou Ann, a single mother lacking in self-confidence.
Moby-Dick | Herman Melville
Ishmael signs on to a whaling ship, the Pequod, run by the vengeful Captain Ahab. After they set sail, Ahab stays in his cabin for a few days before showing himself to the crew. He tells them the sole purpose of their mission is to find the whale that cost him his leg on his last trip, Moby-Dick. He offers a reward to the first man who spots the whale. Ahab’s actions become increasingly unsettling.
“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”
Too Late the Phalarope | Alan Paton
Pieter was a soldier and then a high-ranking police officer. He sometimes experiences what are described as “black” moods from an internal struggle. Pieter arrests Stephanie, a black woman, and finds her strangely appealing. The Immorality Act forbids sexual relationships between the races (this is set in South Africa). He feels guilty and doesn’t know who to talk to or what to do about it.
Make Lemonade | Virginia Euwer Wolff
LaVaughn, fourteen, starts babysitting for Jolly, a sixteen-year-old with two young kids. LaVaughn is saving for college. Dealing with two young children is hectic, and Jolly doesn’t always come home on time. She tries to teach the kids whatever she can. Jolly is afraid when she is fired and wants to borrow money from Lavaughn.
Arrowsmith | Sinclair Lewis
As a teen Martin works as assistant to a doctor and later enters medical school. There he is mentored by Gottlieb, an accomplished scientific researcher. Martin wants to follow Gottlieb’s lead and pursue pure science, but he faces pressure to attain traditional success. He is also attracted to two women and must choose between them.
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