Major American Authors & Summary of Works

“Native Son” (1940) by Richard Wright


GENRE · Urban naturalism; novel of social protest

NARRATOR · The story is narrated in a limited third-person voice that focuses on Bigger Thomas’s thoughts and feelings.

POINT OF VIEW · The story is told almost exclusively from Bigger’s perspective.

TONE · The narrator’s attitude toward his subject is one of absorption. The narrator is preoccupied with bringing us into Bigger’s mind and situation, using short, evocative sentences to tell the story.

Though the narrator is clearly opposed to the destructive racism that the novel chronicles, there is very little narrative editorializing, though some characters, such as Max, make statements that evoke a secondary tone of social protest in the final part of the novel.

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · 1930s


PROTAGONIST · Bigger Thomas

MAJOR CONFLICT · The fear, hatred, and anger that racism has impressed upon Bigger Thomas ravages his individuality so severely that his only means of self-expression is violence.

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After killing Mary Dalton, Bigger must contend with the law, the hatred of society, and his own destructive inner feelings.

RISING ACTION · The planned robbery of Blum’s deli; Bigger’s trip to the movies; Bigger’s night with Mary and Jan

CLIMAX · Each of the three books of the novel has its own climax: Book One climaxes with the murder of Mary, Book Two with the discovery of Mary’s remains in the furnace, and Book Three with the culmination of Bigger’s trial in the death sentence.

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FALLING ACTION · Bigger’s trial and his relationship with Boris A. Max

THEMES · The effect of racism on the oppressed; the effect of racism on the oppressor; the hypocrisy of justice


“The Grapes of Wrath” (1939) by John Steinbeck
Tom Joad, as a representative of all migrant workers. He is the rootless man, the individual who must learn responsibility for what capitalism has done to people and to the earth. Along with Tom, the Joads and the other migrants are sent on the road on a quest to rethink their relationship with both humanity and the land itself. This process has been called “education of the heart.” By the end of the novel, Tom relinquishes his self-absorption and embraces Casy’s mixture of Emersonian idealism and a particular form of American communalism. He plans to translate Casy’s dream of organizing people to improve their living conditions into action.Antagonist
Poverty. It throws people into an intense relationship with nature and its contingencies. Steinbeck, a naturalist, believed that people were the helpless victims of an indifferent environment. The Oklahoma land companies and the Californian landowners are the forces that inflict the poverty in the context of the novel.Climax
Chapter 26: Casy is murdered, and Tom avenges his death and goes into hiding. These events cause Tom to mature and accept the philosophies of Casy. He realizes that the only way to fight the poverty and poor treatment is to take unified action.Outcome
The novel outwardly ends in tragedy. The Joads, like all the migrant workers, are continually plagued and threatened from the start of their journey to California. Their lives progressively deteriorate until the novel’s ending when the family is considerably reduced in number, and Rose of Sharon’s stillborn child is seen floating downstream. They have no money or no food for the winter, and have no idea how they will make it. Tom Joad, the protagonist, fully shares in the family’s suffering from intense poverty.In addition, Tom lives in fear of being discovered as a murderer. The only bright spot in a bleak ending to the novel is Tom Joad’s new insight about life. He becomes aware that he has to be concerned not only for his own family’s welfare, but also for the welfare of all families. It is only through a united effort that the migrant workers can rise above their extremely low level of poverty. Ma, the pillar of strength, who has cared mainly for her own family, also embraces this philosophy, and Rose of Sharon is seen nursing a dying man in the last scene of the novel. These are also small signs of hope.
SOURCE: www.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” (1960) by Harper Lee
The protagonist of the novel is Atticus Finch, who is the prime initiator and coordinator of various events in the novel. In his involvement with the poor whites of the community, like Walter Cunningham, as well as the deprived blacks, like Tom Robinson, he is portrayed as a just, sincere and a greatly considerate human being. He has clear-cut values and beliefs, and it is his sincere wish that his children too grow up with a broad outlook and an unprejudiced way of thinking. He is indifferent to what others have to say or think about his actions, and he is steadfast in his beliefs of equality and liberty.Antagonist
Bob Ewell serves as the perfect villain in the novel, with his laid-back way of living and the utter disregard he has for other human beings. In the beginning he comes across only as a slovenly figure, uncaring about his family and brash in his dealings with others. But after the Tom Robinson episode, it is alarming to discover him an unfeeling, pretentious nogooder who has no qualms about sending an innocent bystander to the gallows. Even after winning the case, on realizing that he has lost his respect in the people (because of Atticus), he even attempts harming Atticus’ children, thus leaving not an iota of sympathy for himself in the reader.Outcome
The most surprising and touching thing is that instead of rebuking Atticus for losing the case, the black community showers him with food, as a gesture of their appreciation for having at least taken up the case and defending Tom. Tom is obviously the most upset, but Atticus is only quiet and exhausted. Ewell, on realizing his lost standing in the community, tries to make life miserable, first for Helen Robinson, Tom’s widow, and then even Atticus. He finally resorts to harming Scout and Jem, but in the process loses his own life. Simultaneously, Scout’s long cherished dream of meeting Boo Radley is also fulfilled. Thus the trial reveals a number of accidental as well as expected outcomes.
SOURCE: www.
“The Great Gatsby” (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald


GENRE · Modernist novel, Jazz Age novel, novel of manners

NARRATOR · Nick Carraway; Carraway not only narrates the story but implies that he is the book’s author

POINT OF VIEW · Nick Carraway narrates in both first and third person, presenting only what he himself observes. Nick alternates sections where he presents events objectively, as they appeared to him at the time, with sections where he gives his own interpretations of the story’s meaning and of the motivations of the other characters.

TONE · Nick’s attitudes toward Gatsby and Gatsby’s story are ambivalent and contradictory. At times he seems to disapprove of Gatsby’s excesses and breaches of manners and ethics, but he also romanticizes and admires Gatsby, describing the events of the novel in a nostalgic and elegiac tone.

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · Summer 1922

SETTINGS (PLACE) · Long Island and New York City

PROTAGONIST · Gatsby and/or Nick

MAJOR CONFLICT · Gatsby has amassed a vast fortune in order to win the affections of the upper-class Daisy Buchanan, but his mysterious past stands in the way of his being accepted by her.

RISING ACTION · Gatsby’s lavish parties, Gatsby’s arrangement of a meeting with Daisy at Nick’s

CLIMAX · There are two possible climaxes: Gatsby’s reunion with Daisy in Chapters 5-6; the confrontation between Gatsby and Tom in the Plaza Hotel in Chapter 7.

FALLING ACTION · Daisy’s rejection of Gatsby, Myrtle’s death, Gatsby’s murder

THEMES · The decline of the American dream, the spirit of the 1920s, the difference between social classes, the role of symbols in the human conception of meaning, the role of the past in dreams of the future


“The Scarlet Letter” (1850) by Nathaniel Hawthorne


GENRE · Symbolic; semi-allegorical; historical fiction; romance (in the sense that it rejects realism in favor of symbols and ideas)

NARRATOR · The narrator is an unnamed customhouse surveyor who writes some two hundred years after the events he describes took place. He has much in common with Hawthorne but should not be taken as a direct mouthpiece for the author’s opinions.

POINT OF VIEW · The narrator is omniscient, because he analyzes the characters and tells the story in a way that shows that he knows more about the characters than they know about themselves. Yet, he is also a subjective narrator, because he voices his own interpretations and opinions of things. He is clearly sympathetic to Hester and Dimmesdale.

TONE · Varies—contemplative and somewhat bitter in the introduction; thoughtful, fairly straightforward, yet occasionally tinged with irony in the body of the narrative

TENSE · The narrator employs the past tense to recount events that happened some two hundred years before his time, but he occasionally uses the present tense when he addresses his audience.

SETTING (TIME) · Middle of the seventeenth century

SETTING (PLACE) · Boston, Massachusetts

PROTAGONIST · Hester Prynne

MAJOR CONFLICT · Her husband having inexplicably failed to join her in Boston following their emigration from Europe, Hester Prynne engages in an extramarital affair with Arthur Dimmesdale. When she gives birth to a child, Hester invokes the condemnation of her community—a condemnation they manifest by forcing her to wear a letter “A” for “adulteror”—as well as the vengeful wrath of her husband, who has appeared just in time to witness her public shaming.

RISING ACTION · Dimmesdale stands by in silence as Hester suffers for the “sin” he helped to commit, though his conscience plagues him and affects his health. Hester’s husband, Chillingworth, hides his true identity and, posing as a doctor to the ailing minister, tests his suspicions that Dimmesdale is the father of his wife’s child, effectively exacerbating Dimmesdale’s feelings of shame and thus reaping revenge.

CLIMAX · There are at least two points in The Scarlet Letter that could be identified as the book’s “climax.” The first is in Chapter 12, at the exact center of the book. As Dimmesdale watches a meteor trace a letter “A” in the sky, he confronts his role in Hester’s sin and realizes that he can no longer deny his deed and its consequences. The key characters confront one another when Hester and Pearl join Dimmesdale in an “electric chain” as he holds his vigil on the marketplace scaffold, the location of Hester’s original public shaming. Chillingworth appears in this scene as well. The other climactic scene occurs in Chapter 23, at the end of the book. Here, the characters’ secrets are publicly exposed and their fates sealed. Dimmesdale, Hester, and Chillingworth not only acknowledge their secrets to themselves and to each other; they push these revelations to such extremes that they all must leave the community in one way or another.

FALLING ACTION · Depending on one’s interpretation of which scene constitutes the book’s “climax,” the falling action is either the course of events that follow Chapter 12 or the final reports on Hester’s and Pearl’s lives after the deaths of Dimmesdale and Chillingworth.

THEMES · Sin, experience, and the human condition; the nature of evil; identity and society

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1884) by Mark Twain


GENRE · Picaresque novel (episodic, colorful story often in the form of a quest or journey); satire of popular adventure and romance novels; bildungsroman (novel of education or moral development)

NARRATOR · Huckleberry Finn

POINT OF VIEW · Huck’s point of view, although Twain occasionally indulges in digressions in which he shows off his own ironic wit

TONE · Frequently ironic or mocking, particularly concerning adventure novels and romances; also contemplative, as Huck seeks to decipher the world around him; sometimes boyish and exuberant

TENSE · Immediate past

SETTING (TIME) · Before the Civil War; roughly 1835-1845; Twain said the novel was set forty to fifty years before the time of its publication

SETTING (PLACE) · The Mississippi River town of St. Petersburg, Missouri; various locations along the river through Arkansas


MAJOR CONFLICT · At the beginning of the novel, Huck struggles against society and its attempts to civilize him, represented by the Widow Douglas, Miss Watson, and other adults. Later, this conflict gains greater focus in Huck’s dealings with Jim, as Huck must decide whether to turn Jim in, as society demands, or to protect and help his friend instead.

RISING ACTION · Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas attempt to civilize Huck until Pap reappears in town, demands Huck’s money, and kidnaps Huck. Huck escapes society by faking his own death and retreating to Jackson’s Island, where he meets Jim and sets out on the river with him. Huck gradually begins to question the rules society has taught him, as when, in order to protect Jim, he lies and makes up a story to scare off some men searching for escaped slaves. Although Huck and Jim live a relatively peaceful life on the raft, they are ultimately unable to escape the evils and hypocrisies of the outside world. The most notable representatives of these outside evils are the con men the duke and the dauphin, who engage in a series of increasingly serious scams that culminate in their sale of Jim, who ends up at the Phelps farm.

CLIMAX · Huck considers but then decides against writing Miss Watson to tell her the Phelps family is holding Jim, following his conscience rather than the prevailing morality of the day. Instead, Tom and Huck try to free Jim, and Tom is shot in the leg during the attempt.

FALLING ACTION · When Aunt Polly arrives at the Phelps farm and correctly identifies Tom and Huck, Tom reveals that Miss Watson died two months earlier and freed Jim in her will. Afterward, Tom recovers from his wound, while Huck decides he is done with civilized society and makes plans to travel to the West.

THEMES · Racism and slavery; intellectual and moral education; the hypocrisy of “civilized” society


“Of Mice and Men” (1937) by John Steinbeck

TYPE OF WORK · Novella

GENRE · Fiction; tragedy

NARRATOR · Third-person omniscient

CLIMAX · Lennie accidentally kills Curley’s wife in the barn

PROTAGONISTS · George and Lennie

ANTAGONISTS · Curley; society; the cruel, predatory nature of human life

SETTING (TIME) · 1930s

SETTING (PLACE) · South of Soledad, California

POINT OF VIEW · The story is told from the point of view of a third-person omniscient narrator, who can access the point of view of any character as required by the narrative.

FALLING ACTION · Lennie runs away from the barn; the men return and find Curley’s wife dead; Curley leads a mob of men to search for and kill Lennie; George finds Lennie in the clearing and, while retelling the story of life on their farm, shoots him in the back of the head.

TENSE · Past

FORESHADOWING · Lennie petting the dead mouse, Lennie being run out of Weed for the incident involving the girl in the red dress, and Lennie killing his puppy—all of which anticipate Lennie accidentally killing Curley’s wife; the death of Candy’s dog, which anticipates the death of Lennie; Candy’s regret that he didn’t kill his old dog himself, which anticipates George’s decision to shoot Lennie

TONE · Sentimental, tragic, doomed, fatalistic, rustic, moralistic, comic

THEMES · The predatory nature of human existence; the importance of fraternity and idealized relationships between men; the impossibility of the American Dream; the destructive imbalance of social power structures in American society


“The Catcher in the Rye” (1951) by J.D. Salinger


GENRE · Bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel)

DATE OF FIRST PUBLICATION · July 1951; parts of the novel appeared as short stories in Collier’s, December 1945, and in The New Yorker, December 1946

NARRATOR · Holden Caulfield, narrating from a psychiatric facility a few months after the events of the novel

POINT OF VIEW · Holden Caulfield narrates in the first person, describing what he himself sees and experiences, providing his own commentary on the events and people he describes.

TONE · Holden’s tone varies between disgust, cynicism, bitterness, and nostalgic longing, all expressed in a colloquial style.

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · A long weekend in the late 1940s or early 1950s

SETTING (PLACE) · Holden begins his story in Pennsylvania, at his former school, Pencey Prep. He then recounts his adventures in New York City.

PROTAGONIST · Holden Caulfield

MAJOR CONFLICT · The major conflict is within Holden’s psyche. Part of him wants to connect with other people on an adult level (and, more specifically, to have a sexual encounter), while part of him wants to reject the adult world as “phony,” and to retreat into his own memories of childhood.

RISING ACTION · Holden’s many attempts to connect with other people over the course of the novel bring his conflicting impulses—to interact with other people as an adult, or to retreat from them as a child—into direct conflict.

CLIMAX · Possible climaxes include Holden’s encounter with Sunny, when it becomes clear that he is unable to handle a sexual encounter; the end of his date with Sally, when he tries to get her to run away with him; and his departure from Mr. Antolini’s apartment, when he begins to question his characteristic mode of judging other people.

FALLING ACTION · Holden’s interactions with Phoebe, culminating in his tears of joy at watching Phoebe on the carousel (at the novel’s end he has retreated into childhood, away from the threats of adult intimacy and sexuality)

THEMES · Alienation as a form of self-protection; the painfulness of growing up; the phoniness of the adult world


“Their Eyes Were Watching God” (1937) by Zora Neale Hurston


GENRE · Bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel), American Southern spiritual journey

NARRATOR · The narrator is anonymous, though it is easy to detect a distinctly Southern sensibility in the narrator’s voice.

POINT OF VIEW · Though the novel is narrated in the third person, by a narrator who reveals the characters’ thoughts and motives, most of the story is framed as Janie telling a story to Pheoby. The result is a narrator who is not exactly Janie but who is abstracted from her. Janie’s character resonates in the folksy language and metaphors that the narrator sometimes uses. Also, much of the text relishes in the immediacy of dialogue.

TONE · The narrator’s attitude toward Janie, which Hurston appears to share, is entirely sympathetic and affirming.

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · The early twentieth century, presumably the 1920s or 1930s

SETTING (PLACE) · Rural Florida


MAJOR CONFLICT · During her quest for spiritual fulfillment, Janie clashes with the values that others impose upon her.

RISING ACTION · Janie’s jettisoning of the materialistic desires of Nanny, Logan, and Jody; her attempt to balance self-assertion with her love for Tea Cake; the hurricane—this progression pushes her toward the eventual conflict between her environment (including the people around her) and her need to understand herself

CLIMAX · The confrontation between Janie and the insane Tea Cake in Chapter 19 marks the moment at which Janie asserts herself in the face of the most difficult obstacle she has had to face.

FALLING ACTION · Janie’s decision to shoot Tea Cake demonstrates that she has the strength to save herself even though it means killing the man she loves; the white women’s support of Janie points toward the importance of individuality as a means of breaking down stereotypes.

THEMES · Language as a mechanism of control; power and conquest as a means to fulfillment; love and relationships versus independence; spiritual fulfillment; materialism


“The Crucible” (1953) by Arthur Miller (play)


GENRE · Tragedy, allegory

NARRATOR · The play is occasionally interrupted by an omniscient, third-person narrator who fills in the background for the characters.

CLIMAX · John Proctor tells the Salem court that he committed adultery with Abigail Williams.

PROTAGONIST · John Proctor

ANTAGONIST · Abigail Williams


SETTING (PLACE) · Salem, a small town in colonial Massachusetts

POINT OF VIEW · The Crucible is a play, so the audience and reader are entirely outside the action.

FALLING ACTION · The events from John Proctor’s attempt to expose Abigail in Act IV to his decision to die rather than confess at the end of Act IV.

TENSE · Present

FORESHADOWING · The time frame of the play is extremely compressed, and the action proceeds so quickly that there is little time for foreshadowing.

TONE · Serious and tragic—the language is almost biblical.

THEMES · Intolerance; hysteria; reputation

“The Things They Carried” (1990) by Tim O’ Brien

TYPE OF WORK · Collection of interconnected short stories

GENRE · War stories; coming-of-age stories; memory stories

NARRATOR · Tim O’Brien

POINT OF VIEW · Most of the stories are told from the first person, but on several occasions, O’Brien uses the third person as either a distancing tactic or a chance to let one of his platoon-mates, such as Mitchell Sanders or Rat Kiley, tell his story.

TONE · The Things They Carried is an introspective memory story and a self-conscious examination of the methods and reasons behind storytelling. The narrator is unreliable; he speaks of the necessity of blurring truth and fiction in a true war story.

TENSE · Past tense, shifting between the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and the narrator’s immediate past, twenty years after the war

SETTING (TIME) · Late 1960s and late 1980s

SETTING (PLACE) · Primarily Vietnam, but also U.S. locations including Iowa and Massachusetts


MAJOR CONFLICT · The men of the Alpha Company, especially Tim O’Brien, grapple with the effects—both immediate and long-term—of the Vietnam War.

RISING ACTION · In the summer of 1968, Tim O’Brien receives a draft notice. Despite a desire to follow his convictions and flee to Canada, he feels he would be embarrassed to refuse to fulfill his patriotic duty and so concedes to fight in Vietnam.

CLIMAX · During their tour of duty, the men of the Alpha Company must cope with the loss of their own men and the guilt that comes from killing and watching others die.

FALLING ACTION · After he returns from war, O’Brien grapples with his memories by telling stories about Vietnam.

THEMES · Physical and emotional burdens; fear of shame as motivaton; the subjection of truth to storytelling


“The Awakening” (1899) by Kate Chopin


GENRE · Bildungsroman (novel of intellectual, spiritual or moral evolution); kunstlerroman (novel of artistic realization or development); shares elements of and is heavily influenced by the local color genre

NARRATOR · Anonymous; seems to align with Chopin herself

POINT OF VIEW · The novel is narrated in the third person, but the narrator frequently makes clear her sympathy for and support of Edna.

TONE · For the most part, the tone is objective, although it occasionally reveals support for the female independence and sexual and emotional awareness symbolized in Edna’s awakening.

TENSE · Immediate past; that is, real-time narration

SETTING (TIME) · The novel is set in 1899, at a time when the Industrial Revolution and the feminist movement were beginning to emerge yet were still overshadowed by the prevailing attitudes of the nineteenth century.

SETTING (PLACE) · The novel opens on Grand Isle, a popular summer vacation spot for wealthy Creoles from New Orleans. The second half of the novel is set in New Orleans, mainly in the Quartier Français, or French Quarter.

PROTAGONIST · Edna Pontellier

MAJOR CONFLICT · Once Edna embarks upon her quest for independence and self-fulfillment, she finds herself at odds with the expectations and conventions of society, which requires a married woman to subvert her own needs to those of her husband and children.

RISING ACTION · While Edna vacations at Grand Isle, several events initiate her awakening. Her candid conversations with Adèle remind her of her long-repressed passions; Robert Lebrun’s flirtations with Edna cause her to desire more autonomy from her husband; and Mademoiselle Reisz’s piano playing serves as artistic inspiration for Edna. At Grand Isle, Edna swims in the ocean for the first time, giving her the courage she needs to embark upon her journey of self-understanding and self-fulfillment.

CLIMAX · The climax of The Awakening is difficult to ascertain, as Edna Pontellier’s series of awakenings all possess a certain climactic quality. Most readers view Edna’s suicide as the definitive climax of the novel. Other possible climaxes include the first time Edna commits adultery by having sex with Alcée Arobin, and the moment when she declares her love aloud to Robert Lebrun and the two finally kiss.

FALLING ACTION · The generally accepted climax of the novel is Edna’s suicide at the end of the novel. In this case there would be no falling action. An alternative reading would suggest that the falling action is Edna’s liberated and defiant behavior following her initial physical act of indiscretion—her affair with Arobin.

