Novels Written in First Person

These novels have first person narrators who relate the story. This gives a limited perspective on the events of the narrative—they can only report what they have experienced or come to know.

First Person Narrators

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”

Nausea | Jean-Paul Sartre

Antoine Roquetin, a thirty-year-old man, lives in Bouville, a small seacoast town in France. He is working on a biography of an obscure political figure. Roquetin notices a subtle change in his perceptions of himself and others. He grapples with his existence, and the existence of objects and others.

Read “Nausea”

All the King’s Men | Robert Penn Warren

In 1936 Jack Burden is an assistant to Governor Willie Stark. They are visiting the governor’s childhood home for some publicity shots. They also visit Judge Irwin, who has changed his mind about doing Willie a favor. The narrative goes back to 1922 and recounts Willie’s political rise, and Jack’s role in it.

Hatter Fox | Marilyn Harris

Hatter is a seventeen-year-old Navajo girl in a reformatory. She comes to the attention of Teague, a doctor from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. When he starts checking up on her, he finds she is violent and unmanageable. She is harshly punished and mistreated at the reformatory. Teague tries to make some kind of connection with Hatter in the hope of improving her life.

Under the Net | Iris Murdoch

Jake and Finn find out that they’re being kicked out of their residence, Jake’s girlfriend’s apartment. Finn goes to stay with Dave, a philosophy professor, while Jake looks for Anna, the woman he loves. Jake goes on a few small quests related to his book (the only one he ever published) and a manuscript he translated.

What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day | Pearl Cleage

Ava goes to visit her sister, Joyce, in Idlewild, their hometown. Ava is a single, African-American woman with HIV. Joyce is helping a girl who is having a baby, and she eventually cares for it. Ava meets Eddie and is attracted to him. People in town make trouble for Joyce and Ava.

The Tree of the Red Stars | Tessa Bridal

Magda returns to Uruguay after an exile. We’re taken back to her childhood; she grows up in a male-dominated society, and with building political unrest. The revolution gets closer to her when she finds out some neighbors are involved, and Che Guevara comes to speak at a local event.

The Stone Angel | Margaret Laurence

Hagar Shipley is ninety and living with her son, Marvin, and his wife. Marvin is planning to sell his mother’s house (he controls her affairs now) and move her into a nursing home. The narrative is a mixture of Hagar’s resistance to how her life is going in the present and memories of her early life and marriage.

Smilla’s Sense of Snow | Peter Hoeg

A funeral is being held for Isaiah, an Inuit boy. Smilla remembers the scene of his death, and believes it wasn’t an accident. She starts an investigation into Isaiah’s death, using her keen mind and training as a glaciologist, an expert reader of ice and snow.

Demian | Herman Hesse

Emil Sinclair tries to live like his true self. He narrates his life from grammar school, boarding school, and thru university. Early on he meets Demian, a boy a few years older who opens his mind to new ideas.

Read “Demian”

A Prayer for Owen Meany | John Irving

John Wheelwright narrates the interconnected lives of himself and his best friend, Owen Meany. John admires Owen and tends to follow his lead. Owen is intelligent, charismatic, small, and has a high voice. He comes to believe he is God’s instrument, and has a premonition about the day of his death. He is convinced he must die a hero saving children.

Read “A Prayer for Owen Meany”

The Remains of the Day | Kazuo Ishiguro

Stevens is a butler who has been serving at Darlington Hall for thirty years. The house is being taken over by an American, Mr. Farraday, a relaxed and casual man, unlike his previous employer, Lord Darlington. Mr. Farraday is going to be away from the house for a few days, so Stevens drives to see Miss Kenton, the former housekeeper; he hopes to persuade her to return to Darlington Hall. During the drive, he reflects on his years of service, and what it means to be a great butler.

The Country of the Pointed Firs | Sarah Orne Jewett

A writer rents a home from Mrs. Todd in a small town on the coast of Maine. Mrs. Todd is an important member of the community, preparing and selling herbal remedies. The writer is told a story by Captain Littlepage, and old seaman, of a shipwreck he experienced. She meets other elderly residents who tell her stories of the past–theirs and the town’s.

Read “The Country of the Pointed Firs”

Cat’s Eye | Margaret Atwood

Elaine Risley is a successful painter returning to Toronto for a retrospective of her work. She walks around the city preparing for the opening. She has many flashbacks to her schooldays and early adulthood, especially her interactions with three friends, Cordelia, Grace, and Carol. They mistreat Elaine, often criticizing her and physically punishing her for supposed offenses. As she gets older, Elaine returns some of the bad treatment.

