Novels About Morality or Ethics

These novels have characters who are facing moral or ethical questions or are doing what they think is right.

We will often see their internal conflict, the cost, and the consequences of their actions.

Novels About Morals & Ethics

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.

Absalom, Absalom! | William Faulkner

Thomas Sutpen arrives in Mississippi with a group of slaves and builds a plantation home. He is known for wrestling with his slaves. He marries Ellen Coldfield, the daughter in a poor family, and they have children. When the Civil War starts, father and son go to fight, along with Charles who is courting the daughter. The narrative continues through the war and return home. Four different narrators tell the story, adding relevant details and increasing our understanding of events.

The Picture of Dorian Gray | Oscar Wilde

Basil Hallward, an artist, has painted a portrait of a handsome young man, Dorian Gray. While putting on the finishing touches, a visitor, Lord Henry, speaks of his philosophy for living–to indulge one’s desires and impulses. Dorian is affected by his words; when he sees how beautiful he is in the portrait, he says he would give his soul to stay young.

Read “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

The Sun Also Rises | Ernest Hemingway

Jake Barnes, the narrator, is in Paris with his friend Robert Cohn, who feels that life is passing him by. At a club, Jake watches Brett, a woman he loves; she also loves him. They don’t get really close because of an unnamed injury from Jake’s World War I days.

Atlas Shrugged | Ayn Rand

New York is in a state of decay and economic collapse. Dagny Taggart tries to keep Taggart Transcontinental, a railroad, running despite government rules that make it difficult for businesses. She has some capitalist allies fighting with her, but one by one, they have been disappearing. It seems to be related to a person named John Galt.

The Octopus | Frank Norris

Wheat farmers in California, led by Magnus Derrick, are fighting to protect their land from a large railway. The corporation, influenced by some behind the scenes political dealings, is threatening to take the land they have been farming and improving for years.

“Blame conditions, not men.”

Read “The Octopus”

An American Tragedy | Theodore Dreiser

Clyde Griffiths grows up poor with his evangelist parents. Starting in his teens, he is drawn to material things and excitement, engaging in activities his parents condemn. Eventually, he begins working at a factory owned by his uncle. Clyde keeps setting his sights higher, with work and women.

Ender’s Game | Orson Scott Card

Ender is six when he has a government monitoring device removed, a year later than usual. He is the third child in his family; usually, families are only allowed two children. Ender is recruited for Battle School. Earth has been invaded twice by the Buggers, insectoid aliens, and they were barely repelled. Ender shows promise as a military leader. He excels at the training scenarios, but he has many conflicts with the other boys.

Read “Ender’s Game”

The Last King of Scotland | Giles Foden

Garrigan is a Scottish physician who goes to Uganda to work at a small clinic. It is reported that Major-General Amin has taken over the presidency. There is civil unrest as rebels who support the former president make raids. Garrigan is called to the scene of an accident involving President Amin; he asks Garrigan to become his personal physician.

Huckleberry Finn | Mark Twain

Huck lives with the Widow Douglas and her sister Miss Watson; they are trying to teach him manners. One day his father, Pap, returns. He takes Huck’s money, beats him, and takes him to a cabin. When Huck can’t take it anymore, he craftily escapes to an island on the Mississippi river. He meets up with Jim, a slave who ran away from Miss Watson. They decide to travel down the river together.

Read “Huckleberry Finn”

Graceland | Chris Abani

In 1980s Nigeria, sixteen-year-old Elvis Oke has to return home after failing to make a living as an Elvis Presley impersonator. He gets a job but loses it quickly. He starts working for his friend Redemption, who has many contacts and no ethical standards. In another narrative we see significant events from Elvis’s childhood. His father is cold and abusive, and his uncle is violent and abusive.

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