THEMES · Solitude as the consequence of independence; the implications of self-expression


“Ethan Frome” (1911) by Edith Wharton


GENRE · Tragic romance

NARRATOR · An anonymous visitor to Starkfield, Massachusetts, narrates the introduction and conclusion. In Chapters I-IV, the story flashes back approximately twenty years to Ethan Frome’s youth and the first–person narration gives way to a limited third-person narration (predominantly reflecting Ethan Frome’s point of view).

POINT OF VIEW · The frame story (introduction and conclusion) is told in the first person, from the narrator’s limited point of view as a visitor unfamiliar with Starkfield and Ethan Frome. However, most of the book is written in the third person limited, in which the narrator accesses Ethan’s thoughts but not those of the other characters.

TONE · Foreboding, bleak, ironic, tragic, spare

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · The late nineteenth-early twentieth century

SETTING (PLACE) · Starkfield, Massachusetts


MAJOR CONFLICT · Ethan’s main fight is with his own conscience, as he decides whether or not to reveal to Mattie his true feelings. His struggles are exacerbated by his surroundings—Zeena, the bleak Starkfield landscape, his home—which often take on an oppressive quality.

RISING ACTION · Ethan’s passion for Mattie grows as he walks her home from a dance; Zeena goes away for the night, leaving Ethan and Mattie alone, but they find their dinner together tense and awkward; Zeena decides to replace Mattie with another household helper; Ethan drives Mattie to the train station and neither can stand to leave the other.

CLIMAX · Ethan and Mattie confess their love for each other and decide to commit suicide by sledding into a large tree.

FALLING ACTION · Ethan and Mattie regain consciousness after crashing into the elm; Zeena takes both of them in and cares for them into old age.

THEMES · Society and morality as obstacles to the fulfillment of desire; winter as a stifling force


“Farhrenheit 451” (1953) by Ray Bradbury


GENRE · Science fiction

NARRATOR · Third-person, limited omniscient; follows Montag’s point of view, often articulating his interior monologues

CLIMAX · Montag’s murder of Beatty


ANTAGONIST · Beatty, but also society in general

SETTING (TIME) · Sometime in the twenty-fourth century; there have been two atomic wars since 1990

SETTING (PLACE) · In and around an unspecified city

POINT OF VIEW · Montag’s

FALLING ACTION · Montag’s trip out of the city into the country

TENSE · Past, with occasional transitions into present tense during Montag’s interior monologues and stream-of-consciousness passages

FORESHADOWING · Montag’s uncanny feelings of prescience; early descriptions of the Mechanical Hound; Montag’s nervous glances toward the ventilator shaft where he has hidden his books; discussion of the qualities of fire

TONE · Foreboding and menacing, disoriented, poetic, bitterly satirical

THEMES · Censorship, knowledge versus ignorance


“A Raisin in the Sun” (1959) by Lorraine Hansberry (play first debut on Broadway 59′)

TONE · Realistic

SETTING (TIME) · Between 1945 and 1959

SETTING (PLACE) · The South Side of Chicago

PROTAGONIST · Walter Lee Younger

MAJOR CONFLICT · The Youngers, a working-class black family, struggle against economic hardship and racial prejudice.

RISING ACTION · Ruth discovers that she is pregnant; Mama makes a down payment on a house; Mama gives Walter the remaining insurance money; Walter invests the money in the liquor store venture.

CLIMAX · Bobo tells the Youngers that Willy has run off with all of Walter’s invested insurance money; Asagai makes Beneatha realize that she is not as independent as she thinks.

FALLING ACTION · Walter refuses Mr. Lindner’s offer to not move; the Youngers move out of the apartment to their new house in the white neighborhood; Beneatha finds new strength in Asagai.

THEMES · The value and purpose of dreams, the need to fight racial discrimination, the importance of family

MOTIFS · Racial identity, the home

“The Red Badge of Courage” (1895) by Stephen Crane


GENRE · Psychological novel, war novel

NARRATOR · The narrator speaks from the third-person limited omniscient point of view, relaying the thoughts and feelings of Henry but not those of the other characters.

CLIMAX · Henry Fleming and Wilson lead the 304th Regiment to an unlikely victory over the rebels, seizing the enemy’s position and their flag.

PROTAGONIST · Henry Fleming

ANTAGONISTS · The Confederate Army; the Union general who calls the soldiers of the 304th Regiment “mule drivers” and “mud diggers”

POINT OF VIEW · Henry Fleming’s

SETTING · An unspecified time during the Civil War; the battle described in the novel is most likely a fictional account of the Battle at Chancellorsville, which took place May 2-6, 1863.

FALLING ACTION · After capturing the enemy’s flag, Henry reflects on his experiences in battle and decides that he is a man of courage.

TENSE · Past

FORESHADOWING · Henry’s early conversations with Jim Conklin and Wilson establish the choice he will later face in battle: whether to fight or flee; Henry’s encounters with death (the corpse in the woods and Jim Conklin) anticipate Henry’s acceptance of the universe’s indifference.

TONES · Detached, journalistic, realistic, impressionistic, sardonic, humorous, pathetic, violent

THEMES · Traditional versus realistic conceptions of courage, honor, and manhood; the human instinct to survive as pitted against the universe’s grand indifference; the struggle between self-interest and group obligation; the psychological effects of realizing one’s own mortality; development from innocence to experience


“The House on Mango Street” (1984) Sandra Cisneros (Mexican-American)

TYPE OF WORK · Novel made up of interconnected vignettes

GENRE · Coming-of-age story

NARRATOR · Esperanza Cordero

POINT OF VIEW · Esperanza narrates in the first-person present tense. She focuses on her day-to-day activities but sometimes narrates sections that are just a series of observations. In later vignettes Esperanza talks less about herself and more about the people around her. In these sections she is never fully omniscient, but she sometimes stretches her imagination to speculate on the characters’ feelings and futures.

TONE · Earnest, hopeful, intimate, with very little distance between the implied author and the narrator

TENSE · Mostly present tense, with intermittent incidents told in the future and past tenses

SETTING (TIME) · A period of one year

SETTING (PLACE) · A poor Latino neighborhood in Chicago


MAJOR CONFLICT · Esperanza struggles to find her place in her neighborhood and in the world.

RISING ACTION · Esperanza desires to leave her neighborhood, observes other women, and finds newfound sexual awareness in her friendship with the sexually adventurous Sally.

CLIMAX · Esperanza’s tumultuous friendship with Sally leads to her emotional and sexual humiliation.

FALLING ACTION · Esperanza returns to her less mature friends, understands that she does in fact belong on Mango Street, and settles on writing as her way of both escaping and accepting her neighborhood.

THEMES · The power of language; the struggle for self-definition; sexuality vs. autonomy; women’s unfulfilled responsibilities to each other


“The Jungle” (1906) by Upton Sinclair


GENRE · Social criticism, political fiction, muckraking fiction

NARRATOR · Though the narrator is anonymous, his sympathy for the laborers and vilification of capitalists identifies him as Sinclair’s mouthpiece.

POINT OF VIEW · The third-person narrator focuses on what Jurgis Rudkus does and what he feels, learns, and experiences. The quasi-omniscient narrator also provides commentary on the social forces that affect characters’ lives, though often this commentary is framed as knowledge that Jurgis gains at some future point.

TONE · Sinclair’s attitude toward the story is obvious: the victimized working class is righteous, and the oppressing capitalists are evil. Sinclair’s perspective is identical to that of the narrator.

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · Early 1900s

SETTING (PLACE) · Packingtown, the meat-packing sector of Chicago


MAJOR CONFLICT · Jurgis and his family attempt to pursue the American Dream, but wage slavery and the oppression of capitalism shatter every aspect of their lives.

RISING ACTION · Phil Connor’s rape of Ona; Jurgis’s having to spend Christmas in jail away from his family; Ona’s death during childbirth

CLIMAX · Upon hearing of Antanas’s death, in Chapter 21, Jurgis feels destroyed by capitalism.

FALLING ACTION · Jurgis’s abandonment of his family and turn to dishonest means to survive; Marija’s turn to prostitution

THEMES · Socialism as a remedy for the evils of capitalism; the immigrant experience and the hollowness of the American Dream


“A Separate Peace” (1959) by John Knowles


GENRE · Coming-of-age story; tragedy
TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN · New England, 1957-1958
NARRATOR · Gene Forrester narrates the story as he revisits his high school campus and recalls events that happened fifteen years earlier.

POINT OF VIEW · The narrator speaks in the first person, describing events as he perceived them at the time of their occurrence, though occasionally with the augmented knowledge of hindsight (sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the perspective of the younger Gene and the older Gene). Although he apparently recounts external events with honesty and thoroughness, Gene is an unreliable narrator in that he withholds his own thoughts and emotions regarding certain crucial scenes, such as Finny’s fall and the boys’ makeshift trial of Gene.

TONE · Occasionally nostalgic but largely brooding and melancholy; often regretful

TENSE · Past tense; the narrator refers to the recent past (“not long ago”) before launching into a flashback on the more remote past of fifteen years earlier. The book then ends with a return to the recent past.

MAJOR CONFLICT · Gene feels both love and hate for his best friend, Finny, worshipping and resenting Finny’s athletic and moral superiorities.

RISING ACTION · Gene’s envy of Finny grows; Gene realizes that Finny doesn’t return his resentment; Gene becomes jealous of Finny’s seeming incapacity to be envious; Gene feels that Finny is a morally superior person; Finny suggests that the boys climb a tree together.

CLIMAX · Gene jounces the limb of the tree, making Finny fall and shatter his leg.

FALLING ACTION · Gene feels guilty about Finny’s fall; he and Finny become even more intimate, developing a codependency; the boys put Gene on “trial” for the accident; Finny falls down the stairs and breaks his leg again; Finny dies during the operation on his leg.
THEMES · Codependency’s threat to identity; the creation of inner enemies

“The Sun Also Rises” (1926) by Ernest Hemingway


GENRE · Modernist novel; travelogue; novel of disillusionment

NARRATOR · Jake Barnes

POINT OF VIEW · Jake tells the entire story from his own point of view.

TONE · Somber, detached, ironic, nostalgic

TENSE · Past


SETTING (PLACE) · The novel begins in Paris, France, moves to Pamplona, Spain, and concludes in Madrid, Spain.


MAJOR CONFLICT · Jake is in love with Lady Brett Ashley, but they cannot maintain a relationship because he was rendered impotent by a war wound. Jake loses numerous friendships and has his life repeatedly disrupted because of his loyalty to Brett, who has a destructive series of love affairs with other men.

RISING ACTION · Jake, Brett, and their friends pursue a dissipated life in Paris; Jake introduces Brett to Robert Cohn; Brett and Cohn have an affair; Cohn follows Brett to Pamplona.

CLIMAX · The jilted Cohn beats up Mike and Jake, and afterward Pedro Romero.

FALLING ACTION · Jake and his friends leave Spain; Jake enjoys the solitude of San Sebastian; Brett wires Jake to rescue her in Madrid after forcing Romero to leave her.

THEMES · The aimlessness of the Lost Generation; male insecurity; the destructiveness of sex


“Anthem” (1937) by Ayn Rand

TYPE OF WORK · Novella

GENRE · Dystopia; manifesto


**DATE OF FIRST PUBLICATION · British edition, 1938; American edition, 1946

NARRATOR · Equality 7-2521 writes the journal of the events as they transpire over the course of several months.

POINT OF VIEW · Equality 7-2521 speaks in the first person, writing in his journal as the events transpire. He relates some of the conversations verbatim, and other events he describes only from his own perspective. He occasionally remarks on what other characters are thinking.

TONE · Equality 7-2521 records his thoughts and actions in a straightforward manner, with no trace of irony.

TENSE · Present, with some past-tense narration

SETTING (TIME) · In the future, after the collapse of the social order because of the common acceptance of collectivist values

SETTING (PLACE) · An unidentified city; much of the first half of Anthem is narrated from a tunnel underground where Equality 7-2521 is hiding, and the second half is narrated from a forest where he has taken refuge from a society that hates him.

PROTAGONIST · Equality 7-2521

MAJOR CONFLICT · Equality 7-2521 struggles for self-identification in a society that has rejected individualism in favor of collectivism.

RISING ACTION · Equality 7-2521 discovers a tunnel in which he begins hiding regularly to conduct scientific experiments; he invents the lightbulb; he decides to share his invention with the World Council of Scholars, even though he knows the way he came to discover electricity is illegal and sinful.

CLIMAX · Equality 7-2521’s presentation of the lightbulb to the World Council permanently severs him from society and forces him out onto his own.

FALLING ACTION · Equality 7-2521 and the Golden One pursue their own lives together in the forest; they discover the meaning of individualism and the word “I.”

THEMES · The primacy of the individual; the value of martyrdom; the impotence of the collective; original creation as a component of identity


“The Old Man and the Sea” (1952) by Ernest Hemingway

TYPE OF WORK · Novella

GENRE · Parable; tragedy

NARRATOR · The novella is narrated by an anonymous narrator.

POINT OF VIEW · Sometimes the narrator describes the characters and events objectively, that is, as they would appear to an outside observer. However, the narrator frequently provides details about Santiago’s inner thoughts and dreams.

TONE · Despite the narrator’s journalistic, matter-of-fact tone, his reverence for Santiago and his struggle is apparent. The text affirms its hero to a degree unusual even for Hemingway.

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · Late 1940s

SETTING (PLACE) · A small fishing village near Havana, Cuba; the waters of the Gulf of Mexico


MAJOR CONFLICT · For three days, Santiago struggles against the greatest fish of his long career.

RISING ACTION · After eighty-four successive days without catching a fish, Santiago promises his former assistant, Manolin, that he will go “far out” into the ocean. The marlin takes the bait, but Santiago is unable to reel him in, which leads to a three-day struggle between the fisherman and the fish.

CLIMAX · The marlin circles the skiff while Santiago slowly reels him in. Santiago nearly passes out from exhaustion but gathers enough strength to harpoon the marlin through the heart, causing him to lurch in an almost sexual climax of vitality before dying.

FALLING ACTION · Santiago sails back to shore with the marlin tied to his boat. Sharks follow the marlin’s trail of blood and destroy it. Santiago arrives home toting only the fish’s skeletal carcass. The village fishermen respect their formerly ridiculed peer, and Manolin pledges to return to fishing with Santiago. Santiago falls into a deep sleep and dreams of lions.

THEMES · The honor in struggle, defeat, and death; pride as the source of greatness and determination


“As I lay Dying” (1930) by William Faulkner


GENRE · Satire of heroic narrative; rural novel; comedy; tragedy

TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN · 1929-1930; Oxford, Mississippi

NARRATOR · The narration is in the first person, though it is split between fifteen different characters

POINT OF VIEW · The point of view shifts between the fifteen different narrators, each with a unique personal interpretation and reaction to the events of the novel
SETTING (TIME) · 1920s

SETTING (PLACE) · A rural area in fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi

PROTAGONIST · Darl Bundren

MAJOR CONFLICT · When transporting the recently deceased Addie to her burial site, the Bundren family struggles against the forces of nature and injury in its river-crossing and the aftermath. The Bundrens struggle internally as Darl begins to question the logic of carrying Addie’s body all the way to Jefferson.

RISING ACTION · As the Bundrens depart on their journey to bury Addie, they find the bridges are washed out, forcing them to ford the river. In the process, the team of mules is lost, and the slowness of their journey means that Addie’s corpse begins to rot.

CLIMAX · Darl burns down a barn where the family has stored Addie’s coffin for the night

FALLING ACTION · Addie is buried; Darl is apprehended by officers from a mental asylum; Anse Bundren remarries

THEMES · The impermanence of existence and identity; the tension between words and thoughts; the relationship between childbearing and death

“The Color Purple” (1982) by Alice Walker

TYPE OF NOVEL · Historical fiction

GENRE · Epistolary novel, confessional novel

NARRATOR · Celie (and Nettie at times)

POINT OF VIEW · Celie speaks in the first person through a series of private letters she writes to God and, later, to Nettie. At first, Celie’s letters focus only on what she does, hears, sees, and feels. Over time, they grow to include more complex themes and insights. Later in the novel, the narrative shifts back and forth between letters written by Celie and letters written by Nettie. However, the letters from Nettie are still read through Celie’s eyes.

TONE · The tone is very confessional and uninhibited, as Celie’s letters to God are private, much like journal entries.

TENSE · Present

SETTING (TIME) · 1910-1940. Though The Color Purple is a historical novel, it never refers to any factual events. There are no dates, little sense of the passage of time, and very few mentions of characters’ ages.

SETTING (PLACE) · Rural Georgia


MAJOR CONFLICT · Celie is verbally, physically, and sexually abused by several different men, leaving her with little sense of self-worth, no narrative voice, and no one to run to.

RISING ACTION · Shug teaches Celie about God, sexuality, and love, and helps Celie locate Nettie’s lost letters. These actions enable Celie to find her voice and sense of self.

CLIMAX · Bolstered by the self-confidence she has gained through her relationship with Shug, Celie suddenly lashes back at Mr. ______ in an angry verbal tirade. She then moves to Tennessee with Shug and opens her own clothing store.

FALLING ACTION · Celie returns to Georgia as a successful entrepreneur and finds that Mr. ______ has undergone a personal transformation. After Alphonso’s death, she inherits her family’s home and welcomes the returning Nettie, Samuel, Olivia, and Adam into the house.

THEMES · The power of narrative and voice; the power of strong female relationships; the cyclical nature of racism and sexism; the disruption of traditional gender roles


“A Farewell to Arms” (1929) by Ernest Hemingway
Lieutenant Frederic Henry, who does not suffer from any grand illusions about honor, glory, patriotism, or courage, deserts the army by leaving his post. He is wounded in the knee, is in love with Catherine Barkley, lives with her, gets her pregnant, but in the end, loses both his son and Catherine.Antagonist
The war, with its devastating effect on the individual’s life, the tragic disillusionment it fosters, and the despair that is its consequence, is the antagonist in the novel. On a secondary level, biology, that claims Catherine’s life, is the second antagonist.Climax
The climax occurs in Caporetto where a retreat is forced on the Italian army. Henry tries to put up a brave and dogged fight but in the ensuing chaos, he is forced to desert his post. From now on, he becomes the hunted rather the hunter and has to live incognito. The action too undergoes a marked change after the climax. Before the retreat, it seems slow-paced but after it becomes faster and the events unfold so quickly that they leave the reader breathless. Here the setting shifts from Italy to Switzerland.Outcome
The conflict ends in a tragedy that is double-edged or twin-peaked. Henry cannot pursue a military career because he has abandoned his post. There are no more choices for him as far as professions go because he had given up architecture to join the army and now he has given up the army too. He intends to lead a life of married bliss with Catherine and his son but both die, leaving him a victim of unalterable circumstances. As Henry says, though he lives on after Catherine’s death, his tragic story has come to an end. This novel is tragic because it shows Catherine biologically double-crossed, Europe war-crossed and life, death-crossed.
“The Secret Life of Bees” (2002) by Sue Monk Kidd


GENRE · Bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel)

NARRATOR · Fourteen-year-old Lily narrates the novel in retrospect, from the house where she now lives with the Boatwright sisters.

POINT OF VIEW · Lily narrates the novel in the first-person, describing the events she experiences from her unique perspective and retelling the stories others tell her in the same manner.

TONE · Lily’s tone resembles the tone a child would effect when narrating a story in his or her diary, except with less self-loathing and more romantic language. Kidd relies on vivid imagery and poetic devices to help elevate the tone.

TENSE · Past


SETTING (PLACE) · Sylvan and Tiburon, South Carolina


MAJOR CONFLICT · Motherless Lily lives unhappily with her emotionally detached father, who claims that Lily, as a small child, accidentally killed her mother. When her black maid—and only friend—Rosaleen gets arrested for confronting three racists, Lily decides to break Rosaleen out of jail. Together they run away to a place Lily suspects her mother once spent time.

RISING ACTION · Once the Boatwright sisters take her in, Lily must come to terms with the reality of who her mother actually was. Meanwhile, Lily struggles to understand the importance of the surrogate mothers she has found in Tiburon.

CLIMAX · The book has a string of climaxes that occur in rapid succession. First, Lily’s sweetheart, Zach, an African American, gets arrested for being with a group of friends when someone throws a glass bottle at a white man. Immediately after, May Boatwright commits suicide when she hears the news about Zach, and the other two Boatwright sisters (August and June) begin to mourn their loss. At the same time, Lily finally confesses to August the truth about her past, namely that she killed her mother and broke Rosaleen out of jail.

FALLING ACTION · Lily confronts her father, T. Ray, and August convinces him that Lily should stay in Tiburon.

THEMES · The irrationality of racism; the power of female community; the importance of storytelling

“Invisible Man” (1952) by Ralph Ellison


GENRE · Bildungsroman (a German word meaning novel of personal “formation,” or development), existentialist novel, African-American fiction, novel of social protest

NARRATOR · The narrator is an unnamed black man who writes the story as a memoir of his life.

POINT OF VIEW · The narrator writes in the first person, emphasizing his individual experience and his feelings about the events portrayed.

TONE · Ellison often seems to join the narrator in his sentiments, which range from bitterly cynical to willfully optimistic, from anguish at his sufferings to respect for the lessons learned from them. Ellison seems to write himself into the book through the narrator. However, Ellison also frequently portrays the narrator as blind to the realities of race relations. He points out this blindness through other, more insightful characters (most notably the veteran) as well as through symbolic details.

