Novels About Class Conflict or Distinctions

These novels have interactions between individuals of different social classes.

They will often show how differently people are treated based on their class. They could also show characters trying to deal with the standards to which their class holds them.

Novels About Class

Summer | Edith Wharton

Charity Royall works in the library of her small New England town, North Dormer. She wants to earn enough money to leave the home of her guardian and the town. She meets a young architect from the city, Lucius Harney, and she becomes his guide. She becomes infatuated with him.

Read “Summer”

Don Quixote | Miguel de Cervantes

Influenced by books of chivalry, a man decides to become a knight. He finds a squire and sets out to fight injustice and uphold what’s right. His imagination runs wild as it fills in the gaps in his adventures and often leads him to make absurd decisions and misread situations.

Read “Don Quixote”

A Tale of Two Cities | Charles Dickens

Dr. Manette gets reunited with his daughter Lucie who thought he had been dead for the past eighteen years. Years later, Lucie marries Charles Darnay, a man who is keeping a secret about his background. The peasant’s are feeling oppressed by the aristocracy in the years leading up to the French Revolution.

Read “A Tale of Two Cities”

The Outsiders | S. E. Hinton

Ponyboy Curtis is fourteen and an orphan. He’s a member of the “Greasers”, a gang made up of poor people from the East Side. They have confrontations with the “Socs”, a rival gang with upper-class members.

Persuasion | Jane Austen

Sir Walter Elliot is a widower with three daughters – Elizabeth, Anne, and Mary. They live at Kellynch Hall, his estate. His spending habits have put the family in debt, and he doesn’t want to give up anything to alleviate the problem. He decides to rent out his house to the Croft’s, and move into a smaller house. Years earlier, Anne had been in love with Frederick Wentworth, Mrs. Croft’s brother. Her father wouldn’t approve their marriage due to a class difference. She is looking forward to seeing him again.

Read “Persuasion”

David Copperfield | Charles Dickens

David, now an adult, narrates his life story from boyhood in Blunderstone, England. His father dies before his birth. His mother begins keeping company with Edward Murdstone, a cold, autocratic man. After they marry, David is sent away to boarding school where he is mistreated further, although a friendship with an influential boy, Steerforth, improves things somewhat. David’s troubles continue when he gets sad news from home, and he has to find somewhere to live.

Read “David Copperfield”

Great Expectations | Charles Dickens

Miss Havisham, a wealthy and eccentric spinster, asks for a young boy to be sent to her house to talk. Pip is sent and falls in love with her young ward, Estella. He continues to visit until it’s time for him to be apprenticed as a blacksmith, the trade of his guardian, Joe. Exposure to Estella and the world of wealth has left Pip dissatisfied with his life. He gets some news that could change his fortunes.

“…that my hands were coarse; that my boots were thick; that I had fallen into a despicable habit of calling knaves Jacks; that I was much more ignorant than I had considered myself last night…”

Read “Great Expectations”

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.

Read “Les Miserables”

The Jungle | Upton Sinclair

Jurgis and Ona move to America, eager to make a good home for themselves. They buy a house, but the payments are higher than they expected. The whole family take hard, menial jobs connected to the meat industry. Their financial situation worsens, necessitating further indignities and inciting Jurgis to violence.

Read “The Jungle”

Brave New World | Aldous Huxley

It’s the year 2495 under totalitarian rule without war, poverty, and disease. There is lots of leisure time and pleasure. Humans are created in factories and are standardized and conditioned for the role they will assume in society. There are five social classes, from the gifted to the challenged. There is also a Savage Reservation, a sectioned off natural area without modern conveniences or state control.

“If one’s different, one’s bound to be lonely.”

Read “Brave New World”

Wuthering Heights | Emily Bronte

An orphan boy, Heathcliff, is brought to Wuthering Heights and becomes close to his benefactor’s daughter, Catherine Earnshaw. They aren’t socially equal, so Catherine refuses to marry Heathcliff, leading to a string of deranged behavior.

Read “Wuthering Heights”

The Grapes of Wrath | John Steinbeck

Tom Joad, just paroled for manslaughter, is hitchhiking across Oklahoma to his parents’ farm. He finds the farm abandoned; the bank has repossessed the family farm, forcing them out. Tom meets up with his extended family at his uncle John’s. The family prepares to go to California where they hope to find work.

