Novels About Greed

Avarice or selfishness is a main factor in the plot of these novels and the motivation of certain characters.

See also Money | Materialism

Theme: Greed

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.

Read “The Octopus”

The Maltese Falcon | Dashiell Hammett

A beautiful woman, Miss Wonderly, goes to the Spade & Archer Detective Agency and asks Miles Archer to follow a man named Floyd Thursby. His partner, Sam Spade, is informed that night that Archer has been shot. The police question him. He goes looking for Miss Wonderly. Shortly after, Joel Cairo come to see Spade and offers him five thousand dollars to find a bird statue.

Read “The Maltese Falcon”

The Pearl | John Steinbeck

Kino and Juana are in a panic when their baby, Coyotito, is stung by a scorpion. They take him to the doctor, but are turned away. Kino is intent on securing more money, so he goes pearl diving; his wife prays for a big find. Kino uncovers the “Pearl of the World”, and Coyotito seems to be improving.

“For it is said that humans are never satisfied, that you give them one thing and they want something more. And this is said in disparagement, whereas it is one of the greatest talents the species has and one that has made it superior to animals that are satisfied with what they have.”

Read “The Pearl”

Babbitt | Sinclair Lewis

The novels opens with a day in the life of George Babbitt, interacting with his family, going to work at his real estate office, and having lunch at his club with his friend, Paul. It continues with Babbitt’s obligations–social, family, and business as he pursues secular success.

Read “Babbitt”

A Separate Peace | John Knowles

Gene Forrester recalls his school days with his roommate Phineas. Gene is an intellectual and good athlete; Phineas is charismatic and the best athlete at school. Phineas wanted to form a secret society with the initiation being to jump from a tree into a river. During one visit to the tree, an accident occurs that Gene feels guilty over.

Read “A Separate Peace”

The Return of the Native | Thomas Hardy

Venn is a lowly mineral peddler who wanted to marry Thomasin Yeobright, a woman who was supposed to marry Damon Wildeve, but it fell through on a technicality. Wildeve is preoccupied with Eustacia, an exotic beauty. She is looking for a way out of their small Wessex town. When she hears that Clym Yeobright, a prosperous Paris diamond merchant, is returning to town, she turns her attention to him.

Read “The Return of the Native”

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.

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.

Sula | Toni Morrison

Sula and Nel are friends who grow up in “The Bottom”, the African-American part of a town in Ohio. Sula is wild and feels unloved and guilty over an accident in her childhood. Nel was raised in a strict household, and finds some excitement in Sula’s company. There is a lot of drama in the lives of Sula, her mother, and her grandmother.

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.

“…I saw that any man’s desire for money he could not earn was regarded as a righteous wish, but if he earned it, it was damned as greed…”

Bleak House | Charles Dickens

There are three main plot lines in Bleak House. One is the legal case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce that has gone unresolved for generations. There is a dispute over how the trusts of an old Jarndyce will should be administered. A second involves Lady Dedlock, who has a stake in the Jarndyce case, as well as a secret about her past. In the third, Esther Summerson, first a ward of John Jarndyce and then a teacher, manages the Jarndyce household. She doesn’t know who her parents are.

Read “Bleak House”


Find popular novels to read online, or find a novel to add to your to-buy list.

Hope you found your next book to read among these suggested novels.