TENSE · Past, with present-tense sections in the Prologue and Epilogue

SETTING (TIME) · The 1930s

SETTING (PLACE) · A black college in the South; New York City, especially Harlem

PROTAGONIST · The narrator

MAJOR CONFLICT · The narrator seeks to act according to the values and expectations of his immediate social group, but he finds himself continuously unable to reconcile his socially imposed role as a black man with his inner concept of identity, or even to understand his inner identity.

RISING ACTION · Dr. Bledsoe expels the narrator from college; the narrator gets into a fight over union politics with his black supervisor at the Liberty Paints plant and enters the plant hospital, where he experiences a kind of rebirth; the narrator stays with Mary, who fosters his sense of social responsibility; the narrator joins the Brotherhood.

CLIMAX · The narrator witnesses Clifton’s racially motivated murder at the hands of white police officers; unable to get in touch with the Brotherhood, he organizes Clifton’s funeral on his own initiative and rouses the black community’s anger against the state of race relations; the Brotherhood rebukes him for his act of independence.

FALLING ACTION · Riots break out in Harlem, releasing the pent-up anger that has gathered since Clifton’s funeral; the narrator encounters Ras, who calls for him to be lynched; running from Ras and the police, the narrator falls into a manhole and remains underground in “hibernation.”

THEMES · Racism as an obstacle to individual identity; the limitations of ideology; the danger of fighting stereotype with stereotype


My Antonia” (1918) by Willa Cather


GENRE · Frontier fiction, autobiographical fiction

NARRATOR · The main part of the story is Jim Burden’s memoir narrated in his first-person voice, from the perspective of an older man looking back on his childhood. The introduction to the novel is narrated by an unnamed individual, one of Jim’s childhood acquaintances. Like Jim, this narrator uses a friendly, first-person voice.

POINT OF VIEW · Except for the introduction, written from the perspective of the unnamed narrator, the entire novel is written from Jim’s perspective.

TONE · Jim’s attitude toward his story is somewhat sad, extremely nostalgic, and full of yearning for a lost past. Throughout Book V, as he narrates the story of his reunion with Ántonia, he becomes much more optimistic and less elegiac in mood.

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · 1880s-1910s

SETTING (PLACE) · In and around Black Hawk, Nebraska; also Lincoln, Nebraska


MAJOR CONFLICT · Jim has an extremely close, loving relationship with his childhood friend Ántonia, but their friendship is tested by the different paths their lives take them down, as Jim acquires an education while Ántonia is forced to work to help support her family. As a secondary conflict, Jim, a middle-aged lawyer, looks back longingly toward his childhood with Ántonia but feels he has lost it forever; his feelings of nostalgia impede him from reestablishing contact with the real Ántonia, now the matriarch of a large family in Nebraska. On a more concrete level, Ántonia must struggle against various hardships, such as the death of her father and her fiancé’s betrayal of her.

RISING ACTION · Many modernist authors broke from dramatic or narrative conventions; My Ántonia does so by avoiding a conventional plot shape with rising action, climax, and falling action. Still, as Ántonia’s life becomes fraught with increasing hardship, we might say that her father’s suicide, the betrayal of her fiancé, and the birth of her child act as rising action. In Jim’s life, his move to Black Hawk, his time with Lena, and the dances all serve as rising action in his transition from childhood to adulthood.

CLIMAX · The structure of My Ántonia does not yield one singular moment of dramatic intensity in which the conflict is resolved. The novel becomes calmer and less conflicted as the final books progress, -leading to a warmly optimistic conclusion that is not the result of any definitive struggle. The closest thing the novel has to a climactic moment is Jim’s reunion with Ántonia, twenty years after their last meeting.

FALLING ACTION · If Jim’s reunion with Ántonia is taken as the climax, then the falling action is his time at the Cuzak farm as he grows to know and admire Ántonia’s husband and children, and resolves to spend more time with them.

THEMES · Humankind’s relationship to the past; humankind’s relationship to environment; the immigrant experience in America; the traditional nature of late nineteenth-century American frontier values


“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” (1845) by Frederick Douglass

YPE OF WORK · Autobiography

GENRE · Slave narrative; bildungsroman

NARRATOR · Frederick Douglass

POINT OF VIEW · Douglass writes in the first person

TONE · Douglass’s tone is generally straightforward and engaged, as befits a philosophical treatise or a political position paper. He also occasionally uses an ironic tone, or the tone of someone emotionally overcome.

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · 1818-1841

SETTING (PLACE) · Eastern Shore of Maryland; Baltimore; New York City; New Bedford, Massachusetts

PROTAGONIST · Frederick Douglass

MAJOR CONFLICT · Douglass struggles to free himself, mentally and physically, from slavery.

RISING ACTION · At the age of ten or eleven, Douglass is sent to live in Baltimore with Hugh and Sophia Auld. Douglass overhears a conversation between them and comes to understand that whites maintain power over black slaves by keeping them uneducated. Douglass resolves to educate himself and escape from slavery. However, he is later taken from the Aulds and placed with Edward Covey, a slave “breaker,” for a year. Under Covey’s brutal treatment, Douglass loses his desire to learn and escape.

CLIMAX · Douglass decides to fight back against Covey’s brutal beatings. The shocked Covey does not whip Douglass ever again.

FALLING ACTION · Douglass is hired to William Freeland, a relatively kinder master. Douglass starts educating his fellow slaves and planning his escape. Douglass’s plan to escape is discovered. He is put in jail and then sent back to Baltimore with the Aulds to learn a trade. Douglass becomes a caulker and is eventually allowed to hire out his own time. Douglass saves money and escapes to New York City, where he marries Anna Murray, a free black woman from Baltimore. They move to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where Douglass is eventually hired as a lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society.

THEMES · Ignorance as a tool of slavery; knowledge as the path to freedom; slavery’s damaging effect on slaveholders; slaveholding as a perversion of Christianity


“Beloved” (1987) by Toni Morrison


GENRE · Historical fiction; ghost story
NARRATOR · Beloved’s primary narrator is anonymous and omniscient. However, in parts of the book the narration is taken over by the characters themselves. Chapters 20 through 23, for example, consist of three monologues and a chorus. At other points in the book, the characters act as visiting narrators of a sort, who relate and comment on events.

POINT OF VIEW · The anonymous narrator of Beloved speaks in the third person and withholds judgment on the actions described. When the characters serve as narrators, they generally use the first person and openly express their personal opinions.

TONE · The text’s tone changes from character to character and reflects their varying, usually explicit attitudes toward the events. The primary “narrator,” regards the characters and their actions with a mixture of mournfulness, regret, and awe.

TENSE · Beloved fluctuates in tense between the immediate and distant pasts. It also includes occasional, jarring transitions to the present tense.

SETTING (TIME) · 1873, with frequent flashbacks to the early 1850s

SETTING (PLACE) · Cincinnati, Ohio; flashbacks to Sweet Home plantation in Kentucky and prison in Alfred, Georgia

PROTAGONIST · Sethe is the primary protagonist, but Denver also drives much of the plot’s action, especially in Part Three.

MAJOR CONFLICT · Having survived a traumatic escape from slavery, Sethe has killed her older daughter in a mad attempt to keep her from being taken back to the South by her old master. A mysterious figure now appears at Sethe’s home, calling herself by the name on the dead daughter’s tombstone.

RISING ACTION · A ghost has haunted Sethe and Denver’s house for several years. Paul D arrives and chases the ghost away. Beloved appears at the house soon after and causes memories to surface in Sethe, Denver, and Paul D.

CLIMAX · Because the novel follows two different stories, one told through flashbacks and one that is taking place in the novel’s present, there are two different climaxes. The climax of the flashback plot occurs near the end of Part One in Chapter 16, when the text finally reveals the circumstances of Sethe’s daughter’s death: eighteen years ago, Sethe attempted to murder all her children when she refused to hand them over to schoolteacher to endure a life of slavery. Only her elder daughter died. The second climax occurs at the end of the novel, during the “exorcism” of Beloved, who seems to be the ghost of the daughter Sethe murdered. In an echo of the first climax, Sethe mistakes Mr. Bodwin, her family’s benefactor, for schoolteacher and tries to kill him with an ice pick.

FALLING ACTION · Beloved leaves 124 forever, Denver is preparing to go to college, and Paul D returns to Sethe, who has been spending her days in Baby Suggs’s bed.

THEMES · Slavery’s destruction of identity; the importance of community solidarity; the powers and limits of language


“Hiroshima” (1946) by John Hershey

TYPE OF WORK · Journalistic narrative

GENRE · War account

NARRATOR · John Hersey, a journalist

POINT OF VIEW · The narrator speaks in the third person, focusing on the actions of the six main characters. The narrator describes the characters’ actions and periodically gives the reader a glimpse into what they were thinking and feeling, based on his interviews with them.

TONE · Objective and removed; unemotional

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · August 6, 1945 and the forty years following

SETTING (PLACE) · Hiroshima, Japan

PROTAGONISTS · Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, Toshiko Sasaki, Dr. Masakazu Fujii, Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto

MAJOR CONFLICT · The detonation of the atomic bomb

RISING ACTION · The routine wartime actions of the six main characters in the morning before the bomb drops

CLIMAX · The detonation of the atomic bomb, as experienced by the six main characters

FALLING ACTION · The six central figures’ recovery from their injuries and reentry into daily life

THEMES · Community survival in the face of mass destruction; Japanese stoicism and personal submission; the unnatural power of the bomb


“Moby Dick” (1851) by Herman Melville


GENRE · Epic, adventure story, quest tale, allegory

NARRATOR · Ishmael, a junior member of the Pequod’s crew, casts himself as the author, recounting the events of the voyage after he has acquired more experience and studied the whale extensively.

POINT OF VIEW · Ishmael narrates in a combination of first and third person, describing events as he saw them and providing his own thoughts. He presents the thoughts and feelings of the other characters only as an outside observer might infer them.

TONE · Ironic, celebratory, philosophical, dramatic, hyperbolic

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · 1830s or 1840s

SETTING (PLACE) · Aboard the whaling ship the Pequod, in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans

MAJOR CONFLICT · Ahab dedicates his ship and crew to destroying Moby Dick, a white sperm whale, because he sees this whale as the living embodiment of all that is evil and malignant in the universe. By ignoring the physical dangers that this quest entails, setting himself against other men, and presuming to understand and fight evil on a cosmic scale, Ahab arrogantly defies the limitations imposed upon human beings.

RISING ACTION · Ahab announces his quest to the other sailors and nails the doubloon to the mast; the Pequod encounters various ships with news and stories about Moby Dick.

CLIMAX · In Chapter 132, “The Symphony,” Ahab interrogates himself and his quest in front of Starbuck, and realizes that he does not have the will to turn aside from his purpose.

FALLING ACTION · The death of Ahab and the destruction of the Pequod by Moby Dick; Ishmael, the only survivor of the Pequod’s sinking, floats on a coffin and is rescued by another whaling ship, the Rachel.

THEMES · The limits of knowledge; the deceptiveness of fate; the exploitative nature of whaling


“One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1962) by Ken Kesey


GENRE · Allegorical novel; counterculture novel; protest novel

NARRATOR · Chief Bromden, also known as Chief Broom, who tells the story after he has escaped from the hospital

POINT OF VIEW · Chief Bromden narrates in the first person. He tells the story as it appears to him, though his objectivity is somewhat compromised by the fact that he suffers from paranoia and hallucinations. His unusual state of mind provides metaphorical insight into the insidious reality of the hospital as well as society in general. Because he pretends to be deaf and dumb, he is privy to secret staff information that is kept from other patients, which makes him a more reliable narrator than any other patient would be.

TONE · The novel’s tone is critical and allegorical; the hospital is presented as a metaphor for the oppressive society of the late 1950s. The novel praises the expression of sexuality as the ultimate goal and denounces repression as based on fear and hate. Bromden’s psychedelic and slightly paranoid worldview may be commensurate with Kesey’s, and McMurphy’s use of mischief and humor to undermine authority also seems to echo the author’s attitudes.

TENSE · Present

SETTING (TIME) · 1950s

SETTING (PLACE) · A mental hospital in Oregon

PROTAGONIST · Randle P. McMurphy

MAJOR CONFLICT · The patients in the mental ward are cowed and repressed by the emasculating Nurse Ratched, who represents the oppressive force of modern society. McMurphy tries to lead them to rebel against her authority by asserting their individuality and sexuality, while Nurse Ratched attempts to discredit McMurphy and shame the patients back into docility.

RISING ACTION · The World Series rebellion; McMurphy’s encounter with the lifeguard; McMurphy discovering what being committed means; Cheswick’s death

CLIMAX · McMurphy reasserts himself against Nurse Ratched at the end of Part II by smashing the glass window in the Nurses’ Station, signaling that his rebellion is no longer lighthearted or selfish but committed and violent. McMurphy takes on the responsibility for rehabilitating the other patients.

FALLING ACTION · McMurphy’s decision to return Bromden to his former strength; the fishing trip and visit to McMurphy’s childhood house, where Bromden sees his panic and fatigue; McMurphy and Bromden’s fight with the aides; the electroshock therapy; the ward party and Billy’s suicide; McMurphy’s violent attack on Nurse Ratched; the lobotomy

THEMES · Women as castrators; society’s destruction of natural impulses; the importance of expressing sexuality; false diagnoses of insanity


“Black Boy” (1945) by Richard Wright

TYPE OF WORK · Autobiographical novel

GENRE · Bildungsroman (coming-of age-novel); modernist novel; existential novel

TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN · 1943-1944; New York City

NARRATOR · Black Boy is narrated by the author, Richard Wright, and tells the story of his life from early childhood to about age twenty-nine.

POINT OF VIEW · As the text is written as a stylized memoir, the narrator always speaks in the first person. Although he occasionally speculates as to what another character thinks or feels, those speculations are always conditioned by the fact that the narrator is a real historical figure with limited knowledge.

TONE · Confessional, ironic, philosophical

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · Roughly 1912-1937

SETTING (PLACE) · Primarily Jackson, Mississippi; West Helena and Elaine, Arkansas; Memphis, Tennessee; and Chicago, Illinois, with detours to rural areas in the Deep South and to New York City

PROTAGONIST · Richard Wright, the author and narrator

MAJOR CONFLICT · Richard demonstrates inborn individualism and intelligence, traits that can only cause problems for a black man in the Jim Crow South; he struggles with blacks and whites alike for acceptance and humane treatment; he struggles with his own stubborn nature.

RISING ACTION · Ella (the schoolteacher) tells Richard the story of Bluebeard and His Seven Wives; Richard writes his story “The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre”; Richard graduates from public school and enters the workforce only to be terrorized by the actions of racist whites.

CLIMAX · Richard reads H. L. Mencken’s A Book of Prefaces and becomes obsessed with reading and writing; Richard permanently flees the South; he makes his way to Chicago, where he can live a more dignified life and more fully exercise his ambition to become a writer.

FALLING ACTION · Richard comes to understand the psychic pain of growing up black in America and realizes his duty to record his experiences and his environment through writing; he enters the Communist Party and W.P.A. programs, coming into contact with serious writers and outlets for writing about his ideals; he is ousted from the Party but comes to a new vision of himself as an artist

THEMES · The insidious effects of racism; the individual versus society; the redemptive power of art


“Bless Me, Ultima” (1972) by Rudolfo Anaya


GENRE · Bildungsroman (coming-of-age story); magical realism

TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN · 1960s, Albuquerque, New Mexico
NARRATOR · Antonio as an adult, recounting a few years of his childhood

POINT OF VIEW · The novel is written exclusively from Antonio’s first-person point of view.

TONE · For the most part, the narrator’s tone is serious and lyrical, with simple, poetic language used to depict Antonio’s weighty philosophical struggles. The tone of the novel generally matches the mood of its main character.

TENSE · Past

SETTINGS (TIME) · Mid-1940s, during and after World War II

SETTINGS (PLACE) · Guadalupe, New Mexico, and its surrounding area


MAJOR CONFLICT · As Antonio moves from childhood to adolescence, he tries to reconcile his parents’ and his community’s conflicting cultural traditions; Antonio’s goal is independent thought and action; he strives to make his own moral decisions and to accept responsibility for their consequences.

RISING ACTION · After Ultima arrives to stay with Antonio’s family, Antonio witnesses the murder of Lupito, a local man. He also experiences mounting anxiety over going away to school and leaving his mother.

CLIMAX · Ultima cures Lucas’s illness, presumably caused by Tenorio’s daughters, whom he saw participating in a satanic ritual. By curing Lucas, Ultima incites Tenorio’s rage, and Tenorio vows to kill Ultima.

FALLING ACTION · Antonio goes to school and builds friendships there. Tenorio, still angry with Ultima, kills the pet owl that guides her in her magic healing. When the owl dies, Ultima dies as well. She asks Antonio to bury the owl’s body.

THEMES · The importance of moral independence; the influence of culture on identity


“Death of a Salesman” (1949) by Arthur Miller (play)


GENRE · Tragedy, social commentary, family drama

CLIMAX · The scene in Frank’s Chop House and Biff’s final confrontation with Willy at home

PROTAGONISTS · Willy Loman, Biff Loman

ANTAGONISTS · Biff Loman, Willy Loman, the American Dream

SETTING (TIME) · “Today,” that is, the present; either the late 1940s or the time period in which the play is being produced, with “daydreams” into Willy’s past; all of the action takes place during a twenty-four-hour period between Monday night and Tuesday night, except the “Requiem,” which takes place, presumably, a few days after Willy’s funeral

SETTING (PLACE) · According to the stage directions, “Willy Loman’s house and yard [in Brooklyn] and . . . various places he visits in . . . New York and Boston”

FALLING ACTION · The “Requiem” section, although the play is not really structured as a classical drama

TENSE · Present

FORESHADOWING · Willy’s flute theme foreshadows the revelation of his father’s occupation and abandonment; Willy’s preoccupation with Linda’s stockings foreshadows his affair with The Woman; Willy’s automobile accident before the start of Act I foreshadows his suicide at the end of Act II

TONE · The tone of Miller’s stage directions and dialogue ranges from sincere to parodying, but, in general, the treatment is tender, though at times brutally honest, toward Willy’s plight

THEMES · The American Dream; abandonment; betrayal


“In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences” (1965) by Truman Capote

SUMMARY Herbert Clutter inspects his ranch on the morning of November 14, 1959. That same morning, on the other side of Kansas, Perry Smith meets up with Dick Hickock. While the Clutters go about their daily business, running errands and baking cherry pies, Hickock and Smith are tuning their car. After a long drive, they pull up to the Clutter home with a shotgun and knife in hand. That morning, the bodies are discovered by Susan Kidwell and another of Nancy’s friends. Initially, the police are baffled. Bobby Rupp is a suspect until he passes a lie detector test. Alvin Dewey, the KBI agent in charge of the investigation, thinks that the killer must be someone close to the family. Rumor sets the small town of Holcomb on fire. Hartman’s Cafe is the center of numerous theories.

Meanwhile, Perry and Dick have returned to Dick’s hometown of Olathe. Dick passes some hot checks, and the two flee to Mexico. Perry has always dreamed of finding sunken treasure in Mexico. While the investigation in Kansas begins to methodically follow up dead end leads, Perry and Dick spend some time entertaining a rich German tourist before they run out of money in Mexico City. While packing to return to the states, Perry goes through his personal belongings and remembers his childhood. His mother and father rode the rodeo circuit until they had a falling out. Perry was passed from home to home as a child. Now, two of his three siblings have killed themselves.

The investigation of the Clutter murders seems to be heading nowhere. However, a man in the Kansas state prison at Lansing, Floyd Wells, hears of the murder case. Sure that Dick Hickock is responsible, he begins to think of talking to the authorities. Meanwhile, Dick and Perry are hitchhiking in the American desert. They try to steal a car, but fail. By this time, Floyd has confessed, and Dewey and his team are beginning an elaborate manhunt.

Before they are caught, Dick and Perry steal a car, return to Kansas City, pass more hot checks, and take up residence in Miami. They eventually backtrack to Las Vegas, where a policewoman recognizes their license plate number. Dick confesses after intense questioning, and Perry follows suit. The trial goes smoothly, and the two are condemned to death.

During a five-year appeals process, Dick and Perry languish in Death Row. Perry tries to starve himself while Dick writes letters to various appeals organization. They are kept company by various appalling criminals. When death comes, Dick is awkward and Perry is remorseful.


“A Lesson Before Dying” (1993) by Ernest J. Gaines

GENRE · Fiction; historical fiction; social commentary POINT OF VIEW · First person TONE · Grant’s narrative voice reflects his changing moods, shifting from brooding cynicism to awareness and confidence.

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · 1940s PROTAGONIST · Grant Wiggins

MAJOR CONFLICT · Grant and Jefferson struggle to help Jefferson die with dignity.

RISING ACTION · Grant’s regular visits to Jefferson’s jail cell; Jefferson’s reaction of anger and silence

CLIMAX · Grant gives a passionate speech to Jefferson, and both men cry.

FALLING ACTION · Jefferson becomes thoughtful and brave and dies an admirable death.

THEMES · Recognizing injustice and facing responsibility; redemption in death; the inescapable past

“Slaughterhouse-Five” (1969) by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


GENRE · Antiwar novel; historical fiction; science fiction; semi-autobiographical fiction

NARRATOR · The author; or arguably, sometimes an anonymous narrator with a similar point of view

POINT OF VIEW · The author narrates in both first and third person. The first-person sections are confined mainly to the first and last chapters. The narration is omniscient: it reveals the thoughts and motives of several characters, and provides details about their lives and some analysis of their motivations. The narrator primarily follows Billy Pilgrim but also presents the point of view of other characters whom Billy encounters.