Read “The Grapes of Wrath”

The Brothers Karamazov | Fyodor Doestoevsky

The Karamazov brothers have no mother and an uninterested father. Dimitri is a sensualist, Ivan is a thinker, and Alyosha is spiritual. When their father, Fyodor, is murdered, Dimitri becomes the main suspect.

Read “The Brothers Karamazov”

Howards End | E. M. Forster

Helen Schlegel and Paul Wilcox have a brief engagement. Helen returns to Wickham Place where she lives with her sister Margaret. Paul’s family moves in next door to Helen’s, and Margaret becomes friends with Mrs. Wilcox. She wants to leave her home, Howards End, to Margaret when she dies.

War and Peace | Leo Tolstoy

The narrative covers the events in Russia during the Napoleonic Wars. Among the large cast of characters, some fight in the war, some have financial difficulties, and others have romantic entanglements at home.

“The whole world is divided for me into two parts: one is she, and there is all happiness, hope, light; the other is where she is not, and there is dejection and darkness…”

Read “War and Peace”

The Fixer | Bernard Malamud

Yakov Bok goes to Kiev looking for a better life. He hides his Jewish identity so he can get work. The quality of his work impresses his employer, Lebedev, and he convinces Yakov to take a supervisory position at a brick factory. The workers are upset by this, and Yakov’s secret endangers his employment. When a young boy is found murdered, Yakov is arrested due to rampant anti-Jewish feelings.

A Room with a View | E. M. Forster

A young English woman, Lucy, is traveling in Italy with her chaperone. They meet Mr. Emerson – a man not bound by the social order – and his son, George – free in some ways but also melancholy. Lucy likes them and runs into them a few times, eventually sharing a moment of closeness with George. She returns to London and is pursued by Cecil, a proper match of rank and class.

Read “A Room with a View”

Sense and Sensibility | Jane Austen

Mr. John Dashwood and his wife control the family estate. His half-sisters, Elinor and Marianne, need to find husbands to ensure their futures. Elinor is rational while Marianne is passionate. They navigate their social circle with its rules of class and relationships between men and women looking for a suitable match.

“Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.”

Read “Sense and Sensibility”

Far from the Madding Crowd | Thomas Hardy

Bathsheba Everdeen is a beautiful, flirtatious young woman. She attracts the attention of three men – Gabriel Oak, a poor independent farmer; William Boldwood, a farm owner; and Frank Troy, an army sergeant and womanizer. Bathsheba inherits her uncle’s farm and runs it while dealing socially with her suitors.

“I shall do one thing in this life – one thing certain – that is, love you, and long for you, and keep wanting you till I die.”

Read “Far from the Madding Crowd”

Gone with the Wind | Margaret Mitchell

Scarlet O’Hara is a young, spoiled Southern belle living at Tara, her family’s plantation. She is in love with Ashley Wilkes, who is interested in her friend Melanie. Rhett Butler is a handsome gentleman but a bit of an outcast, with some scandal around him. He takes an interest in Scarlett, and they have a hostile relationship. Eventually, the Civil War reaches Tara, disrupting Scarlett’s life and plans.

Read “Gone with the Wind”

Madame Bovary | Gustave Flaubert

Emma, a farm girl, marries Charles Bovary, a widowed country doctor. He is content with the union, but she soon becomes bored, desiring a life of passion and romance. She seeks satisfaction in possessions, her family, and other men.

“One’s duty is to feel what is great, cherish the beautiful, and to not accept the conventions of society with the ignominy that it imposes upon us.”

Read “Madame Bovary”

U. S. A. | John Dos Passos

American society during the first three decades of the twentieth century is examined thru the lives of a large cast of characters. There is a section of Newsreels that includes headlines and song lyrics from the time, Camera Eye monologues that are parts of stories, and biographies of famous or noteworthy people.

Evelina; or, The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World | Fanny Burney

Reverend Arthur Villars (Evelina’s guardian) agrees to let her stay with Lady Howard for a while. They attend a ball in London, where Evelina meets Lord Orville, a distinguished, exceptional man. She makes social errors and learns how to behave.

“Unused to the situations in which I find myself, and embarrassed by the slightest difficulties, I seldom discover, till too late, how I ought to act.”

Read “Evelina”

The Time Machine | H. G. Wells

The Time Traveler explains time to his dinner guests. When they disagree, he gets a small machine, pushes a lever, and it disappears, supposedly traveling thru time. He says he will use a large version of this machine to travel thru time himself. He returns with stories of his travels.

