Novels about Culture Clash or Traditional Values

Characters in these novels are influenced by two different cultures or value systems. They struggle to reconcile these influences, or they choose which path they will follow.

Novels About Culture or Tradition

The God of Small Things | Arundhati Roy

The Kochammas are a wealthy Christian family in a small Indian village. Rahel returns to her childhood home to visit her twin brother Estha. The narrative gives us the events of their childhood’s that have affected the whole family.

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.

Daisy Miller | Henry James

Frederick Winterbourne is a twenty-seven-year-old American who has lived in Geneva for years. While having breakfast at his hotel, he meets Daisy Miller, a seventeen-year-old American tourist. She is open and free like an American, while Frederick is formal like a European. He is attracted to her even though their social circles are different.

Read “Daisy Miller”

Ceremony | Leslie Marmon Silko

Tayo, a mixed-blood Native American, has psychological problems from his time in World War II and, to a lesser extent, his troubled childhood. He wants to reconnect with his traditions and spirituality.

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.

Like Water for Chocolate | Laura Esquivel

Tita lives in Mexico in the early 1900s. When Tita is fifteen, Pedro proposes to her but her Mama refuses on her behalf; the tradition is that the youngest daughter looks after a widowed mother. Pedro marries Tita’s sister Rosaura instead. Tita is tasked with preparing the wedding feast. Tita finds solace in cooking, and it causes some surreal reactions in people.

Bless Me, Ultima | Rudolfo Anaya

Tony’s narrates his life from age six to twenty-two. He lives in a New Mexico village in the 1940s. He witnesses a killing, deals with being an outcast at school, and encounters different religious beliefs.

Snow Falling on Cedars | David Guterson

When the body of a fisherman is found, Kabuo, a Japanese man, is charged with the murder. It is 1954 in Puget Sound, Washington, and there is still suspicion of Japanese people from World War II. Witnesses are called to testify, and we are given insight into their lives. The trial is covered by a reporter, Ishmael, who loved a Japanese girl long ago, now the wife of the accused.

A Gathering of Old Men | Ernest J. Gaines

Beau, a white man, is shot and his body is in the yard of Mathu, a black man. Eighteen old men gather at his home, each of them claiming to be the killer. They await the arrival of Mapes, the white sheriff, a bully who doesn’t respect black people.

Animal Dreams | Barbara Kingsolver

Codi returns to her hometown of Grace, Arizona to care for her father who has Alzheimer’s disease. Her sister, Hallie, moves to Nicaragua to teach the people about agricultural practices even though it’s a dangerous area. Codi meets up again with Loyd, a Native American man she has a history with. A local mining company is polluting the river and has plans to divert it, which would be devastating to the orchards.

Gulliver’s Travels | Jonathan Swift

Lemuel Gulliver returns from his fourth and final trip and tells about his adventures. He visited Lilliput, populated by tiny people; Brobdingnag, populated by giants; and several other places on the third and fourth trips, each with their own peculiarities.

Read “Gulliver’s Travels”

House Made of Dawn | N. Scott Momaday

It is 1945 when Abel’s grandfather picks him up at the bus station. He has just returned from World War II. He remembers frightening things from his early life on the reservation and his wartime experiences. He does a little work for a white woman who lives nearby, and they develop a relationship.

Shizuko’s Daughter | Kyoko Mori

When Yuki is twelve, her mother commits suicide and Yuki finds her on the floor. Her father remarries a year later. Yuki deals with growing up without her mother’s artistic and open influence. She doesn’t receive much support from her father or step-mother.

The Old Gringo | Carlos Fuentes

An old man rides into Mexico looking for Pancho Villa and his revolutionaries. After proving his skills as a marksman, he is accepted into the group under General Tomas Arroyo. They set out for their base; they find it razed with many dead.

Pigs in Heaven | Barbara Kingsolver

Taylor and her adopted daughter Turtle are on a trip at Hoover Dam when the child sees a man fall into the spillway. They get help and he is saved. The story is publicized, leading to an appearance on the Oprah show. A lawyer for the Cherokee Nation hears the story of her adoption, and works to remove Turtle from Taylor’s care so she will know about her culture.

The Clan of the Cave Bear | Jean Auel

Ayla is a young orphan living in prehistoric times. She is eventually found by a woman named Iza, from the Clan. The group finds a large cave to make a new home after an earthquake destroyed their area. Ayla grows up with these new people, learning her role and how to contribute. She rebels against the traditional role for females and is punished for it.

The Poisonwood Bible | Barbara Kingsolver

Orleana Price and her four daughters relate the events of their lives in the Congo. Nathan Price goes there with his family as a Christian missionary. The family adapts to the radically different living conditions. Nathan struggles to increase church attendance while the native people cling to their traditional beliefs. Meanwhile, the Congo is fighting for independence.

Shogun | James du Maresq Clavell

It is feudal Japan in the 1600s, and John Blackthorne is an English sailor leading his ship to break up the Jesuit trade monopoly in the Far East. He and his crew are captured with Blackthorne pressed into the service of a feudal lord. He becomes enmeshed in Japanese politics and learns much about the culture.

When the Legends Die |Hal Borland

Thomas, a Native American, is orphaned at a young age. Blue Elk befriends Thomas and tricks him into attending school where he learns the ways of white men. He struggles with his identity. Eventually he shows some ability as a rodeo performer, and learns the trade.

Ivanhoe | Sir Walter Scott

Richard I, a Norman, is the king of England. On his way home from fighting in the Crusades, he is captured by the Austrians. Ivanhoe, son of Cedric and a Saxon, fights for Richard; he is disinherited by his father. The narrative continues with all the elements of medieval adventures – knights, jousting matches, villains, castles and dungeons, and beautiful women who need rescuing.

Read “Ivanhoe”

When Rain Clouds Gather | Bessie Head

Frustrated by his Zulu tradition and apartheid, Makhaya flees South Africa into Botswana. He ends up in a village called Golema Mmidi where his farming knowledge is put to use. Chief Matenge doesn’t like Makhaya or Gilbert, a British expatriate who farms in the village. Matenge is greedy and the people don’t respect him.

Year of Impossible Goodbyes | Sook Nyul Choi

Pyongyang, Korea is under Japanese control during WW II. Sookan, the nine-year-old narrator, works in the sock factory in their home. They have a daily quota to meet; missing it reduces their already meagre food rations. The Korean people are being indoctrinated in Japanese culture. Sookan is eventually sent to a Japanese school.

Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind | Suzanne Fisher Staples

Shabanu, eleven, lives with her extended family in a tribal society in Pakistan. Her sister Phulan, thirteen, is getting married shortly, and the family is preparing her dowry. Shabanu is independent, and doesn’t want her freedom curtailed by marriage, which is rapidly approaching. Her father is steeped in a traditional life.

Picture Bride | Yoshiko Uchida

In 1917 Hana, a Japanese woman, is headed to the United States to meet Taro, the man she will marry. Disappointment soon sets in – Taro looks older than his picture indicated, and his business isn’t as prosperous as she had heard. She tries to adapt to her new life. She meets Kiyoshi, a friend of her husband’s and a man close to her age. They feel an attraction.


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