The Pigman | Paul Zindel

John and Lorraine are high school students who don’t like school and aren’t close to their parents. While engaging in a telephone prank, they come to know Mr. Pignati, a lonely, hospitable man whom they start visiting regularly. When he has a heart attack, John and Lorraine are allowed to spend time at his house.

Read “The Pigman”

Nectar in a Sieve | Kamala Markandaya

Rukmani’s marriage is arranged to a poor rice farmer. They are happy and have several children. They deal with changes and adversity, such as a tannery being built in their community, a monsoon that destroys their property, and the maturation of their children.

Surfacing | Margaret Atwood

The narrator is traveling with her married friends, David and Anna, and her boyfriend, Joe, to look for her father. At her family’s cabin, she finds some drawings by her father that cause her to question his sanity. She is also dealing with the mental strain from an abortion she had. Her friends’ marriage is troubled, and her relationship with Joe isn’t warm.

We Were the Mulvaneys | Joyce Carol Oates

The Mulvaneys are a prominent family in rural New York. The parents run successful businesses and care for their property. The kids are popular and good in school. After a Valentine’s dance, their seventeen-year-old daughter Marianne is raped by Zack, a football star. When this becomes known to her family, it has a profound effect on everyone. It precipitates alcoholism, plans of revenge, and the fracturing of the family.

Fever 1793 | Laurie Halse Anderson

Mattie’s mother and grandfather run a coffee house with the assistance of Eliza, a free black woman. One day their servant Polly dies suddenly. There is talk of some kind of sickness spreading in the town. A week later, the death count is in the 60s.

The Ox-Bow Incident | Walter Van Tilburg Clark

Art and Gil, cowboys, enter a small town after a winter of tending cattle. They go to the saloon to drink and play poker. There is talk of cattle rustlers in the area. A rider rushes in and says a local ranch hand, Kinkaid, has been shot during a cattle raid. A friend of Kincaid’s, Farnley, is ready to go after the robbers and murderers, and lynch them.

The Adventures of Augie March | Saul Bellow

Augie March tells his story of maturation beginning with his time in a poor area of Chicago as a teenager. He lives with his simple-minded mother; his brother, Georgie, who has a mental problem; his older brother Simon, who develops a desire for wealth and status; and Grandma Lausch, not his real grandmother but a boarder with a strong personality. Augie has a series of jobs thru his teens, eventually becoming the assistant to William Einhorn, a wealthy, disabled man who becomes his mentor. Augie has many jobs and pastimes as well as romantic entanglements.

Notes from Underground | Fyodor Dostoevsky

The narrator, an ex civil servant, expatiates on consciousness and how it leads to inaction, and self-interest. He visits some old friends but feels ignored and unwanted.

Read “Notes from Underground”

Cat’s Cradle | Kurt Vonnegut

John is doing research for a book about the day Hiroshima was hit by the atomic bomb. In particular he looks into the Hoeniker family, whose patriarch, Dr. Felix Hoeniker, was one of the scientists who developed the atomic bomb. John discovers the existence of a potentially greater threat–ice-nine, a seed that could freeze all of earth’s water.

Read “Cat’s Cradle”

Make Lemonade | Virginia Euwer Wolff

LaVaughn, fourteen, starts babysitting for Jolly, a sixteen-year-old with two young kids. LaVaughn is saving for college. Dealing with two young children is hectic, and Jolly doesn’t always come home on time. She tries to teach the kids whatever she can. Jolly is afraid when she is fired and wants to borrow money from Lavaughn.

To Sir, With Love E.R. Braithwaite

Ricky Braithwaite, a black man, has encountered prejudice while looking for work, although he is highly qualified. He accepts a teaching position at Greenslade Secondary School, known for its problem students. His class initially resists his teaching with silence, noise, and foul language. After an indecent incident in the classroom, he reacts more strongly and institutes a set of standards for everyone.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Robert Pirsig

The unnamed narrator is riding his motorcycle from Minnesota to California with his son and two friends. He philosophizes about classicism and romanticism and relates motorcycle maintenance to an individual’s spiritual health. His son, Chris, has been diagnosed with a possible symptom of mental illness. The narrator hints that he is inhabited by an alternate personality, explaining what it is and that it might be reemerging.

Read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

Housekeeping | Marilynne Robinson

Ruth and her sister Lucille have had many caretakers since their mother killed herself. Ruth relates some of her family history. Eventually, their aunt Sylvie comes to look after them. She is a transient woman, who keeps house in an unusual way.

Nervous Conditions | Tsitsi Dangarembga

Tambu relates her experiences growing up in Rhodesia in the 1960s. Her family is poor, so they can’t send her to school, choosing instead to send her brother Nhamo. She doesn’t accept that her role is simply to cook and clean, so she tries to earn money to pay her school fees. When Nhamo dies she gets the chance to attend a mission school.