Read “The Time Machine”

Feed | M.T. Anderson

Titus, a teenager from a wealthy family, lives in a time when everyone is connected to feednet – like the internet but with a chip planted directly in the brain. He and some friends are on a trip to the moon. He meets a girl, violet, who is from a poorer family. On their way to a club, they see a group of protesters. At the club, one of them storms in and causes a disturbance.

Patternmaster | Octavia Butler

The Patternists are mutated humans with telepathic ability. They are in conflict with the Clayarks, mutated humans with cat-like bodies. The Patternists are served by mutes, humans who haven’t developed telepathic ability. Society is strictly divided along class lines. Teray is a young, powerful Patternist who is going to become an apprentice in the House of Joachim.

The Moonstone | Wilkie Collins

It is Rachel Verinder’s eighteenth birthday. Franklin Blake returns for the party. He delivers the Moonstone, a yellow diamond taken from a Hindu shrine about fifty years ago, to Rachel. Rachel puts the diamond in a cabinet in her room, but the next morning it is gone. There are many suspects including Blake and some Indian people who were seen near the house.

Read “The Moonstone”

Half a Life | V.S. Naipaul

In India, the Chandran family is of the Brahmin caste, those who served in the temple. A patriarch of the family became a clerk for the maharajah and was set up to succeed. He protests English education and does badly at work but his patrons ensure he progresses. His eventual marriage to a low caste girl finally derails his career. The narrative continues with Willie Chandran, who detests his father, going to London to study.

The Castle | Franz Kafka

The protagonist, identified only as K., arrives in a village to work as a land surveyor. His presence was requested by the Count. He wants to visit the Castle but this is against the rules. He also finds he can’t stay at the inn, as it is exclusive to gentlemen from the Castle. It is difficult for him to get anything done with the complex bureaucracy that is in place.

Read “The Castle”

Nicholas Nickleby | Charles Dickens

Nicholas’s father dies penniless leaving his family at the mercy of his miserly brother Ralph. He sends Nicholas to work at the Dotheboys School for Boys, a place where unwanted boys are sent. Kate, Nicholas’s sister, gets work at a milliner’s with long hours and low pay. She lives in a dismal lodging. When a wretched pupil at the school named Smike is going to get a beating, Nicholas intervenes, prompting him to leave immediately after and set out for London.

Read “Nicholas Nickleby”

Murder on the Orient Express | Agatha Christie

When Hercule Poirot arrives in Istanbul for a vacation, he gets recalled to London for a case. He takes the Orient Express, which is full up with people from various backgrounds and classes. An American passenger, Ratchett, tries to hire Poirot as a bodyguard, claiming his life is at risk. Poirot refuses the job. The next morning Ratchett is found dead in his compartment, stabbed several times.

Jude the Obscure | Thomas Hardy

Jude is eleven and an orphan. He is sensitive and loves to learn. He lives in a village but longs to go to the university in Christminster. He grows thru his teen years working and learning all he can. Being a member of the working class is a significant obstacle to his dream. He meets a woman, Arabella, who makes it her aim to trap him in marriage. Jude has a connection in Christminster – his former teacher, Phillotson, who he hopes will be able to provide some help.

Read “Jude the Obscure”

Bel Canto | Ann Patchett

In a poor Latin American country, a party is being held for Katsumi Hosokawa, chairman at a technology company. The government wants him to open a factory in their country. He attends mainly to hear Roxane Coss, his favorite opera singer. The lights go out at the end of her performance, and armed men surround the guests. They have come for the president, Masuda, but he isn’t there. They wanted to be in and out quickly, but looking for Masuda delayed them. The authorities surround the building – it’s now a hostage situation.

The Prince and the Pauper | Mark Twain

Tom Canty lives in poverty, surrounded by the drinking and violence common to the lower class. He walks to the palace one day and is called in by the young Prince Edward Tudor, also about fifteen. They discuss their lives – Tom envies the luxury of Edward while Edward envies the freedom of Tom. They trade clothes, noticing a marked resemblance. Edward decides to go outside to admonish a guard for treating Tom harshly but, dressed as he is, he is thrown off the royal grounds. The boys find themselves living each others lives.

Read “The Prince and the Pauper”

Utopia | Thomas More

More records an account of the people of the island of Utopia – their history, laws, religion, and general customs. The Utopians hold all property in common, provide equal education for their citizens, and have a definite daily routine. More hopes that his acquaintance, Hythloday, an expert on the Utopians, will become an advisor to a king so others can benefit from their system.

Read “Utopia”


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