TONE · The narrator’s tone is familiar and ironic, and he uncovers touches of dark humor and absurdity that do not diminish the lyrical and emotional power of the material. His portrayal of Billy is intimate but ambivalent, and he occasionally emphasizes the diction of reported speech (prefacing a passage with “He says that” or “Billy says”) to draw a distinction between reality and Billy’s interpretation of events.

TENSE · The majority of the book is written in the past tense, but the narrator occasionally uses the present tense—especially in the first and last chapters—when speaking from a personal point of view as Kurt Vonnegut. The reporting of Billy’s speech is in the present tense (for example: “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. Or so he says.”) Occasionally the tense switches to future, as when Billy describes his future death.

SETTING (TIME) · The narrative provides a detailed account of Billy’s war experiences in 1944-1945, but it skips around his entire life, from his early childhood in the 1920s to his death in 1976. The author’s narration is set in 1968.

SETTING (PLACE) · The narrative thread of 1944-1945 concerns Billy’s army service in Germany and briefly in Luxembourg, where he is captured after the Battle of the Bulge. Most of the rest of Billy’s life takes place in Ilium, New York. He also travels to the planet Tralfamadore and lives there in a zoo.

PROTAGONIST · Billy Pilgrim

MAJOR CONFLICT · Billy struggles to make sense out of a life forever marked by the firsthand experience of war’s tragedy.

RISING ACTION · Billy and his fellow prisoners are transported across Germany and begin living in a slaughterhouse prison and working in the city of Dresden.

CLIMAX · Dresden is incinerated in a deadly firebomb attack. But Billy misses the moment of destruction, waiting out the attack in a well-protected meat locker. Psychologically, Billy does not come to terms with this event until nearly twenty years later, when the sight of a barbershop quartet on his wedding anniversary triggers his suppressed sense of grief.

FALLING ACTION · The falling action occurs in the realm of Billy’s later life as he progresses toward a newfound consciousness and an increasingly tenuous mental state. Billy experiences alien abduction and prepares to share his new insights with the world.

THEMES · The destructiveness of war; the illusion of free will; the importance of sight


“The Poisonwood Bible” (1998) by Barbara Kingsolver


GENRE · Postcolonial fiction; epic; family saga; coming of age story; political allegory

NARRATOR · The book is narrated by five different characters, Orleanna Price and her four daughters Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May.

POINT OF VIEW · Each of the narrators speaks in the first person, giving us a view of the story as it looks to them at the time. That is, we see the story through the eyes of the character narrating at the time. What we are most often presented with is simply the thoughts, feelings, and general reactions of the narrator to the events unfolding.

TONE · Each of the five narrators takes a different tone to their story. Orleanna’s tone is most markedly different from the rest, as her narrative is presented after-the-fact. Her attitude toward the story she tells is overwhelmingly one of pain and remorse. The four girls, on the other hand, are telling their story as the events unfold. Their attitude, therefore, mirrors their attitude toward life in general. This story is simply the telling of the events of their life during a certain period.

TENSE · The four girls narrate from the present tense, telling the story as it unfolds. Orleanna narrates in the past tense, looking back at the events from a future date.

SETTING (TIME) · The narrative spans thirty years, from 1959 until 1998.

SETTING · While the primary story is set in the Belgian Congo, which becomes Zaire during the course of the tale, certain segments are set in Atlanta and Sanderling Island, Georgia, and certain others in the Johannesburg, South Africa and the French Congo.

PROTAGONIST · Arguably, the protagonist of the story is the only Price who is not given a voice, the father Nathan. It is his blind religious fanaticism that brings the family into the Congo, and it is in reaction to him that all of the women must find their own paths. However, since the story is also largely a story about how these paths are paved out one could also claim that Orleanna, Rachel, Adah, and Leah share the role of protagonist.

MAJOR CONFLICT · The major conflict in the story can be cashed out on two levels. On both levels the major conflict regards how one should react to the burden of guilt. On the more personal level, the guilt that must be dealt with is the collective family guilt that derives from Nathan’s fanaticism and Ruth May’s resulting death. On the broader level, the women also feel the strong need to deal with the collective Western guilt that derives from the crimes of the colonial and post- colonial era.

RISING ACTION · Arrival in Congo; decision to remain in Congo in the face of the mortal threat that Independence brings; growing resentment toward the Prices by the village leaders; eruption of sentiments over the issue of Leah’s participation in the hunt.

CLIMAX · Ruth May’s death

FALLING ACTION · Orleanna and her remaining daughters desert Nathan and seek redemption from their two levels of collective sin. Leah turns toward a life of political idealism and cultivated suffering; Adah turns toward a life of science; Rachel turns toward of life marked by an egoistic and single-minded pursuit of her own pleasure; Orleanna becomes paralyzed by guilt.

THEMES · The sin of Western arrogance; a transfer of faith from God to the natural world; the individuality of redemption; the impossibility of absolute and unambiguous justice on a global scale


“The Bluest Eye” 1970) by Toni Morrison


GENRE · Coming-of-age, tragedy, elegy

NARRATOR · There are two narrators: Claudia MacTeer, who narrates in a mixture of a child’s and an adult’s perspective; and an omniscient narrator.

POINT OF VIEW · Claudia’s and Pecola’s points of view are dominant, but we also see things from Cholly’s, Pauline’s, and other characters’ points of view. Point of view is deliberately fragmented to give a sense of the characters’ experiences of dislocation and to help us sympathize with multiple characters.

TONE · Lyrical, elegiac, embittered, matter-of-fact, colloquial

TENSE · Past, as seen by the adult Claudia

SETTING (TIME) · 1940-1941

SETTING (PLACE) · Lorain, Ohio

PROTAGONIST · Pecola Breedlove

MAJOR CONFLICT · Pecola needs to receive love from somebody, but her parents and the other members of her community are unable to love her because they have been damaged and thwarted in their own lives.

RISING ACTION · Cholly tries to burn down the family house; Pecola is snubbed by a grocer, tormented by boys, and blamed for killing a cat.

CLIMAX · Pecola’s father rapes her.

FALLING ACTION · Pecola is beaten by her mother, requests blue eyes from Soaphead Church, begins to go mad, and loses her baby.

THEMES · Whiteness as the standard of beauty; seeing versus being seen; the power of stories; sexual initiation and abuse; satisfying appetites versus repressing them


“The Sound and the Fury” (1929) by William Faulkner


GENRE · Modernist novel
NARRATOR · The story is told in four chapters by four different narrators: Benjy, the youngest Compson son; Quentin, the oldest son; Jason, the middle son; and Faulkner himself, acting as an omniscient, third-person narrator who focuses on Dilsey, the Compsons’ servant.

POINT OF VIEW · Benjy, Quentin, and Jason narrate in the first person, as participants. They narrate in a stream of consciousness style, attentive to events going on around them in the present, but frequently returning to memories from the past. The final section is narrated in third-person omniscient.

TONE · The world outside the minds of the narrators slowly unravels through personal thoughts, memories, and observations. The tone differs in each chapter, depending on the narrator.

TENSE · Present and past

SETTING (TIME) · Three of the chapters are set during Easter weekend, 1928, while Quentin’s section is set in June, 1910. However, the memories the narrators recall within these sections cover the period from 1898 to 1928.

SETTING (PLACE) · Jefferson, Mississippi, and Cambridge, Massachusetts (Harvard University)

PROTAGONIST · The four Compson children: Caddy, Quentin, Benjy, and Jason

MAJOR CONFLICT · The aristocratic Compson family’s long fall from grace and struggle to maintain its distinguished legacy. This conflict is manifest in Caddy’s promiscuity, her out-of-wedlock pregnancy, her short marriage, and the ensuing setbacks and deaths that her family members suffer.

RISING ACTION · Caddy’s climbing of a tree with muddy drawers; Benjy’s name change; Caddy’s pregnancy and wedding; Quentin’s suicide; Benjy’s castration; Mr. Compson’s death from alcoholism

CLIMAX · Miss Quentin’s theft of Jason’s money, and her elopement with the man with the red tie

FALLING ACTION · Dilsey’s taking Benjy to Easter Sunday service and Benjy’s trip to the cemetery

THEMES · The corruption of Southern aristocratic values; resurrection and renewal; the failure of language and narrative


“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (1876) by Mark Twain


GENRE · Concerned with Tom’s personal growth and quest for identity, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer incorporates several different genres. It resembles a bildungsroman, a novel that follows the development of a hero from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. The novel also resembles novels of the picaresque genre, in that Tom moves from one adventurous episode to another. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer also fits the genres of satire, frontier literature, folk narrative, and comedy.

DATE OF FIRST PUBLICATION · The novel appeared in England in June 1876, and six months later in the United States.

NARRATOR · An adult who views the adult world critically and looks back on the sentiments and pastimes of childhood in a somewhat idealized manner, with wit and also with nostalgia

POINT OF VIEW · The narrator narrates in the third person, with a special insight into the workings of the boyish heart and mind.

TONE · Satirical and nostalgic

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · Not specified, but probably around 1845

SETTING (PLACE) · The fictional town of St. Petersburg, Missouri (which resembles Twain’s hometown of Hannibal)


MAJOR CONFLICT · Tom and Huck perceive their biggest struggle to be between themselves and Injun Joe, whose gold they want and whom they believe is out to kill them. Conflict also exists between Tom and his imaginative world and the expectations and rules of adult society.

RISING ACTION · Tom and Huck’s witness of Dr. Robinson’s murder; the search for the boys’ bodies in the river when they escape to Jackson’s Island; Tom’s testimony at Muff Potter’s trial; Tom and Huck’s accidental sighting of Injun Joe at the haunted house; Tom and Becky’s entrapment in the cave

CLIMAX · Huck overhears Injun Joe’s plan to kill the Widow Douglas, and Tom encounters Injun Joe when he and Becky are stranded in the cave.

FALLING ACTION · Huck gets help from the Welshman and drives Injun Joe away from the Widow Douglas; Tom avoids conflict with Injun Joe and navigates himself and Becky out of the cave; Judge Thatcher seals off the cave, causing Injun Joe to starve to death; Tom and Huck find Injun Joe’s treasure; Huck is adopted and civilized by the Widow Douglas.

THEMES · Moral and social maturation; society’s hypocrisy; freedom through social exclusion; superstition in an uncertain world


“Catch-22” (1961) by Joseph Heller


GENRE · War novel; satire
NARRATOR · The anonymous narrator is omniscient, seeing and knowing all things. The narrator presents characters and events in a humorous, satirical light but seems to have real sympathy for some of them as well.

POINT OF VIEW · The narrator speaks in the third person, focusing mostly on what Yossarian does and what Yossarian thinks and feels. Occasionally, the narrator also shows us how other characters, such as the chaplain or Hungry Joe, experience the world around them.

TONE · The narrator presents ridiculous behavior and illogical arguments in a flatly satirical tone, never stating outright that matters are funny, but always making the reader aware of how outrageously bizarre the characters and situations are.

TENSE · The story is written in the past tense. Although the book settles into a more chronological order as it approaches its end, most of Catch-22 is told out of sequence, with events from the past mixed in with events from the present.

SETTING (TIME) · Near the end of World War II

SETTING (PLACE) · Pianosa, a small island off the coast of Italy. Although Pianosa is a real place, Heller has taken some creative liberties with it, enlarging it to hold all the action of the novel.

PROTAGONIST · John Yossarian, an Air Force captain and bombardier stationed in Pianosa

MAJOR CONFLICT · Yossarian struggles to stay alive, despite the many parties who seem to want him dead.

RISING ACTION · The rising action in the novel’s present time is Yossarian’s growing certainty that he will never be allowed to go home. Alongside Yossarian’s certainty is a second subplot that takes place in the past: the bombing run on which Snowden was killed. As the novel moves along, we are allowed to see more and more of this pivotal scene.

CLIMAX · The two climaxes of Catch-22 happen simultaneously. The first climax occurs when Yossarian is offered a choice: he can either face a court-martial or be sent home if he agrees to support Cathcart and Korn. The second climax, which occurs as Yossarian makes his decision, is the final flashback to Snowden’s death, in which all the details of this critical event are at last revealed.

FALLING ACTION · Remembering the lesson of Snowden’s death, Yossarian decides that he cannot betray the other men in his squadron by forcing them to fly his missions for him. Instead, he decides to desert the army and flee the camp.

THEMES · The absolute power of bureaucracy; loss of religious faith; the impotence of language; the inevitability of death


“The Chosen” (1967) by Chaim Potok


GENRE · Bildungsroman; Jewish-American Literature

NARRATOR · The Chosen is narrated by Reuven Malter, who reflects several years after the events of the novel on his coming-of-age in Brooklyn.

POINT OF VIEW · Reuven Malter, the narrator, speaks in the first-person. He explains events in chronological order, adjusting his perspective over the course of the novel to reflect his increasing maturity. Reuven’s narration is not omniscient, as he does not know what others are thinking or feeling. Instead, he reveals Reuven’s observations of others’ behavior and analyzes other characters’ thoughts and emotions.

TONE · Reuven is an introspective, highly intellectual young man. As a result, he is rarely quick to judge others, and usually spends time considering multiple perspectives, trying to be as thoughtful and open-minded as possible. These qualities only improve as his relationship with Danny alters the way he looks at the world. It is important to note that for the majority of the novel, Reuven is very quick to judge Reb Saunders and rather harsh in his judgment. Only at the very end of the novel does he learn that he has not been seeing the complexity of Reb Saunders’s character.

TENSE · Past

SETTINGS (TIME) · Early summer, 1944 to fall, 1950

SETTING (PLACE) · The neighborhood of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York

PROTAGONISTS · Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders

MAJOR CONFLICT · Danny’s struggle between his family and religious obligations, and his desire to become a psychologist is the novel’s central conflict. Reuven experiences this conflict indirectly—as he helps Danny struggle through it, he struggles to understand it himself.

RISING ACTION · After Danny injures Reuven during a softball game, the two boys become friends and teach each other all sort of lessons. After many years, Danny’s father, Reb Saunders, decides to end Danny’s friendship with Reuven. Eventually the boys are permitted to become friends again. Reuven discovers that Danny has applied and been accepted to graduate programs in psychology, even though Reb Saunders expects Danny to take over the leadership of his Hasidic community.

CLIMAX · Using Reuven as a buffer through whom he can speak to his son, Reb Saunders confronts Danny. He asks his son about his plans and explains his reasons for treating Danny with silence for so many years.

FALLING ACTION · After Reb Saunders issues his approval of Danny’s plans for psychology, Danny and Reuven leave and walk together in silence. Reuven and Danny graduate from Hirsch College, and Danny goes on to graduate school at Columbia University. Reuven says farewell to Danny.

THEMES · The importance of parallels to individual growth; silence as a path to the soul; the conflict between tradition and modernity; choosing versus being chosen


“East of Eden” (1952) by John Steinbeck


GENRE · Allegorical novel; epic

NARRATOR · The story is told by a third-person narrator who is not omniscient and who greatly resembles John Steinbeck himself. In this sense, the narrator may or may not be a direct mouthpiece for the author. In addition to conveying the events of the novel, the narrator provides commentary and interrupts the story frequently to discuss human history and the human condition more broadly.

POINT OF VIEW · The narrator speaks in the third person and shifts viewpoints among various characters, including Adam Trask, Cal Trask, Samuel Hamilton, Cathy Ames, Joe Valery, and others. The narrator’s authorial intrusions into the story often include musings in the first person.

TONE · Philosophical; foreboding; nostalgic; hopeful

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · 1862-1918

SETTING (PLACE) · The Salinas Valley in northern California, with several episodes in Connecticut and Massachusetts

PROTAGONISTS · Adam Trask; Cal Trask

MAJOR CONFLICT · Aware of the legacy of evil that he has inherited from his mother, Cal Trask struggles with the question of whether he is destined to be evil himself or whether he can overcome this evil by free choice.

RISING ACTION · While his sons are still boys, Cyrus Trask works as an army administrator and amasses a fortune, probably through embezzlement. Cathy Ames arrives on the Trasks’ doorstep, and Adam falls in love with her and marries her. Adam and Cathy then move to the California, where Adam meets Samuel Hamilton and Cathy unsuccessfully attempts to abort her unborn children. Cathy gives birth to Aron and Cal and promptly deserts the family. The crushed Adam does not know Cathy’s fate until Samuel reveals one day that Cathy is working at a nearby brothel. Although the revelation hurts Adam, he eventually confronts Cathy, recognizes her evil, and rejects her. Later, Cal too finds out about his mother’s profession. He struggles with this knowledge but keeps it from the fragile Aron. When Cathy confronts Cal one day, he stands up to her attempts at intimidation. The increasingly withdrawn Aron, meanwhile, retreats into the shelter of the church.

CLIMAX · Cal, enraged and jealous when his father rejects Cal’s gift of $15,000, takes out his anger on Aron by telling him about their mother’s life as a prostitute. Cal then takes Aron to see Cathy at her brothel, fully aware that the revelation will destroy Aron.

FALLING ACTION · Shocked by the revelation about his mother, Aron enlists in the army, while Cal gradually wins the love of Abra Bacon. Aron is killed in World War I, and Adam, on his deathbed, finally gives his blessing to Cal.

THEMES · The perpetual contest between good and evil; the freedom to overcome evil; the pain of paternal rejection


“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (1969) by Maya Angelou

TYPE OF WORK · Autobiographical novel

GENRE · Autobiography

NARRATOR · Maya Angelou

POINT OF VIEW · Maya Angelou speaks in the first person as she recounts her childhood. She writes both from a child’s point of view and from her perspective as an adult.

TONE · Personal, comical, woeful, and philosophical

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · 1930s-1950s

SETTING (PLACE) · Stamps, Arkansas; St. Louis, Missouri; Oakland, California; San Francisco, California

PROTAGONIST · Maya Angelou

MAJOR CONFLICT · Coming-of-age as a southern black girl, confronting racism, sexism, violence, and loneliness

RISING ACTION · Maya’s parents divorce; Maya and Bailey are sent to Stamps; Maya and Bailey move in with their mother in St. Louis; Maya is raped; Maya and Bailey return to Stamps; Bailey witnesses a victim of lynching; Maya and Bailey move to San Francisco to live with Vivian; Maya spends the summer with her father

CLIMAX · Maya runs away from her father, displaying her first true act of self-reliance and independence after a lifelong struggle with feelings of inferiority and displacement; here, she displaces herself intentionally, leading to important lessons she learns about humanity while in the junkyard community

FALLING ACTION · Maya lives for a month in the junkyard with a group of homeless teenagers; she becomes San Francisco’s first black streetcar conductor; she becomes pregnant; she graduates high school; she gives birth to a son and gains confidence

THEMES · Racism and segregation; debilitating displacement; resistance


“Walden and Other Writings” (1854) by Henry David Thoreau


GENRE · Autobiography; moral philosophy; natural history; social criticism

NARRATOR · Henry David Thoreau

POINT OF VIEW · Thoreau narrates in the first person, using the word “I” nearly 2,000 times in the narrative of Walden. Defending this approach, he remarks, “I should not talk so much about myself if there were any body else whom I knew as well.”

TONE · Thoreau’s tone varies throughout the work. In some places he is mystical and lyrical, as in the blue ice description in “Ponds.” He can be hardheaded and practical, as in the accounting details of “Economy.” Sometimes he seems to be writing a diary, recording the day’s events; other times he widens his scope to include the whole cosmos and all eternity. In some places his style is neutral and observational, in other places powerfully prophetic or didactic, as in the chapter “Conclusion.”

TENSE · Thoreau uses the past tense for recounting his Walden experiments and the present tense for the more meditative and philosophical passages.

SETTING (TIME) · Summer 1845 through Summer 1847 (although the book condenses the two years into one)

SETTING (PLACE) · Walden Pond

PROTAGONIST · Henry David Thoreau

MAJOR CONFLICT · Thoreau resists the constraints of civilized American life.

RISING ACTION · Thoreau builds a small dwelling by Walden Pond and moves to the wilderness.

CLIMAX · Thoreau endures the winter and feels spring’s transforming power arrive.

FALLING ACTION · Thoreau, accustomed to a solitary life in the woods, concludes his project and moves back to Concord and social existence.

THEMES · The importance of self-reliance; the value of simplicity; the illusion of progress


“The Bean Trees” (1988) by Barbara Kingsolver


GENRE · Journey or quest novel

NARRATOR · Most of the chapters are narrated by Taylor Greer, but Chapters Two and Four, which introduce Lou Ann, are narrated by an anonymous, omniscient narrator

POINT OF VIEW · For the most part, the story is told from Taylor’s point of view, and we are privy to her thoughts and feelings. Chapters Two and Four are written from a limited omniscient perspective, from which the narrator explains Lou Ann’s thinking.

TONE · Folksy, poetic, humorous

TENSE · Immediate past

SETTING (TIME) · Early 1980s

SETTING (PLACE) · The novel opens in rural Kentucky. Taylor travels across the country to Tucson, Arizona, where she settles. At the end of the novel, she takes a trip to Oklahoma before returning to Tucson.

PROTAGONIST · Taylor Greer

MAJOR CONFLICT · Taylor tries to accept the responsibility of caring for another person and to understand the plight of political refugees

RISING ACTION · Taylor receives Turtle, grows close to Mattie and Lou Ann, and learns the story of Estevan and Esperanza

CLIMAX · Taylor decides to fight to keep Turtle and to risk her own safety for Estevan and Esperanza

FALLING ACTION · Estevan and Esperanza pretend to be Turtle’s biological parents so that Taylor may adopt the little girl legally; Taylor delivers Estevan and Esperanza to their new home; Taylor and Turtle head back home to Tucson.

