Novels About Money or Materialism

The quest for money or material success features prominently in these novels. The narrative shows us what the character has to give up to reach their goal, and how they feel about it once reached.

See also Greed

See also American Dream

Money and Materialism in Novels

The Razor’s Edge | W. Somerset Maugham

Larry served in WWI as an aviator. His best friend was killed saving Larry’s life. After the war, he has no ambition to succeed professionally. He loafs in Paris, reading and learning, which eventually costs him his engagement to Isabel. She marries a rich man, Gray Maturin. Larry pursues enlightenment thru spirituality, while the Maturin’s focus on money.

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.

Moll Flanders | Daniel Defoe

Moll is born in a London prison and is raised first by gypsies and then a woman who trains orphans for a life of service. Moll is determined not to be a servant; she wants to make money and rise in the world. She is drawn to men who can offer her money, and she schemes to marry them. She also steals to support herself.

Read “Moll Flanders”

The Good Earth | Pearl S. Buck

Wang Lung is a poor Chinese farmer who is about to be married to a plain slave girl, O-lan. She is a competent worker, and their first child is a boy. Their land is productive and they live frugally, so they gradually rise in the community. The narrative continues with the family’s quest to succeed, and the role that each member of the family plays.

Tender is the Night | F. Scott Fitzgerald

Rosemary Hoyt, a seventeen-year-old actress, is in a French coastal town. She meets Dick Diver, an older married man, and she falls in love with him. Abe North, a friend of Dick’s, gets mixed up in a scheme that leads to violence, prompting a hysterical scene between Dick and his wife, Nicole. The narrative continues with the history of Dick and Nicole’s relationship, including her abusive past.

Read “Tender is the Night”

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.

Read “Great Expectations”

The Age of Innocence | Edith Wharton

Newland Archer is engaged to May Welland. Her cousin Ellen is in town, causing some scandal due to her leaving her husband in Europe. Newland finds her interesting, partly because she flouts society’s conventions.

Read “The Age of Innocence”

Typical American | Gish Jen

Ralph Chang leaves China to study engineering in the U.S. When China is taken over by communists, Chinese students are not allowed to return. Ralph loses touch with his family. He also fails to renew his visa and moves frequently to avoid detection. By chance he meets up with his sister Theresa who is studying medicine. Ralph reorganizes his life and marries Theresa’s friend, Helen.

Humboldt’s Gift | Saul Bellow

Charlie has just graduated from college and loves literature. He moves to New York to become friends with Humboldt, a manic depressive poet. Later, Humboldt’s career falters while Charlie writes a popular play. Humboldt dies years later. Charlie has problems with the I.R.S. and his ex-wife. His life continues to be affected by his former friendship with Humboldt.


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