THEMES · The shared burden of womanhood; the plight of illegal immigrants; respect for the environment


“Billy Budd” (1924) by Herman Melville


GENRE · Sea story, Christian allegory, novella, philosophical novel
TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN · 1886-1891, New York City

NARRATOR · The story is narrated in an omniscient third person voice whose liveliness, strong opinions, and stylistic inconsistency give the narrator a forceful, erratic personality that colors the events of the story. The narrator jumps freely from character to character in describing backgrounds, attitudes, and mindsets, yet often admits ignorance concerning certain events.

POINT OF VIEW · The narrator generally focuses on Billy’s point of view, but in certain chapters shifts to that of Claggart and Vere. For brief moments, the point of view of minor characters such as Captain Graveling is represented.

TONE · The narrator’s attitude toward his story is generally one of ironic disillusionment. The notes of hope, reconciliation, and optimism that creep into the text, especially toward the end, have been interpreted by some readers as sincere and by others as satirical.

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · Summer of 1797, four years into the Napoleonic Wars between England and France and several months after the Great Mutiny at Nore

SETTING (PLACE) · On an English warship, the Bellipotent, somewhere on the Mediterranean Sea


MAJOR CONFLICT · On one level, the conflict of the book is between the natural innocence and goodness of Billy and the subtlety and deceptiveness of evil, represented by Claggart. The second major conflict of the book is the dilemma about whether Vere should absolve Billy for killing Claggart, since Billy is fundamentally innocent, or whether he should execute him to avoid appearing lenient toward mutiny.

RISING ACTION · Billy’s persecution for minor infractions, his spilling the soup in front of Claggart, and his encounter with the afterguardsman, who may have been seeking to entrap him, all bring Billy and Claggart toward open conflict.

CLIMAX · Billy strikes Claggart dead after being falsely accused of mutiny.

FALLING ACTION · Vere forms a special drumhead court to try Billy, and pressures the court to convict and condemn him; Billy is executed in front of the entire crew; Billy’s legend gradually begins to spread among the sailors.

THEMES · The individual versus society; conscience versus law; the vulnerability of innocence


“The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother” (1996) by James McBride


GENRE · Coming-of-age memoir, race relations

NARRATOR · James McBride

POINT OF VIEW · The author alternates between his own first person voice and his mother’s own words.

TONE · Straightforward narrative tone

TENSE · For the most part, the book takes place in the past tense, as it recounts the past lives of James and Ruth. McBride uses the present tense when he talks about his current life, activities, and beliefs.

SETTING (TIME) · James McBride tells the story of Ruth’s life, which begins in the 1920s. He places emphasis on the 1930s, 40s and 50s. James’s memoirs covers the 1960s through the 1990s.

SETTING (PLACE) · Suffolk, Virginia; New York City; Louisville, Kentucky; Oberlin, Ohio; Wilmington, Delaware

PROTAGONIST · Ruth and James

MAJOR CONFLICT · James’s struggle to come to terms with his racial identity and background

RISING ACTION · Ruth’s separation from her parents. Ruth’s marriage to Dennis. James’s confrontation with race relations in society in the 1960s.

CLIMAX · A series of small climaxes in which Ruth and her son James confront issues of racial identity and difference

FALLING ACTION · Ruth’s conversion to Christianity; James’s search for racial identity

THEMES · Past versus present; exclusion as a result of racial or religious difference; self-motivation and self-reliance; the burden of secrets


“Maggie” (1893) by Stephen Crane

Novella SUMMARY As the novel opens, Jimmie, a young boy, is leading a street fight against a troop of youngsters from another part of New York City’s impoverished Bowery neighborhood. Jimmie is rescued by Pete, a teenager who seems to be a casual acquaintance of his. They encounter Jimmie’s offhandedly brutal father, who brings Jimmie home, where we are introduced to his timid older sister Maggie and little brother Tommie, and to Mary, the family’s drunken, vicious matriarch. The evening that follows seems typical: the father goes to bars to drink himself into oblivion while the mother stays home and rages until she, too, drops off into a drunken stupor. The children huddle in a corner, terrified. As time passes, both the father and Tommie die. Jimmie hardens into a sneering, aggressive, cynical youth. He gets a job as a teamster. Maggie, by contrast, seems somehow immune to the corrupting influence of abject poverty; underneath the grime, she is physically beautiful and, even more surprising, both hopeful and naïve. When Pete–now a bartender–makes his return to the scene, he entrances Maggie with his bravado and show of bourgeois trappings. Pete senses easy prey, and they begin dating; she is taken–and taken in–by his relative worldliness and his ostentatious displays of confidence. She sees in him the promise of wealth and culture, an escape from the misery of her childhood.

There comes a night when the drunk and combative Mary accuses Maggie of going “to deh devil” and disgracing the family; Maggie runs into Pete’s arms, and we are given to understand that the two are, indeed, sleeping together. Jimmie is furious that Pete has “ruined” his sister, and he gets very drunk with a friend and gets into a brawl with Pete. After this, Maggie leaves home and goes to live with Pete. Jimmie and Mary affect sorrow and bewilderment at Maggie’s fall from grace, and her behavior becomes a neighborhood scandal. A scant few weeks after Maggie leaves home, she is in a bar with Pete when they meet Nellie, a scheming woman with a veneer of sophistication who has no trouble convincing Pete to leave Maggie. Abandoned, Maggie tries to return home, but her family rejects her.

The linear narrative now ceases, and we are given a series of scenes, arranged in chronological order but separated by passages of time. There is an interlude in which we see that Jimmie, who acts horrified at Maggie’s actions, has in fact himself seduced and then abandoned at least one girl. In another brief scene, Maggie visits Pete at work, and he, too, refuses to acknowledge her legitimate claims on him. Months later, we are shown a prostitute–presumably Maggie, but unnamed–walking the streets of New York, pathetic and rejected, bound for trouble. There is a scene with Pete in a bar, badly drunk and surrounded by women; he collapses on the floor and, in his turn, is abandoned by the scornful and manipulative Nellie. Finally, the novel ends with Jimmie giving Mary the news that Maggie’s dead body has been found. Mary stages a scene of melodramatic mourning for her ruined child, which ends with her deeply hypocritical and bitterly ironic concession: “I’ll fergive her!”


Song of Solomon” (1977) by Toni Morrison


GENRE · Fiction, with elements of magical realism, adventure story, epic, and bildungsroman

NARRATOR · The novel is told through limited omniscient narration.

POINT OF VIEW · The narrator speaks in the third person, but concentrates at times on what individual characters are thinking, feeling, seeing, and hearing. Because the narrator switches focus from character to character, we know more about the events in the novel than any of the individual characters. While the narrator interprets and comments on the characters’ feelings and actions, we do not know whether the narrator’s observations are accurate or complete.

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · Most of the action in the novel takes place between 1931 and 1963, but there are occasional flashbacks reaching as far back as the late nineteenth century.

SETTING (PLACE) · An unnamed city in Michigan (probably Detroit); Pennsylvania; and Virginia.

PROTAGONIST · Critics are divided over who is ultimately the protagonist of Morrison’s novel: Milkman Dead (also known as Macon Dead III) or Pilate Dead.

MAJOR CONFLICT · Milkman Dead tries to leave the confines of his parents’ home and become an independent man. He is hampered by restrictions of wealth and class, as well as ignorance of his own family history.

RISING ACTION · Stifled by the oppressive conditions of Macon Jr.’s household, Milkman becomes involved in a harebrained scheme to win financial independence by stealing gold from Pilate.

CLIMAX · After traveling from Michigan to Pennsylvania, Milkman finds a cave in which there is supposed to be hidden treasure. After examining the depths of the cave, however, Milkman discovers that there is no treasure after all.

FALLING ACTION · After he fails to find gold in a Pennsylvania cave, Milkman’s quest is transformed into a journey of personal self-discovery. Milkman travels to Shalimar, Virginia, where he uncovers his long-lost family history.

THEMES · Flight as a means of escape; abandoned women; the alienating effects of racism SOURCE:

“The Turn of the Screw and Other Short Novels” (1898) by Henry James

TYPE OF WORK · Novella

GENRE · Gothic novel; satire

NARRATOR · The governess narrates virtually the whole tale in retrospect, as she writes it down in a manuscript. The prologue is told by an anonymous narrator who seems educated and of the upper class.

POINT OF VIEW · The governess speaks in the first person, as she puts into writing her account of the strange occurrences she experienced at Bly.

TONE · The governess narrates with an attitude of intimate confidentiality that is biased and possibly unreliable.

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · 1840s

SETTING (PLACE) · Bly, a country home in Essex, England

PROTAGONIST · The governess

MAJOR CONFLICT · The governess struggles to unlock the mysteries of Bly and protect her two pupils against what she believes to be supernatural forces.

RISING ACTION · The governess has a number of encounters with two different ghosts whom she believes seek to corrupt her unnaturally perfect students, who may be communicating with the ghosts behind her back.

CLIMAX · The governess points to the image of Miss Jessel as proof that the specter exists, but Mrs. Grose and Flora claim to see nothing, which implies that the governess is insane.

FALLING ACTION · Flora becomes ill from fear of the governess and departs Bly with Mrs. Grose, leaving the governess alone with Miles to contend with the ghost she believes haunts him.

THEMES · The corruption of the innocent; the destructiveness of heroism; forbidden subjects

“Alas, Babylon” (1959) by Pat Frank
SUMMARY: is a 1959 novel by American writer Pat Frank (the pen name of Harry Hart Frank). It was one of the first apocalyptic novels of the nuclear age and remains popular 54 years after it was first published, consistently ranking in’s Top 20 Science Fiction Short Stories list (which groups together short story collections and novels).[1] The novel deals with the effects of a nuclear war on the small town of Fort Repose, Florida, which is based upon the actual city of Mount Dora, Florida. Randy (Randolph) Bragg lives in the small Central Florida town of Fort Repose and appears to be drifting down a somewhat aimless path in life when his older brother, Colonel Mark Bragg, an Air Force Intelligence officer, sends his wife and two children to stay in Fort Repose, explaining that, because the Soviet government believes it can succeed, it will be emboldened to risk war. Mark is flying his family down to Florida for their protection while he stays at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska.
Soon after, an American fighter pilot attempting to intercept an enemy plane over the Mediterranean inadvertently fires an AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missile that goes off course and hits an ammunition depot in Latakia, Syria, resulting in a large explosion. This event becomes the apparent casus belli for the Soviet Union to launch a nuclear strike against the United States and her allies. Early the following morning, Soviet missiles arrive from over the Arctic, as well as from submarine, while American missiles are sent in response. Randy and his house guests are awakened by shaking due to nearby bombing; one explosion temporarily blinds Peyton, Randy’s niece.
Things are chaotic at first: Tourists are trapped in their hotels, telegraph lines fail to work, the use of the CONELRAD radio system exposes its weaknesses, convicts escape from jails and prisons, and a run on the bank results in the bank’s closing. Randy organizes his immediate neighbors to provide housing, food, and water for themselves.
Over the months, news trickles in exclusively through the radio. Most of the government on both sides has been eliminated. The current American president, Josephine Vanbruuker-Brown, was formerly the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. As an active Army Reserve officer, Randy organizes a community self-defense team against bandits and works to rid the community of radioactive jewelry from Miami.
The following year, Air Force helicopters make contact with Fort Repose. While they offer to evacuate the residents from Florida, which is considered a “contaminated zone,” the residents choose to stay. It is revealed that the United States won the war, but at a tremendous cost as it is now the recipient of aid from third world countries such as Brazil and Venezuela.SOURCE: (NOT CREDIBLE)
“Annie John” (1985) by Jamaica Kincaid (Antiguan-American)


GENRE · bildungsroman, Caribbean novel

TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN · New York City, 1982-1983

NARRATOR · Annie John

POINT OF VIEW · First person

TONE · It varies according to the age of Annie John. As a child, the language and imagery is very rich. As she ages, the tone grows more serious while also having more comic touches.

TENSE · Past tense

SETTING (TIME) · Sometime in the 1950s

SETTING (PLACE) · A city on Antigua


MAJOR CONFLICT · Separation from mother and definition of self

RISING ACTION · Annie’s fear of separation from her family Annie’s viewing of her parents as a sexual unit Annie’s rebelliousness and insolence against her mother Annie’s friendship with Gwen and the Red Girl.

CLIMAX · Annie John has a breakdown as a result of the confrontation with her mother and her need to finally become a separate self.

FALLING ACTION · Annie recovers and recognizes herself as a separate person. She leaves Antigua to study in England.

THEMES · Mother-daughter relationship Colonizer and colonial education Gender Relations

“The Call of the Wild” (1903) by Jack London


GENRE · Dog story; adventure story

DATE OF FIRST PUBLICATION · Serialized in The Saturday Evening Post, June 20-July 18, 1903

NARRATOR · Anonymous, speaking from a point in time after the events in the novel have taken place

POINT OF VIEW · Buck’s point of view, for the most part; the novel also shifts briefly into John Thornton’s point of view during his wager involving Buck’s ability to pull a heavy sled

TONE · Sweeping, romantic, heroic

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · The late 1890s

SETTING (PLACE) · California, briefly; then Alaska and the Klondike region of Canada


MAJOR CONFLICT · Buck’s struggle against his masters and his development from a tame dog into a wild beast

RISING ACTION · Buck’s battle with Spitz; Buck’s struggle with Hal, Charles, and Mercedes; Buck’s fulfillment of Thornton’s wager

CLIMAX · John Thornton’s saving of Buck’s life from Hal’s cruelty

FALLING ACTION · Buck’s time with Thornton, leading up to Thornton’s death

THEMES · The laws of civilization and of wilderness; the membership of the individual in the group; the power of instinct and ancestral memory; the struggle for mastery


“Cold Mountain” (1997) by Charles Frazier


GENRE · Episodic novel, with a journey structure; romance

NARRATOR · Third-person narration, usually according with the perspective of the characters leading the action.

POINT OF VIEW · The novel generally sticks with the protagonists’ (Ada’s and Inman’s) points of view, occasionally shifting to the perspective of other characters.

TONE · Sometimes subdued and reserved, as the characters explore their feelings; often meditative and questioning, as Inman struggles with broader moral or spiritual concerns; occasionally lightly humorous to match characters’ good-natured wit.

TENSE · Immediate past

SETTING (TIME) · 1864, near the end of the Civil War; the novel refers to events that directy preceded the war and others that occurred decades before.

SETTING (PLACE) · Virginia, before Inman journeys west to North Carolina. Half of the novel is set in the town of Cold Mountain where Ada lives.

PROTAGONIST · The male protagonist is Inman; the female protagonist, Ada.

MAJOR CONFLICT · Both Ada and Inman struggle against the various circumstances—geographical, emotional—that separate them.

RISING ACTION · Inman flees prison and begins journeying toward Cold Mountain; simultaneously, Ada becomes friends with Ruby and learns to survive on her own.

CLIMAX · The major climax occurs when Inman has been shot by Birch, has a vision of dancing crows, and dies in Ada’s arms. This event is foreshadowed by Inman’s resurrection in “to live like a gamecock” where Inman is buried in a shallow grave and dreams of becoming a crow.

FALLING ACTION · Ruby marries Reid. Ada is living at Black Cove with Ruby’s family and her nine year-old daughter, presumably by Inman.

THEMES · Isolation in the search for meaning; knowledge and intuition


“Fallen Angels” (1988) by Walter Dean Myers


GENRE · Coming-of-age story; historical fiction; war fiction

NARRATOR · Richie Perry, a young African-American soldier in the Vietnam War

POINT OF VIEW · Richie tells the story in the first person, giving us immediate, intimate access to his thoughts and feelings as the action unfolds.

TONE · Richie speaks with immediacy and poignancy, baring his innermost fears and thoughts. He filters the action of the novel through the medium of these emotions and ideas.

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · Several months in 1967 and 1968


PROTAGONIST · Richie Perry

MAJOR CONFLICT · Richie struggles to come to terms with the grim reality of war, which contradicts the myths about war that he believed going into it.

RISING ACTION · Richie’s enlistment in the army to escape a bleak future; the misplacement of Richie’s medical file, and his resulting assignment to Vietnam; Richie’s burgeoning friendship with Peewee, Jenkins, and Johnson; the soldiers’ journey to their camp near Chu Lai.

CLIMAX · Richie’s success in drafting a truthful letter to his brother that discusses honestly the unromantic and gruesome nature of combat.

FALLING ACTION · The poorly planned mission on which the squad is sent; Peewee and Richie’s separation from the rest of the squad; Peewee and Richie’s quick thinking to save the lives of Monaco and the rest of the squad; Peewee’s and Richie’s getting wounded in the battle.

THEMES · The loss of innocence; the unromantic reality of war; the moral ambiguity of war


“For Whom the Bell Tolls” (1940) by Ernest Hemingway


GENRE · Tragedy; historical novel; war novel; love story

NARRATOR · Anonymous third-person

POINT OF VIEW · The narrative is written in a detached, journalistic style that focuses on what the characters can see, hear, or smell. This description is often restricted to what Robert Jordan can see or hear. On a few occasions, most notably when introducing Pablo confiding to his horse and introducing Karkov’s rescue of Andrés and Gomez in prison, the narrator comments on the unfolding action.

TONE · The tone is detached, solemn, and world-weary, especially when the narrative focuses on the perspective of Robert Jordan. There are recurring elements of dramatic irony (resulting from a discrepancy between what the characters know and what we as readers know) as characters fighting for the Republican side express optimism about the outcome of the war.

TENSE · Immediate past

SETTING (TIME) · Three days during the last week of May 1937, from Saturday afternoon to Tuesday midday; along with lengthy flashbacks to earlier episodes in the lives of different characters

SETTING (PLACE) · The Guadarrama mountain range in Spain; several flashbacks are set in a variety of places in Montana and throughout Spain

PROTAGONIST · Robert Jordan

MAJOR CONFLICT · As Robert Jordan and a small band of guerrilla fighters prepare to blow up a bridge with their limited resources and manpower, Robert Jordan and Pablo struggle for authority over the small band of guerrillas. Meanwhile, Robert Jordan and Maria cope with the pitfalls of falling in love during wartime.

RISING ACTION · Robert Jordan arrives at Pablo’s camp, convinces the band members to help him fulfill his mission, and falls in love with Maria. He enlists the aid of nearby guerrilla leader El Sordo and clashes with Pablo. Snow falls. A band of Fascists attacks and slaughters El Sordo’s men. Robert Jordan sends a dispatch to General Golz recommending that the Republican offensive be canceled. Pablo leaves the group and steals some of Robert Jordan’s explosives.

CLIMAX · Pablo returns. Andrés delivers the dispatch too late, and the Republican offensive is not canceled. Robert Jordan and the guerrilla band blow up the bridge.

FALLING ACTION · Four people, including Robert Jordan, die or are fatally wounded. Pablo leads the others away, presumably to safety into the mountains.

THEMES · The loss of innocence in war; the value of human life; romantic love as salvation


“The Fountainhead” (1943) by Ayn Rand


GENRE · Allegory; Objectivist fiction; novel of ideas

NARRATOR · The omniscient narrator provides psychological analyses of the characters and exhibits a heavy bias toward the novel’s hero, Howard Roark

POINT OF VIEW · Third person

TONE · Formal; moralizing; didactic

TENSE · Present, with occasional forays into past tense when explaining the background of some characters

SETTING (TIME) · 1922-1939

SETTING (PLACE) · New York City, Connecticut, Monadnock Valley, Massachusets, Ohio

PROTAGONIST · Howard Roark

MAJOR CONFLICT · Howard Roark’s genius and striking architectural vision clashes with the mediocre society around him, represented by Ellsworth Toohey

RISING ACTION · Keating succeeds financially while Roark struggles; Roark and Dominique meet and fall in love; Roark agrees to design a government housing complex on Keating’s behalf; in Roark’s absence, Keating makes changes to get the commission

CLIMAX · Roark bombs the housing complex to prevent the corruption of his designs

FALLING ACTION · Roark successfully defends himself at trial for the bombing; Roark and Dominique marry

THEMES · The primacy of the individual; the importance of reason; the cold ferocity of love

“Into the Wild” (1996) by Jon Krakauer

SUMMARY This book moves back and forth in time, opening with its subject, Chris McCandless, on the last day anyone saw him alive. From there, Krakauer will investigate the tragic end to a life that had immense promise. He will interview people Chris met during his travels, Chris’s family and friends from Virginia, and authorities. Krakauer will also draw comparisons with other men who met similar fates in order to speculate about what motivated Chris. Finally, Krakauer returns to the scene of Chris’s death with companions and then again with Chris’s parents.


“The Last of the Mohicans” (1826) by James Fenimore Cooper


GENRE · Sentimental novel, adventure novel, frontier romance

NARRATOR · Anonymous

POINT OF VIEW · Third person. The narrator follows the actions of several characters at once, especially during combat scenes. He describes characters objectively but periodically makes reference to his own writing.

TONE · Ornate, solemn, sentimental, occasionally poetic

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · Several days from late July to mid-August 1757, during the French and Indian War

SETTING (PLACE) · The American wilderness frontier in what will become New York State .


MAJOR CONFLICT · The English battle the French and their Indian allies; Uncas helps his English friends resist Magua and the Hurons.

RISING ACTION · Magua captures Cora and Alice, beginning a series of adventures for the English characters, who try to rescue the women.

CLIMAX · Uncas triumphs over Magua in the Delaware council of Tamenund in Chapter XXX.

FALLING ACTION · Magua dies; Cora and Uncas are torn apart.

THEMES · The consequences of interracial love and friendship; literal and metaphorical nature; the role of religion in the wilderness; the changing idea of family


“A Prayer for Owen Meany” (1989) by John Irving
SUMMARY: was the seventh published novel by American writer John Irving. Published in 1989, it tells the story of John Wheelwright and his best friend Owen Meany growing up together in a small New England town during the 1950s and 1960s. Owen is a remarkable boy in many ways; he believes himself to be God’s instrument and journeys on a truly extraordinary path.
The novel is also a homage to Günter Grass’ most famous novel, The Tin Drum. Grass was a great influence for John Irving, as well as a close friend. The main characters of both novels, Owen Meany and Oskar Matzerath, share the same initials as well as some other characteristics, and their stories show some parallels too.[1] Irving confirmed this explicitly in interviews and articles.[2] A Prayer for Owen Meany, however, is a completely independent story and in no sense a copy of The Tin Drum. The story is narrated by John Wheelwright, a former citizen of New Hampshire who has become a voluntary exile from the United States, having settled in Toronto, Canada and taken on Canadian citizenship.
The story is narrated in two interwoven time frames. The first time frame is the perspective of John in the present day (1987). The second (much larger) time frame is John’s memories of the past: growing up in New Hampshire in the 1950s and 1960s alongside his best friend, Owen Meany.
“Pudd’nhead Wilson” (1894) by Mark Twain

SUMMARY The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson juggles three plot lines, which all come together in a murder trial at the novel’s end. Pudd’nhead Wilson is a Northerner who comes to the small Missouri town of Dawson’s Landing to build a career as a lawyer. Immediately upon his arrival he alienates the townspeople, who don’t understand his wit. They give him the nickname “Pudd’nhead” and refuse to give him their legal work. He scrapes by on odd work and spends most of his time dabbling in scientific hobbies, most notably, fingerprinting. Roxana, or Roxy, is a beautiful slave who can pass for white, though she is one-sixteenth black. To save her infant son from ever being sold away from her, she switches him with the child of her white master, who looks just like her son and was born on the same day. Her son Chambers, now called “Tom,” grows up as a white man and heir to an estate. Her master’s child, Tom, now called “Chambers”, grows up a slave. “Tom” grows into a cruel, cowardly man. His gambling debts lead him, under Roxy’s guidance, to rob houses, sell the now-freed Roxy as a slave, and finally to murder his uncle, Judge Driscoll, in a botched robbery attempt.

Luigi and Angelo are former sideshow performers. Good-looking and charming, they claim to be Italian twins, heirs of a deposed nobleman. They arrive in Dawson’s Landing to rent a room in Widow Cooper’s house, claiming they are tired of the bustle of the world. Luigi confesses to Pudd’nhead Wilson, who has read his palm, that he once killed a man who tried to steal a fabulous Indian knife from the brothers. This knife is stolen by “Tom” and used to kill Judge Driscoll. Luigi gets into an argument with “Tom,” who has him arrested. The judge is mortified that “Tom” has compromised the family honor by doing that, and he instead challenges Luigi to a duel. No one is killed, but “Tom,” to save his own reputation, tells his uncle that Luigi is a confessed assassin and therefore not an honorable man to duel. The twins, initially popular in the town, lose their reputation through the judge’s claims against them, and lose in an election for city offices in which Pudd’nhead Wilson is elected mayor. Shortly after the election, “Tom,” badly in debt and needing money to pay off the man to whom he has fraudulently sold Roxy, murders the judge with the twins’ knife while he is robbing him.

“Tom” escapes disguised as a woman after killing his uncle. The twins, out for a walk, hear the judge’s cries and rush to help. They are found standing over the body and their bloody knife is on the floor. They are brought to trial for the murder. Pudd’nhead Wilson, who is their attorney, through his fingerprint collection and a few lucky accidents, discovers that “Tom” is the murderer and that he is not the real Tom but Chambers. The twins are redeemed and freed, but soon leave for Europe. “Tom” is thrown in jail and then, since it is now known he is a slave, sold “down the river” to pay debts from the estate of the real Tom’s father. “Chambers,” revealed to be Tom, is given back his place as a white man and heir, but, raised as a black man and marked by his black speech patterns, he now fits into society nowhere. Pudd’nhead is mayor of Dawson’s Landing and finally a success as a lawyer, but none of his old friends are around anymore to enjoy his success with him.


“The Road” (2006) by Cormac McCarthy
SUMMARY: It is a post-apocalyptic tale of a journey of a father and his young son over a period of several months, across a landscape blasted by an unspecified cataclysm that has destroyed most of civilization and, in the intervening years, almost all life on Earth. The novel was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction in 2006. An unnamed father and his young son journey across a grim post-apocalyptic landscape, some years after a major unexplained cataclysm has destroyed civilization and most life on Earth. The land is filled with ash and devoid of living animals and vegetation. Many of the remaining human survivors have resorted to cannibalism, scavenging the detritus of city and country alike for flesh. The boy’s mother, pregnant with him at the time of the disaster, gave up hope and committed suicide some time before the story began, despite the father’s pleas. Much of the book is written in the third person, with references to “the father” and “the son” or to “the man” and “the boy.”
Realizing that they cannot survive the oncoming winter where they are, the father takes the boy south, along empty roads towards the sea, carrying their meager possessions in their knapsacks and in a supermarket cart. The man coughs blood from time to time and eventually realizes he is dying, yet still struggles to protect his son from the constant threats of attack, exposure, and starvation.
They have a revolver, but only two rounds. The boy has been told to use the gun on himself, if necessary, to avoid falling into the hands of cannibals. During their trek, the father uses one bullet to kill a man who stumbles upon them and poses a grave threat. Fleeing from the man’s companions, they have to abandon most of their possessions. As they are near death from starvation, the man finds an unlooted hidden underground bunker filled with food, new clothes and other supplies. However, it is too exposed, so they only stay a few days.
In the face of these obstacles, the man repeatedly reassures the boy that they are “the good guys” who are “carrying the fire.” On their journey, the duo scrounge for food, evade roving bands, and contend with horrors such as a newborn infant roasted on a spit, and captives being gradually harvested as food.
Although the man and the boy eventually reach the sea, their situation does not improve. They head back inland, but the man succumbs to an illness. Before he dies, the father tells the boy that he can continue to speak with him in his imagination after he is gone. The boy holds wake over the corpse for days, with no idea of what to do next.
On the third day, the grieving boy encounters a man who says he has been tracking the pair. The man, who is with a woman and two children, a boy and a girl, convinces the boy that he is one of the “good guys” and takes him under his protection.
“Sula” (1973) by Toni Morrison

SUMMARY The Bottom is a mostly black community in Ohio, situated in the hills above the mostly white, wealthier community of Medallion. The Bottom first became a community when a master gave it to his former slave. This “gift” was in fact a trick: the master gave the former slave a poor stretch of hilly land, convincing the slave the land was worthwhile by claiming that because it was hilly, it was closer to heaven. The trick, though, led to the growth of a vibrant community. Now the community faces a new threat; wealthy whites have taken a liking to the land, and would like to destroy much of the town in order to build a golf course. Shadrack, a resident of the Bottom, fought in WWI. He returns a shattered man, unable to accept the complexities of the world; he lives on the outskirts of town, attempting to create order in his life. One of his methods involves compartmentalizing his fear of death in a ritual he invents and names National Suicide Day. The town is at first wary of him and his ritual, then, over time, unthinkingly accepts him.

Meanwhile, the families of the children Nel and Sula are contrasted. Nel is the product of a family that believes deeply in social conventions; hers is a stable home, though some might characterize it as rigid. Nel is uncertain of the conventional life her mother, Helene, wants for her; these doubts are hammered home when she meets Rochelle, her grandmother and a former prostitute, the only unconventional woman in her family line. Sula’s family is very different: she lives with her grandmother, Eva, and her mother, Hannah, both of whom are seen by the town as eccentric and loose. Their house also serves as a home for three informally adopted boys and a steady stream of borders.

Despite their differences, Sula and Nel become fiercely attached to each other during adolescence. However, a traumatic accident changes everything. One day, Sula playfully swings a neighborhood boy, Chicken Little, around by his hands. When she loses her grip, the boy falls into a nearby river and drowns. They never tell anyone about the accident even though they did not intend to harm the boy. The two girls begin to grow apart. One day, in an accident, Sula’s mother’s dress catches fire and she dies of the burns.

After high school, Nel chooses to marry and settles into the conventional role of wife and mother. Sula follows a wildly divergent path and lives a life of fierce independence and total disregard for social conventions. Shortly after Nel’s wedding, Sula leaves the Bottom for a period of 10 years. She has many affairs, some with white men. However, she finds people following the same boring routines elsewhere, so she returns to the Bottom and to Nel.

Upon her return, the town regards Sula as the very personification of evil for her blatant disregard of social conventions. Their hatred in part rests upon Sula’s interracial relationships, but is crystallized when Sula has an affair with Nel’s husband, Jude, who subsequently abandons Nel. Ironically, the community’s labeling of Sula as evil actually improves their own lives. Her presence in the community gives them the impetus to live harmoniously with one another. Nel breaks off her friendship with Sula. Just before Sula dies in 1940, they achieve a half-hearted reconciliation. With Sula’s death, the harmony that had reigned in the town quickly dissolves. n 1965, with the Bottom facing the prospect of the white golf course, Nel visits Eva in the nursing home. Eva accuses her of sharing the guilt for Chicken Little’s death. Her accusation forces Nel to confront the unfairness of her judgment against Sula. Nel admits to herself that she had blamed his death entirely on Sula and set herself up as the “good” half of the relationship. Nel comes to realize that in the aftermath of Chicken Little’s death she had too quickly clung to social convention in an effort to define herself as “good.” Nel goes to the cemetery and mourns at Sula’s grave, calling out Sula’s name in sadness.

Sula is a novel about ambiguity. It questions and examines the terms “good” and “evil,” often demonstrating that the two often resemble one another. The novel addresses the confusing mysteries of human emotions and relationships, ultimately concluding that social conventions are inadequate as a foundation for living one’s life. The novel tempts the reader to apply the diametrically opposed terms of “good and evil,” “right and wrong” to the characters and their actions, and yet simultaneously shows why it is necessary to resist such temptation. While exploring the ways in which people try to make meaning of lives filled with conflicts over race, gender, and simple idiosyncratic points of views, Sula resists easy answers, demonstrating the ambiguity, beauty, and terror of life, in both its triumphs and horrors.


“When I Was Puerto Rican: A Memoir” (1993) by Esmeralda Santiago
Santiago’s memoir tells of her remarkable journey from the barrios of Puerto Rico to her graduation from Harvard University. A moving narrative of survival, When I Was Puerto Rican explores the universal immigrant theme of assimilation and its effects on family, culture, and identity.The story begins in Puerto Rico in the 1950s. Santiago is the first of what will eventually be eleven children born to parents who are not married, and whose unmarried status is a source of constant tension in the household. Santiago describes her world, in both its beauty and its sadness, with a clear-eyed evocation of the tastes, smells, and sounds of the Puerto Rican countryside, and the rituals, concerns, and joys of her big, unruly family. For all its poverty and privation, however, Esmeralda is comfortable in this environment and knows who she is. But at 13, she moves with her mother and sisters to the alien, urban world of New York City. Here she must remake herself while struggling with a new language, a new culture, and a bewildering new set of rules and expectations of how a girl should behave.”When I began writing this book, I had no idea it would result in a dialogue about cultural identity,” Santiago has commented. “But as I’ve traveled around the country talking about it, people tell me that, while the culture I’m describing may not be the same as the one they grew up in, the feelings and experiences are familiar, and some of the events could have been taken from their own lives. It has been particularly poignant to speak to immigrants who have returned to their countries only to discover how much they have changed by immersion in North American culture. They accept and understand the irony of the past tense in the title [of the novel], the feeling that, while at one time they could not identify themselves as anything but the nationality to which they were born, once they’ve lived in the U.S. their “cultural purity” has been compromised, and they no longer fit as well in their native countries, nor do they feel one hundred percent comfortable as Americans.”When I returned to Puerto Rico after living in New York for seven years, I was told I was no longer Puerto Rican because my Spanish was rusty, my gaze too direct, my personality too assertive for a Puerto Rican woman, and I refused to eat some of the traditional foods like morcilla and tripe stew. I felt as Puerto Rican as when I left the island, but to those who had never left, I was contaminated by Americanisms, and therefore, had become less than Puerto Rican. Yet, in the United States, my darkness, my accented speech, my frequent lapses into the confused silence between English and Spanish identified me as foreign, non-American. In writing the book I wanted to get back to that feeling of Puertoricanness I had before I came here. Its title reflects who I was then, and asks, who am I today?”
“The Namesake: A Novel” (2003) by Jhumpa Lahiri (Indian-American)
SUMMARY: The novel describes the struggles and hardships of a Bengali couple who immigrate to the United States to form a life outside of everything they are accustomed to.
The story begins as Ashoke and Ashima leave Calcutta, India and settle in Central Square, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Through a series of errors, their son’s nickname, Gogol, becomes his official birth name, an event that will shape many aspects of his life in years to come.
“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian” (2007) by Sherman Alexie
SUMMARY is a 2007 novel for young adults written by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Ellen Forney. The book won several awards.[2] This was the first young-adult fiction work by Alexie, a stand-up comedian, screenwriter, film producer, and songwriter who has previously written adult novels, short stories, poems, and screenplays.[3] Alexie stated that “I [wrote the book] because so many librarians, teachers, and teenagers kept asking me to write one.”[4]
The Absolutely True Diary is a first-person narrative by Native American teenager Arnold Spirit Jr., also known as “Junior”, a 14-year-old budding cartoonist.[2] The book is a bildungsroman, detailing Arnold’s life on the Spokane Indian Reservation and his decision, upon encouragement from a reservation high school teacher, to go to an all-white public high school in the off-reservation town of Reardan, Washington.[5] The novel has 65 comic illustrations by Forney, which sometimes act as punchlines while also revealing Arnold’s character and furthering the plot.[6]
The novel is controversial for some of its content on issues such as alcohol, poverty, bullying, homosexuality, violence, and sexual references as well as for the tragic deaths of characters and the use of profanity. As a result, some schools have banned the book from school libraries or inclusion in curricula. SOURCE: (NOT CREDIBLE)
“All the Pretty Horses” (1992) by Cormac McCarthy
SUMMARY: s a novel by American author Cormac McCarthy published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1992. Its romanticism (in contrast to the bleakness of McCarthy’s earlier work) brought the writer much public attention. It was a bestseller and it won both the U.S. National Book Award[1] and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It is also the first of McCarthy’s “Border Trilogy”.
The book was adapted as a 2000 film with the same name, All the Pretty Horses, starring Matt Damon and Penélope Cruz, and directed by Billy Bob Thornton.
The novel tells of John Grady Cole, a 16-year-old cowboy who grew up on his grandfather’s ranch in San Angelo, Texas. The story begins in 1949, soon after the death of John Grady’s grandfather, when Grady learns that the ranch is to be sold. Faced with the prospect of moving into town, Grady instead chooses to leave, persuading his best friend, Lacey Rawlins, to accompany him. Traveling by horseback, the pair travel Southward into Mexico, where they hope to find work as cowboys.
Shortly before they cross the Mexican border, they encounter a young man, who says he is named Jimmy Blevins and seems to be aged about thirteen, but claims to be older. Blevins’ origins and the authenticity of his name are never quite clarified. Blevins rides a huge bay horse that is far too fine a specimen to be the property of a runaway boy, but Blevins insists it is his. As they travel south, Blevins’ horse and pistol are found and taken by a Mexican after his horse runs off while Blevins had been hiding during a thunderstorm.
Blevins persuades John Grady and Rawlins to go to the nearest town to find the horse and pistol. They find the horse, and Blevins takes it back. As the three are riding away from the town, they are pursued, and Blevins separates from Rawlins and John Grady. The pursuers follow Blevins, and Rawlins and Grady escape.
Rawlins and John Grady travel farther south. In the fertile oasis region of Coahuila state known as the Bolsón de Cuatro Ciénegas, they find employment at a large ranch. There John Grady first encounters the ranch owner’s beautiful daughter, Alejandra. As Rawlins pursues work with the ranch hands, John Grady catches the eye of the owner, who brings him into the ranch house and promotes him to a more responsible position. At this time John Grady begins an affair with Alejandra.
In the meantime, Blevins works for a short time and then returns to the village where he retrieved his horse, this time to also retrieve the Colt pistol. In the process of getting the pistol, he shoots and kills a man. The Mexican authorities catch Blevins and then find Rawlins and John Grady at the other ranch. At first, the ranch owner protects Rawlins and John Grady; but when he finds out about the affair with his daughter, he turns them over to the authorities.
Blevins is executed by a group of rogue police led by a captain and then Rawlins and John Grady are placed in a Mexican prison. The prison mafia first test the two boys: Grady is wounded while defending himself from a cuchillero, whom he manages to kill. Alejandra’s aunt is contacted by the prison thugs who manage to negotiate with her his ransom. The condition set by the aunt is that her niece Alejandra undertake never to see John Grady again. The boys are released. Rawlins goes back to the United States and John Grady tries to see Alejandra again. In the end, after a brief encounter, Alejandra decides that she must keep her promise to her family and refuses John Grady’s marriage proposal. John Grady, on his way back to the Texas, kidnaps the captain at gunpoint, forces him to recover the stolen horses and guns, and flees across country. He considers killing the captain, but a group of Mexicans find John Grady and the captain and take the captain as a prisoner. John Grady eventually returns to Texas and attempts to find the owner of Blevins’ horse. John Grady briefly reunites with Rawlins to return his horse and learns that his own father has died (something he has already intuited). After watching the burial procession of one of his family’s lifelong employees (a Mexican woman), John Grady rides through western Texas on his horse with Blevins’s horse in tow.
“Ceremony” (1977) by Leslie Marmon Silko

TYPE OF WORK · Novel, but incorporates poetry

GENRE · Native American story; postmodern

NARRATOR · Third person narrator limited to Tayo’s perspective, in addition to third person limited and omniscient and first person narrators in the poems

CLIMAX · The night at the abandoned mine.


ANTAGONIST · whites; and Emo

SETTING (TIME) · The main present of the text is set just after World War II, but the text ranges in time from a mythical past through the 1920s and World War II up until that present.

SETTING (PLACE) · The majority of the novel is set on and around the Laguna Reservation, in the Southwest of the United States, although portions are also set in a mythical land, and in the Philippines.

POINT OF VIEW · Primarily third person limited


TENSE · Past

FORESHADOWING · As time in the novel runs in a circular fashion, all events are at once foreshadowed and remembered.

TONE · Somber but hopeful

THEMES · Storytelling; contact between Native American and white cultures; tradition; water and drought


“The Five People You Meet in Heaven” (2003) by Mitch Albom
The novel opens at Ruby Pier on Eddie’s 83rd birthday. He goes about his normal routine until one of the rides breaks. Eddie gives a fellow worker, Dominquez, instructions on how to fix the ride; however, one of the carts breaks free from the ride and falls to the pier. Eddie jumps out of the way and tries to push a little girl out of the path of the falling cart. Eddie does not get out of the way in time and is killed by the falling cart.Eddie travels to heaven and meets his first person, the Blue Man. The Blue Man informs Eddie that he is going to meet five people in heaven whose lives he has somehow affected. The Blue Man tells Eddie how he is indirectly responsible for his death: When Eddie was a child, he and Joe were playing with a ball that bounced into the street. Eddie ran into the street to get the ball as the Blue Man was driving by. The Blue Man swerved out of the way, terrified that he would hit Eddie. Eddie ran safely back out of the street but the Blue Man was still extremely anxious having almost hit him. His anxiety caused him to drive recklessly and hit another car, which killed him. The Blue Man teaches Eddie his first lesson, which is that events are not random and lives intersect for a certain reason.After this lesson, Eddie finds himself back on a war ground, which resembled that on which he fought during WWII. There, he meets his second person in heaven, his former war Captain. During WWII Eddie fought in the Philippines and he, the captain and a few other soldiers were taken as prisoners of war. Through a juggling act, Eddie is able to distract the captors so he and the other prisoners can kill them and escape. When they leave the camp, they decide to burn it down for revenge. Eddie swears he sees a small shadow crawling in the flames and runs in after it. The other soldiers tried to get Eddie out of the fire; however, he was so insistent that he saw a child in the fire that he kept trying to get in the hut. The Captain did not want Eddie to die, or to leave him behind, so he shot him in the leg so the others could get him out of the fire. This is how Eddie got the injury that made him very depressed for the rest of his life.
The Captain teaches Eddie the second lesson of sacrifice. Eddie finds out that the Captain died trying to make sure the path was clear for the rest of his men to cross. He says that he sacrificed Eddie’s leg to get him out of the fire alive, and also that he sacrificed his own life to save the lives of Eddie and the soldiers.Eddie then finds himself in a mountain range. He finds a single diner at the bottom of the mountains and through the window he can see his father sitting at a table. He meets Ruby who tells him that it is her for who the pier is named. She shows Eddie a horrifying scene where Mickey Shea almost hurt his mother; Eddie’s father saw what happened and chased Mickey Shea to, possibly, kill him. Mickey falls off the pier into the sea and Eddie’s father saves his life. This is the night where Eddie’s father caught pneumonia which later killed him. Ruby allows Eddie to see that his father was being loyal to one of his best friends. Ruby teaches Eddie to let go of the anger he has for his father. Eddie does this by visiting him in the diner and telling him “It’s fixed” (144).Eddie blinks and finds himself in a room whose doors lead to different wedding receptions. Eddie walks through the different receptions and meets his fourth person, Marguerite. She and Eddie talk for a long while, as this is the first time they have been reunited since her death. For his fourth lesson, Marguerite teaches Eddie about the power of love; she states that even though people pass away, their love does not die. Marguerite tells Eddie that she loved him even after her death and that true love endures forever.

The final person Eddie meets in heaven is a young Asian girl, named Tala. Tala explains to Eddie that he killed her in a fire; Eddie realizes that he had seen a child in the burning hut in the Philippians during the War. Tala’s skin suddenly becomes marked with burns and scars. Eddie washes her free of all her burns and injuries from the fire. For his last lesson, Tala allows Eddie to see that his place in life was to be at Ruby Pier keeping the children safe.


“The Freedom Writers Diary” (1999) by Erin Gruwell
SUMMARY: The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them is a non-fiction 1999 book written by The Freedom Writers, a group of students from Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, and their teacher Erin Gruwell. It is the basis of the 2007 movie Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank. The Freedom Writers Diary was made up of journals that Erin Gruwell told her students to write in about the troubles of their past, present and future. The Freedom Writers name pays homage to the name of the 1960s civil rights group Freedom Riders.
Gruwell received the inspiration to teach them using the techniques described in the book after intercepting a racist drawing from one of her students. When she compared the drawings to Nazi propaganda techniques, she drew blank stares because none of them had heard of the Holocaust. As a result, she assigned them to read and write about The Diary of Anne Frank and Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo.[1]
The Freedom Writers Foundation continued with exercises and philosophies similar to those used in the original class, and tracks the progress of the original and continuing classes.SOURCE: (NOT CREDIBLE)
“Johnny Got His Gun” (1939) by Dalton Trumbo


GENRE · Antiwar novel; didactic novel

NARRATOR · The narrative is told by Joe Bonham; the narrative slips back and forth from third person to first person. The narrative consists only of Joe’s thoughts, memories, and observations.

POINT OF VIEW · The narrative is told entirely from the point of view of Joe Bonham.

TONE · Varies from nostalgic (when Joe thinks of his past) to bitter (when Joe thinks of his current state and how he arrived there)

TENSE · Present tense, except for the flashbacks of Joe’s childhood, which are told in past tense

SETTING (TIME) · Early to mid-1920s

SETTING (PLACE) · A hospital bed


MAJOR CONFLICT · Joe struggles to come to terms with the war injury that has left him limbless and faceless. He also tries to communicate with the outside world and asks to be displayed as an example of the terrible results war can have.

RISING ACTION · Joe’s gradual discovery that he is limbless and faceless; Joe’s unsuccessful attempts to communicate with his day nurse in Morse code

CLIMAX · Book I: Joe solidification of his political views on war; Book II: the new nurse’s realization that Joe is attempting to communicate

FALLING ACTION · The Morse code man’s reply that Joe’s wish to be shown to the outside world is “against regulations”; Joe’s sedation; Joe’s realization that they will never let him out because he is living proof of the horrors of war that they do not want to be made public

THEMES · The oppression of the working class; the unequal bargain of war; the horrific consequences of modern warfare; nostalgia for pastoralism SOURCE:

“The Light in the Forest” (1953) by Conrad Richter


GENRE · Adventure novel; historical novel; coming-of-age novel; young adult novel

NARRATOR · The author

POINT OF VIEW · The narrator speaks in 3rd person omniscient, which means that he explains how various characters think and feel in addition to providing some extra commentary and information regarding their personal history. The narrator mostly focuses on True Son’s feelings and thoughts, but he also shows the story through the eyes of other characters, often adopting their language and tone to give us a full perspective on the story.

TONE · For most of the novel, the narrator manipulates the tone to reflect the feelings and thoughts of the different characters on whom he focuses. However, his overall tone seems to show bias toward the free and natural way of life of the Indians. As True Son falls deeper into trouble the tone of the book also becomes increasingly ominous.

TENSE · Present

SETTING (TIME) · 1764-5

SETTING (PLACE) · The Ohio-western Pennsylvania frontier of early America; more specifically the Indian village of Tuscarawas and the white settlement of Paxton township

PROTAGONIST · True Son (John Cameron Butler)

MAJOR CONFLICT · There are two major conflicts within this novel: True Son’s fight against the restrictive, suffocating customs of his white family, and True Son’s internal struggle to find true identity in the face of conflicting loyalties to his Indian family and his white brother Gordie.

RISING ACTION · True Son’s relationship with Gordie; True Son and Half Arrow’s attack and scalping of Uncle Wilse; True Son’s acceptance to join the Indian war party; True Son’s confrontation with his father and Thitpan concerning the scalped white girl; True Son’s dream about his white family

CLIMAX · True Son ruins the Indian war party’s ambush attempt

FALLING ACTION · The rest of the war party votes on whether to burn True Son for being a traitor; Cuyloga saves his son from death but takes him to a place where they must part forever; True Son cries out in despair at the loss of his father.

THEMES · Indian freedom versus white civilization; the victimization of children; the struggle for identity and allegiances; the imperfection of both indian and white societies


“O Pioneers!” (1913) by Willa Cather

O Pioneers! opens on a blustery winter day, in the town of Hanover, Nebraska, sometime between 1883 and 1890. The narrator introduces four principal characters: the very young Emil Bergson; his stalwart older sister, Alexandra; her gloomy friend Carl Linstrum; and a pretty little Bohemian child, Marie Shabata. From town, Emil and Alexandra and their neighbor Carl return home to the desolate stretch of plains known as the Divide. Alexandra’s father, John Bergson, is dying. He tells his two eldest sons, Oscar and Lou, that he is entrusting the farmland, and the preservation of all that he has accomplished since his immigration from Sweden, to his daughter.It becomes clear that Alexandra is stronger and more resolute than her brothers. When drought and depression strike three years later, Alexandra’s determination allows her to persevere. Many families, including Carl Linstrum’s, sell their farms and move away. But Alexandra believes in the promise of the untamed country, and so she convinces her brothers to re-mortgage their farm and buy more land. She also convinces them to adopt innovative farming techniques.

The narrative jumps sixteen years into the future, when Alexandra’s faith in the land has been repaid. Lou and Oscar are married, and each owns his own farm. Alexandra’s farm is the most prosperous on the Divide. Emil has been provided the wealth and luxury to leave the Divide for the State University. Crazy Ivar, the elderly, slightly imbalanced man who, earlier in the novel, gave Alexandra some controversial farming advice, now works in Alexandra’s stables, although Lou and Oscar disapprove of his presence. Amid this underlying tension, Carl Linstrum returns for a long visit after years of travel. /PARAGRAPH. Meanwhile, Marie Shabata is trapped in an unhappy marriage with a sullen and difficult husband, and it becomes clear that she and Emil are falling in love. Emil decides to travel to Mexico City, fleeing the temptation that Marie presents. Alexandra and Carl slowly regain their teenage intimacy. In reaction, Lou and Oscar drive Carl out of town, fearing that his relationship with Alexandra might threaten their own children’s prospects of inheriting Alexandra’s farm.

“Out of the Dust” (1997) by Karen Hesse

Out of the Dust is written in free verse and intended for kids in about fifth grade and up. This format gives a sparity to the text, which makes it a fairly quick read, but the novel has great depth and a strong sense of time and place. Its setting is Oklahoma during the thirties and so we know immediately that the title dust, at least some of it, is from the Dust Bowl.

It’s 1934 and life is already tough and it’s about to get worse. Billie Jo, her mother and father are struggling on through hard financial times on the farm. Her father doesn’t say much but we know he loves his family and that he is a man who feels a strong connection to the soil. Her mother comes from a more refined background. Billie Jo says she’s “made herself over to fit my father”. Her mother plays the piano beautifully and, when she plays those elegant pieces, Billie Jo’s father stands in the doorway and watches her with something in his eyes Billie Jo seldom sees. Billie Jo plays, too. Her music makes her mother wince but she’s making a name for herself with the kids at school intrigued by her wild and exuberant music. Billie Jo fully intends to ride that music out of the dust.

Billie Jo’s mother is pregnant and they’re all looking forward to the baby’s arrival. Before the baby arrives, however, the dust does. The fierce dust storms and their aftermath drive many of their neighbors off. They’re heading to California where things are bound to be better. Billie Jo’s father will hear none of that. He has lived through hard times before and he says they’re staying.

The climax is the tragedy. Her father leaves a pail of kerosene by the stove (we never learn why) and her mother, thinking it to be water, spills it on the stove when making tea. The flames send her mother out the door screaming for her father and Billie Jo grabs the pail and throws the remaining kerosene out the front door just as her mother is rushing back inside. Immediately the flames engulf her mother fatally wounding her and the baby. They also burn and scar Billie Jo’s hands so that playing the piano becomes impossible.

Billie Jo’s already remote father becomes unreachable after the death of his wife and baby. Billy Jo fears that they’re both turning into the dust that has covered everything. After trying to carry on without support, she runs away only to discover that her future lies back home.


“McTeague” (1899) by Frank Norris
SUMMARY is a novel by Frank Norris, first published in 1899. It tells the story of a couple’s courtship and marriage, and their subsequent descent into poverty, violence and finally murder as the result of jealousy and avarice. The book was the basis for the films McTeague (1916) and Erich von Stroheim’s Greed (1924). It was also adapted as an opera by William Bolcom in 1992.
“The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”(1993) by Sherman Alexie
SUMMARY: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a 1993 collection of interconnected short stories by Sherman Alexie. The characters and stories in the book, particularly “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” provided the basis of Alexie’s screenplay for the film Smoke Signals.[1][2][3]
The collection was originally released in 1993; it was reissued in 2005, with two new stories, by Grove Atlantic Press.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, published in 1993 by Atlantic Monthly Press, was Sherman Alexie’s breakthrough book. Composed of twenty-two interconnected stories with recurring characters, the work is often described by critics as a short-story collection, though some argue that it has novel-like features similar to Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine. The book’s central characters, Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire, are two young Native-American men living on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and the stories describe their relationships, desires, and histories with family members and others who live on the reservation. Alexie fuses surreal imagery, flashbacks, dream sequences, diary entries, and extended poetic passages with his storytelling to create tales that resemble prose poems more than conventional narratives.
The book’s title is derived from one of the collection’s stories, which details the experience of a Native American who leaves the reservation to live in Seattle with his white girlfriend and then moves back. The Lone Ranger and Tonto are symbols for white and Native-American identity, respectively. The names are taken from a popular radio and television show of the 1950s in which a white man, the Lone Ranger, teams up with an Indian, Tonto, to battle evil in the old west. Alexie, who claims the title came to him from a dream, studs his stories with other references to popular culture to underscore the ways in which representations of Native Americans have played a part in constructing the image they, and others, now have of them. The book’s popularity, in part, stems from James Kincaid’ s effusive praise of Alexie’s collection of poetry and stories, The Business of Fancy-dancing (1992), in The New York Times Book Review. With Kincaid’s review, Alexie, who had published with small presses, was thrust into the national spotlight. He deftly depicts the struggles of Native Americans to survive in a world that remains hostile to their very survival, and he does so in an honest and artful manner. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven won a PEN-Hemingway nomination for best first book of fiction.
“Dreaming in Cuba” (1992) by Cristina Garcia
NovelDreaming in Cuban is the story of three generations of a Cuban family, told from a variety of points of view. The story begins with Celia del Pino, an aged woman, watching the waters off the north coast of Cuba with binoculars. She is on guard, devoted to The Revolution and El Lider (Fidel Castro, who is never mentioned by name in the book). The novel is not told in straightforward, narrative terms, although there is a clear narrative thread running through the story. The book shifts back and forth between scenes, and the narrative is told from a variety of points of view. Some of it is told in the first person by Celia, Lourdes, and Pilar, including a number of extracts from Pilar’s diary. There are also numerous flashbacks to the past, mostly Celia’s past. One device that is used to re-create the past is a series of letters that Celia wrote over a period of more than two decades. All of these letters were written to Gustavo Sierra de Armas, her first lover, a Spanish lawyer. After Gustavo returned to Europe in 1935, Celia wrote to him monthly up until 1959, when the revolution succeeded and Celia became a dedicated Communist. Throughout the book, Celia speaks of The Revolution (always capitalized when Celia’s point of view is espoused) in the present tense. Felicia, Celia’s second daughter, still lives in Cuba and never leaves that country; unlike her mother, however, she continuously refers to the present… – See more at:
“Before We Were Free” (2002) by Julia Alvarez
SUMMARY the story of Anita de la Torre, a 12-year-old girl living in the Dominican Republic in 1960. Most of her relatives have immigrated to the United States, her Tio Toni has disappeared, Papi has been getting mysterious phone calls about butterflies and someone named Mr. Smith, and the secret police have started terrorizing her family for their suspected opposition to the country’s dictator. While Anita deals with a frightening series of events, she also struggles with her adolescence and her own personal flight to be free. NOVEL SOURCE: (grades 6-12)
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X” (1965) by Malcolm X with Alex Haley

TYPE OF WORK · Nonfiction

GENRE · Autobiography; memoir

NARRATOR · Malcolm tells his life story while he is in the last years of his life. Alex Haley recounts the end of Malcolm’s life in the epilogue.

POINT OF VIEW · Malcolm speaks in the first person, focusing on his actions and thoughts at each point in his life. However, in each chapter he does include some opinions based on his current perspective late in his life. In the epilogue, Alex Haley speaks in the first person.

TONE · Malcolm alternates between simply presenting the events of his life and commenting on their social context. His tone ranges from matter-of-fact to angry.

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · 1925-1965

SETTING (PLACE) · United States (Omaha, Lansing, Boston, New York, Chicago, and Detroit), the Middle East, and Africa

PROTAGONIST · Malcolm, who is known as Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, Malcolm X, and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz at various points in his life

MAJOR CONFLICT · Malcolm struggles against both the racism of white America and the internal problems of various civil rights organizations.

RISING ACTION · After the government tears apart his family and he can no longer bear the racism of his all-white high school in Michigan, Malcolm flees to Boston and Harlem, where he sinks deep into a life of crime.

CLIMAX · Malcolm’s conversion to Islam in prison after long hours of studying puts him on a course to rise in the ranks of the Nation of Islam.

FALLING ACTION · After rising to fame as a fiery Muslim minister, Malcolm leaves the Nation of Islam to discover a more tolerant and global worldview.

THEMES · Malcolm’s changing perspective on racism; the similarity between hustling and activism; humanity as a basic right

“Roots: The Saga of an American Family” (1976) by Alex Haley
SUMMARY It tells the story of Kunta Kinte, an 18th-century African, captured as an adolescent and sold into slavery in the United States, and follows his life and the lives of his alleged descendants in the U.S. down to Haley. The release of the novel, combined with its hugely popular television adaptation, Roots (1977), led to a cultural sensation in the United States and together are considered one of the most important works of the twentieth century. The novel spent weeks on The New York Times Best Seller List, including 22 weeks in that list’s top spot. The last seven chapters of the novel were later adapted in the form of a second miniseries, Roots: The Next Generations (1979). It stimulated great interest in genealogy among all Americans and an appreciation for African-American history.
Following the success of the novel and the miniseries, Haley was accused by two authors of plagiarism of their novels. Harold Courlander successfully asserted that Roots was plagiarized from his novel The African, published in 1967. The resulting trial ended with an out-of-court settlement and Haley’s admission that some passages within Roots had been copied from Courlander’s work; he said it was unintentional. SOURCE: (NOT CREDIBLE)
“The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” (1971)by Ernest J. Gaines


GENRE · African-American novel; Southern novel; American modern novel

NARRATOR · An implicit author, who collected the autobiography of Miss Jane, documents the introduction to the book. Miss Jane narrates the remainder of the book in the first person.

POINT OF VIEW · The two narrators generally alternate between the first and third person. They use the first person when describing their perceptions and personal actions. They use the third person when describing those around them.

TONE · The schoolteacher’s narrative uses formal English. Miss Jane describes her experiences in a southern dialect common to Louisiana.

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · From slavery through the 1960s

SETTING (PLACE) · Different parts of Louisiana

PROTAGONIST · Miss Jane Pittman

MAJOR CONFLICT · Attempt to establish racial equality in the south

RISING ACTION · Ned Douglass’s attempt to organize a protest; Tee Bob’s suicide; Jimmy Aaron’s selection as “the One”

CLIMAX · Jimmy Aaron’s murder before his organized political action

FALLING ACTION · Jane Pittman leading the march, despite Jimmy’s death.

THEMES · The legacy of slavery; manhood; class differences in race


“Caramelo” (2002) by Sandra Cisneros
SUMMARY a multigenerational SUMMARY
A story of a Mexican-American family whose voices create a dazzling weave of humor, passion, and poignancy — the very stuff of life.Lala Reyes’ grandmother is descended from a family of renowned rebozo (shawl), makers. The striped caramelo rebozo is the most beautiful of all, and the one that makes its way, like the family history it has come to represent, into Lala’s possession. The novel opens with the Reyes’ annual car trip — a caravan overflowing with children, laughter, and quarrels — from Chicago to “the other side”: Mexico City. It is there, each year, that Lala hears her family’s stories, separating the truth from the “healthy lies” that have ricocheted from one generation to the next. We travel from the Mexico City that was the “Paris of the New World” to the music-filled streets of Chicago at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties — and, finally, to Lala’s own difficult adolescence in the not-quite-promised land of San Antonio, Texas.Caramelo is a romantic tale of homelands, sometimes real, sometimes imagined. Vivid, funny, intimate, historical, it is a brilliant work destined to become a classic: a major new novel from one of our country’s most beloved storytellers.
“The Dollmaker” (1954) by Harriette Anrow

SUMMARY: Harriet Arnow tells the heartbreaking story of the Nevels family and their quest to maintain their values and their family amidst the turmoil of war. As the novel opens, we are introduced to Gertie Nevels, a strong, self-reliant woman who performs a tracheotomy on her dying son in order to save him while she tries to get him to a doctor. Unfortunately, this brave act seems to be the last time that she follows her own instincts. Forced by social mores to follow her husband, Clovis, from the Kentucky backwoods she loves to the foreign and oppressive city life of Detroit, Gertie struggles between her desire to keep her family together and her yearning for the lifestyle and the land she loves.


“Ellen Foster” (1987) by Kaye Gibbons


GENRE · Modern fictional narrative

NARRATOR · The character of Ellen Foster

POINT OF VIEW · The narrator speaks in the first person throughout the entirety of the novel and gives a subjective view of all other characters introduced.

TONE · Ellen’s narration is consistently subjective and informal, as it is written in the language of an eleven year old who has grown up in the southern United States. Throughout the novel, Ellen employs colloquialisms, slang, and humor to tell her story.

TENSE · Frequently shifts in tense from present to past; description of the past is being relayed in hindsight from the present.

SETTING (TIME) · Mid to late 1970;s

SETTING (PLACE) · Southern United States, probably North Carolina

PROTAGONIST · Ellen Foster

MAJOR CONFLICT · Ellen continually suffers abuse by her neglectful caretakers and searches for a stable home and loving family.

RISING ACTION · Ellen is placed in a number of temporary homes, all of which are unhappy, and she longs for a home where she is loved and cared for.

CLIMAX · Ellen is expelled from Nadine’s home on Christmas day for being disrespectful.

FALLING ACTION · Ellen is welcomed into her new mama’s home and has at last found the loving family for which she has yearned and so deserves.

THEMES · Determination despite adversity; self-consciousness and self-criticism; transcending ignorance through social awareness

“Fences” (1986) by August Wilson (Play)


GENRE · Comedy, Drama

LANGUAGE · English, with African American dialects

TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN · Developed from 1983-1987; United States


NARRATOR · The play does not have a narrator but the stage directions do lend an omniscient voice at times

POINT OF VIEW · not applicable (drama)

TONE · Loosely autobiographical; emphasizes links between the aftermaths of slavery as well as legalized discrimination and African American lives during the 1950’s

TENSE · not applicable (drama)

SETTINGS (TIMES) · 1957, later, 1965

SETTING (PLACE) · The dirt-yard and porch of the Maxson family’s house in Pittsburgh, PA

PROTAGONISTS · Troy Maxson and Cory Maxson

MAJOR CONFLICT · Troy and Cory’s opposing views on how Cory should spend his future deteriorates after Troy prohibits Cory from playing football and going to college. Their relationship disintegrates further when Troy reveals he has been cheating on Cory’s mother with another woman and gotten her pregnant and signed papers permitting Cory’s Uncle Gabe to be committed to a mental hospital while Troy lives in a house paid for by Gabe’s money.

RISING ACTIONS · Troy reveals his affair with Alberta to his wife, Rose; Rose reprimands Troy; Troy viciously grabs Rose’s arm and will not let go; Cory surprises Troy, attacking him from behind; Cory and Troy fight; Troy wins the fight and warns Cory that he has one more strike to spend

CLIMAX · Rose tells Troy that Alberta died having his baby.

FALLING ACTION · In Act Two, scene four: Troy picks a fight with Cory; Cory displays his disgust for Troy’s betraying behavior towards Rose, Gabe, and Cory; Troy and Cory fight with a baseball bat; Troy wins and kicks Cory out of their house

THEMES · Coming of age within the cycle of damaged black manhood; interpreting and inheriting history; the choice between pragmatism and illusions as survival mechanisms


“A Gathering of Old Men” (1983) by Ernest J. Gaines

GENRE · African-American novel; Southern novel; American modern novel. TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN · Southwestern Louisiana, 1980-1982 PROTAGONIST · Candy Marshall

MAJOR CONFLICT · The discovery of who killed Beau Bauton and how justice will be served.

RISING ACTION · The gathering of the men at the plantation, the meeting between Gil Bauton and his father Fix, the preparation of Luke Will and his crew at a local bar.

CLIMAX · The confession of Charlie and the arrival of Luke Will and his crew for a lynching

FALLING ACTION · The refusal of Sheriff Mapes or Charlie to give in, the shootout between blacks and whites, the death of Charlie and Luke Will, the trial

THEMES · Redefining black manhood; Changes in social and economic status; Racial interdependence

“The Glass Castle” (2005) by Jeanette Walls

SUMMARY: Jeannette Walls is riding in a taxi in contemporary New York City, on her way to an event, when she looks out the window and sees her mother digging through trash. Although Mom has been homeless for years, Jeannette feels a sudden sense of shame and gloom about Mom’s life and begins to reflect on her childhood and how Mom and Dad’s choices affected her.

The Walls opens the door to her childhood, beginning when Jeannette is three-year-old and standing on a chair to reach the stovetop as she boils her own hotdog. Her pink dress catches on fire, and she gets horribly burned. After a few days in the hospital, Dad shows up, lifts Jeannette out of bed and they do “the skedaddle,” leaving the hospital without paying the bill.

Much of Walls’ memories of her childhood in the desert focus on “the skedaddle” and how the Walls family — Mom, Dad, Lori, Jeannette, Brian, and, eventually, little Maureen — move to different desert towns, settling in for as long as Dad can hold a job. However, Dad’s paranoia about the state and organized society, coupled with his alcoholism, leads them to move frequently. They settle down in a small mining town, Battle Mountain, Nevada, for a few months and Jeannette and Brian spend countless hours exploring the desert. Mom even takes a break from her art projects to hold down a job as a teacher to extend their stay. A minor altercation with law enforcement, however, compels the family to pick up and move to Phoenix where Mom has inherited a house from her mother.

At first, Phoenix offers the family some stability; Mom’s house is large and has a yard and the children enroll in school. Dad is able to keep a steady line of electrician jobs going for awhile. However, once again, his alcoholism gets the best of him. Jeannette is so bothered by it that she asks him to give up drinking for her tenth birthday. He goes sober for a few weeks, but then, after their car breaks down in the desert and the family has to accept the charity of a stranger for a ride back to Phoenix, Dad runs back to the drink to drown his sense of shame. Mom, in need of more adventure, suggests they move to Welch, West Virginia, where Dad grew up. She thinks maybe his family can help them out. Dad is reluctant, but eventually piles into the family’s latest lemon of a car and they head east.

Welch turns out to be more depressing than any of them wants to admit. First, Dad’s mom is an abusive woman who takes sexual advantage of Brian — suggesting that she also abused Dad when he was younger. The town is impoverished, segregated, and does not welcome newcomers. The family stays put, however, and Mom and Dad buy a shack on the top of a hill for the family to live in. The structure is decrepit; it has no indoor plumping or central heating and has a leaking roof. Dad’s drinking gets worse and the kids are often hungry. As Jeannette enters adolescence she contemplates more and more her parents’ choices and rails against them for being irresponsible parents. She and her older sister Lori hatch an escape plan: Lori will move to New York City when she graduates and Jeannette will follow her there. And, despite some setbacks, the girls accomplish this dream.

In New York City, Jeannette is surprised how quickly she is able to find a job and get work as a reporter, which is her goal in life. She and Lori eat well and love having a roof over their head, warm water, and heat. They eventually ask Brian and Maureen to move in with them. The kids enjoy their new lives together; however, Mom and Dad feel abandoned and move to New York City. Neither Mom nor Dad is able or willing to keep a steady job, and they end up becoming squatters in an abandoned building. While Lori, Jeannette, and Brian are able to secure jobs and build new lives, Maureen is unable to care for herself and, in a bout of insanity, stabs Mom. Maureen ends up in a mental institution. The family drifts apart. Dad, with a lifetime of chain-smoking and drinking, is dying although he is barely sixty years old. When he dies of a heart attack, Jeannette is forced to examine her own life and realize that while she has pushed away her parents and her past, part of her thrives on the reckless freedom they instilled in her. She divorces her husband, moves, and eventually finds peace with her past and her present.

“Going After Cacciato” (1978) by Tim O’ Brien
SUMMARY Going After Cacciato, O’Brien’s third published book, was a breakthrough for the writer. He returned to his experiences in Vietnam, first developed in his 1973 memoir, If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, for his material; however, Going After Cacciato is a very different book from the earlier one in content, style, theme, and organization. Winner of the 1979 National Book Award, the book was widely regarded at its publication as the finest work of the Vietnam War experience. O’Brien organizes the book into three threads that weave together a fully realized novel. One thread is the story of Spec Four Paul Berlin’s experiences over the previous six months during his tour of duty in Vietnam. The sixteen chapters constituting this thread are not arranged chronologically. At the heart of these chapters are the deaths of several of Berlin’s companions, the desertion of Cacciato, and Berlin’s responses to both. Another strand forms ten chapters of the novel, each titled “The Observation Post.” These chapters are set in the present time, as Berlin stands guard duty overnight. The chapters are particularly important to the structure of the novel, because they provide for the reader Berlin’s musings and waking dreams of what has happened to him. He imagines both what has really happened and what might have happened. The remaining thread of twenty chapters concerns a journey to Paris.
“Kindred” (1979) by Octavia Butler


GENRE · Bildungsroman, historical fiction, science fiction, dystopia


POINT OF VIEW · First person

TONE · Spare, straightforward, sober

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · 1976 and early nineteeth century

SETTING (PLACE) · California and Maryland


MAJOR CONFLICT · Dana struggles to survive in antebellum Maryland.

RISING ACTION · Dana is taxed with saving Rufus’s life.

CLIMAX · Rufus attempts to rape Dana.

FALLING ACTION · Dana kills Rufus.

THEMES · The corrupting influence of power; the bondage of familial love


“Little Women” (1868-1869) by Louisa May Alcott


GENRE · Sentimental novel; didactic novel; coming-of-age novel
NARRATOR · Omniscient. The narrator knows everything and provides analysis and commentary about the characters and their lives.

POINT OF VIEW · Third person. The narrator focuses on all the different characters in turn.

TONE · Sympathetic and matter-of-fact; sometimes moralizing

TENSE · Past

SETTING (TIME) · During and after the Civil War, roughly 1861-1876

SETTING (PLACE) · A small New England town


MAJOR CONFLICT · The March sisters struggle to improve their various flaws as they grow into adults. Jo dreams of becoming a great writer and does not want to become a conventional adult woman.

RISING ACTION · The sisters begin to mature; they meet Laurie, their next-door neighbor; Meg gets married.

CLIMAX · Jo turns down Laurie’s marriage proposal, confirming her independence.

FALLING ACTION · Beth dies, and Amy marries Laurie; Jo marries Professor Bhaer; Jo founds a school for boys and puts her writing career on hold.

THEMES · Women’s struggle between familial duty and personal growth; the danger of gender stereotyping; the necessity of work; the importance of being genuine


“A Streetcar Named Desire” (1947) by Tennessee Williams (play)


GENRE · Tragedy
TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN · Late 1940s, New Orleans
PROTAGONIST · Blanche DuBois

MAJOR CONFLICT · Blanche DuBois, an aging Southern debutante, arrives at her sister’s home in New Orleans hoping to start a new life after losing her ancestral mansion, her job, and her reputation in her hometown of Laurel, Mississippi. Blanche’s brother-in-law, a macho working-class guy named Stanley Kowalski, is so filled with class resentment that he seeks to destroy Blanche’s character in New Orleans as well. His cruelty, combined with Blanche’s fragile, insecure personality, leaves her mentally detached from reality by the play’s end.

RISING ACTION · Blanche immediately rouses the suspicion of Stanley, who (wrongly) suspects Blanche of swindling Stella out of her inheritance. Blanche grows to despise Stanley when she sees him drunkenly beat her pregnant sister. Stanley permanently despises Blanche after he overhears her trying to convince Stella to leave Stanley because he is common. Already suspicious of Blanche’s act of superiority, Stanley researches Blanche’s past. He discovers that in Laurel Blanche was known for her sexual promiscuity and for having an affair with a teenage student. He reports his findings to Blanche’s suitor, Mitch, dissuading Mitch from marrying Blanche.

CLIMAX · After Stanley treats Blanche cruelly during her birthday dinner, giving her a bus ticket back to Laurel as a present, Stella goes into labor. She and Stanley depart for the hospital, leaving Blanche alone in the house. Mitch arrives, drunk, and breaks off his relationship with Blanche. Blanche, alone in the apartment once more, drowns herself in alcohol and dreams of an impossible rescue. Stanley returns to the apartment from the hospital and rapes Blanche.

FALLING ACTION · Weeks after the rape, Stella secretly prepares for Blanche’s departure to an insane asylum. She tells her neighbor Eunice that she simply couldn’t believe Blanche’s accusation that Stanley raped her. Unaware of reality, Blanche boasts that she is leaving to join a millionaire suitor. When the doctor arrives, Blanche leaves after a minor struggle, and only Stella and Mitch, who sits in the kitchen with Stanley’s poker players, seem to express real remorse for her.

THEMES · Fantasy’s inability to overcome reality; the relationship between sex and death; dependence on men.

“A Yellow Raft in Blue Water” (1987) by Michael Dorris


GENRE · Coming-of-age story; tale of conflict among generations

TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN · 1984, Minnesota

NARRATORS · Rayona, Christine, Ida

POINT OF VIEW · Each section of the novel is told from a different point of view. The first section is told from Rayona’s perspective, the second from Christine’s, and the third from Ida’s.

TONE · The tone varies depending on the narrator. Rayona’s voice is both jaded and naïve, Christine’s voice is irresponsible and playful, and Ida’s voice is resentful yet caring.

TENSE · Rayona speaks in the present tense, and Christine and Ida speak in the past tense.

SETTINGS (TIME) · The three stories overlap, but each story spans a rough time period: the 1980s for Rayona, the 1960s to the 1980s for Christine, and the 1940s to the 1960s for Ida.

SETTINGS (PLACE) · The novel opens in Seattle, and then moves to a reservation in Montana. Most of the events in A Yellow Raft in Blue Water take place in one of these two locales, although Ida also spends some time in Colorado.

PROTAGONISTS · Rayona, Christine, Ida

MAJOR CONFLICT · Rayona wants to belong and struggles to connect to her family; Christine wants to raise Rayona better than Ida raised her but struggles to convert her feelings to action; Ida wants to interact with the world only on her own terms.

RISING ACTION · Clara gives birth to Christine; Christine finds out that Lee is dead; Christine abandons Rayona at Ida’s

CLIMAX · Rayona rides at the rodeo in Havre and finds the courage and confidence to confront her family’s troubled history.

FALLING ACTION · Christine and Rayona are reconciled; Ida joins them at Dayton’s house for their first cordial dinner in years

THEMES · Understanding different perspectives; the effect of past events on later generations; finding a true identity

“Our Town” (1938) by Thornton Wilder (play)


GENRE · Wilder’s play defies most conventional theatrical genres. It is neither a comedy nor a tragedy, neither a romance nor a farce. It is, rather, a contemplative work concerning the human experience.

NARRATOR · The play does not contain the sort of narrator that a novel might, but the Stage Manager does act as a narrator figure, guiding us through the action.

TONE · The Stage Manager, essentially the play’s narrator, often speaks directly to the audience in an authoritative and informative voice. He is polite but firm in his cues to other characters. However, he also appears quite contemplative at times, especially during his longer monologues. Many characters in the play also have moments of philosophical reverie, and the play’s dialogue and exposition tends to be nostalgic and introspective.

SETTING (TIME) · Act I takes place on May 7, 1901; Act II takes place on July 7, 1904, with a flashback to approximately one year earlier; Act III takes place in the summer of 1913, with a flashback to February 11, 1899

SETTING (PLACE) · Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire

PROTAGONISTS · The most significant figure in the play is the Stage Manager, who orchestrates the action onstage and serves as the glue that holds disparate scenes together. However, the narrative action revolves around Emily Webb and George Gibbs, who fall in love and get married.

MAJOR CONFLICT · Humans constantly struggle to realize that the eternal exists even within ordinary events.

RISING ACTION · The depiction of daily life; the first romantic conversation between George and Emily; the couple’s wedding

CLIMAX · After dying in childbirth and joining the dead souls in the cemetery, Emily returns to relive a day from her earthly life, which makes her realize how little the living appreciate the value of life.

FALLING ACTION · Emily returns to the world of the dead souls in the cemetery.

THEMES · The transience of human life; the importance of companionship; the artificiality of the theater

“Go Tell it on the Mountain” (1953) by James Baldwin

SUMMARY In Go Tell It on the Mountain, author James Baldwin describes the course of the fourteenth birthday of John Grimes in Harlem, 1935. Baldwin also uses extended flashback episodes to recount the lives of John’s parents and aunt and to link this urban boy in the North to his slave grandmother in an earlier South. The first section follows John’s thoughts, the second mostly his aunt’s, the third his father’s, the fourth his mother’s, and the fifth again mostly John’s. The novel is steeped in the language of the King James Bible, and the Bible is a constant presence in the characters’ lives; thus, a familiarity with Biblical stories can enhance the reader’s understanding of the text. At the heart of the story three main conflicts intertwine: a clash between father and son, a coming-of-age struggle, and a religious crisis. Baldwin deals with issues of race and racism more elliptically in this novel than in his other works, but these issues inform all three of the text’s central problems—indeed, according to some critics, these issues take center stage in the book, though subtly.

John doesn’t understand why his father hates him, reserving his love for John’s younger brother Roy instead. He is torn between his desire to win his father’s love and his hatred for his father (and the strict religious world this man represents). The boy believes himself to have committed the first major sin of his life—a belief that helps precipitate a religious crisis. Before the night is over John will undergo a religious transformation, experiencing salvation on the “threshing-floor” of his family’s storefront Harlem church. Yet this will not earn him his father’s love. What John does not know, but the reader does, is that the man he thinks is his father—Gabriel—is, in fact, his stepfather; unbeknownst to John, Gabriel’s resentment of him has nothing to do with himself and everything to do with Gabriel’s own concealed past.


“Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life” (1930) by Langston Hughes & Zora Neale Hurston (play)
Mule Bone was written in 1930. It was a joint collaboration between noted African-American authors Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes who joined forces to write a play based on a folktale, ”The Bone of Contention,” that Hurston had discovered in her anthropological studies. Both writers conceived the play as representative of authentic black comedy. Shortly after the play’s creation, however, Hurston copyrighted the play in her name only. The two authors had a falling out and did not speak to one another again. A legal battle ensued and, because of those legal issues, the play could not be produced during either writer’s lifetime.
Mule Bone remained locked away. Few people read the play and it was largely forgotten until critic and historian Henry Louis Gates discovered the play in the early-1980s. Mule Bone was not performed on stage until 1991.
In many ways, Mule Bone has the ability to evoke both discussion and controversy. Hurston and Hughes felt that by incorporating a black folktale and southern black vernacular English into their play, they could refute a racist tradition of black characters as ignorant. However, when the play was finally developed for the stage more than sixty years later, there were concerns that this comedy might, instead, recall stereotypes and bring back the very issues that the authors had hoped to refute. It was thought that the play, as viewed by an audience in the 1990s, might appear to cast blacks as backward or ignorant. The director sought to mitigate that problem by including a section of Hurston’s writings that explained her views on black vernacular English. Each writer brought separate talents to the writing of Mule Bone. Hughes was primarily a poet; Hurston was an essayist and novelist. Their quarrel ended what might have been a successful collaboration. As it stands today, Mule Bone is still considered a significant work of drama and is notable as an early work of African-American theatre.
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Michael Dorris
“The Broken Cord” (1989)
Background: The Broken Cord, which won the 1989 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction, helped provoke Congress to approve legislation to warn of the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.Summary:
the story of a child afflicted by fetal alcohol syndrome and of Mr. Dorris’s personal investigation of the condition that has blighted his son’s life.Despite the attention of the best teachers, countless examinations by medical doctors and psychologists and the constant, doting care of his father and family, Adam Dorris never shook his bad start. He struggled through the Cornish, N. H., public elementary school; at graduation in 1983, ”he could not add, subtract, count money, or consistently identify the town, state, country or planet.” He went on to high school in Claremont, a half-hour bus ride away. He was sent each day, but could not reliably get on the right bus going in the right direction to get home. He was transferred to a vocational education program at a school farther away. At the age of 20, he still could not count money or tell time. His I. Q. remained a steady 65.In 1982, after Mr. Dorris had adopted a second son and a daughter and was on his way to having three more children with his wife, the writer Louise Erdrich, he learned at last what was really wrong with Adam. As head of Native American studies at Dartmouth College, Mr. Dorris was visiting a treatment center for chemically dependent teen-agers on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Sioux reservation when he saw three ”uncannily familiar” boys who not only behaved like Adam but looked like him. He reached for a wallet photo of Adam to show the program director, who ”nodded, and handed it back. ‘FAS too’ ” he replied. It was the first time Mr. Dorris had heard the initials that stand for fetal alcohol syndrome.”They come from alcoholic families, mothers who drank,” the director told him. ”Your wife too?” he asked.

”He’s adopted,” Mr. Dorris replied, ”And, yes, his mother did drink.” Alcohol, Mr. Dorris soon learned, had damaged Adam’s brain while he was still in the womb. And the damage could not be undone.

In the next few years Mr. Dorris learned a lot about fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition that was being identified and explored by the international medical community in the 1970’s, just when Adam’s medical and learning disabilities were baffling his father.

Medical news doesn’t always travel fast. While Adam was struggling to comprehend the simplest of tasks in elementary school, some doctors were still prescribing an occasional glass of wine to pregnant women for relaxation. But by 1981, the Food and Drug Administration was warning health professionals that pregnant women should drink no alcohol at all, that even small, casual doses had been linked to increased risk of low birth weight and spontaneous abortion.

The definition of fetal alcohol syndrome, Mr. Dorris writes, embraces individuals who share several recognizable characteristics: ”(1) significant growth retardation both before and after birth; (2) measurable mental deficit; (3) altered facial characteristics; (4) other physical abnormalities; and (5) documentation of maternal alcoholism.” By 1988 the ”mental deficit” category had been refined to include ”attention deficits,” or the inability to concentrate on a single task; memory problems; hyperactivity; low I.Q.; and an inability, apparently connected to a defective grasp of cause-and-effect relations, to handle money, regardless of ”sex, age, educational level or background.”
SOURCE: New York Times

Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Nature” (1836)
Emerson lays out a abstract problem that he attempts to solve throughout the essay: that humans do not fully accept nature’s beauty and all that it has to offer. According to Emerson, people are distracted by the world around them; nature gives to humans, but humans do not reciprocate. Emerson breaks his essay into eight sections—-Nature, Commodity, Beauty, Language, Discipline, Idealism, Spirit and Prospects—-each of which sheds a different perspective on the relationship between humans and nature.
According to Emerson, humans must take themselves away from society’s flaws and distractions in order to experience the “wholeness” with nature for which they are naturally suited. Emerson believes that solitude is the only way humans can fully adhere to what nature has to offer. Reflecting upon this idea of solitude, and humans’ search for it, Emerson states, “To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars.” Clearly, a person must allow nature to “take him away,” society can destroy humans’ wholeness. Nature and humans must create a reciprocal relationship, “Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other’s hands for the profit of man. The wind sows the seed; the sun evaporates the sea; the wind blows the vapor to the field; the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this; the rain feeds the plant; the plant feeds the animal; and thus the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man,” as Jefferson says, nature and humans need each other to be beneficial. This relationship that Emerson depicts is somewhat spiritual; humans must recognize the spirit of nature, and accept it as the Universal Being. “Nature is not fixed but fluid. Spirit alters, moulds, makes it. The immobility or bruteness of nature, is the absence of spirit; to pure spirit, it is fluid, it is volatile, it is obedient.” Emerson explains that nature is not “fixed or fluid;” to a pure spirit, nature is everything.
Although highly metaphorical, “Nature” creates such a different perspective towards one’s view of nature. Emerson abstractly speaks to everyone; metaphorically creating common ground. Emerson uses spirituality as a major theme in his essay, “Nature”. Emerson believed in reimagining the divine as something large and visible, which he referred to as nature; such an idea is known as transcendentalism, in which one perceives anew God and their body, and becomes one with their surroundings. Emerson confidently exemplifies transcendentalism, stating, “From the earth, as a shore, I look out into that silent sea. I seem to partake its rapid transformations: the active enchantment reaches my dust, and I dilate and conspire with the morning wind”, proving that humans and wind are one. Emerson referred to nature as the “Universal Being”; he believed that there was a spiritual sense of the natural world around him. Depicting this sense of “Universal Being”, Emerson states, “The aspect of nature is devout. Like the figure of Jesus, she stands with bended head, and hands folded upon the breast. The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship”.
According to Emerson, there were three spiritual problems addressed about nature for humans to solve, “What is matter? Hence is it? And Whereto?”. What is matter? Matter is a phenomenon, not a substance; rather, nature is something that is experienced by humans, and grows with humans’ emotions. Whence is it and Whereto? Such questions can be answered with a single answer, nature’s spirit is expressed through humans, “Therefore, that spirit, that is, the Supreme Being, does not build up nature around us, but puts it forth through us”, states Emerson. Emerson clearly depicts that everything must be spiritual and moral, in which there should be goodness between nature and humans.
_____________________________________”The American Scholar” (1837)
Emerson uses Transcendentalist and Romantic views to get his points across by explaining a true American scholar’s relationship to nature. There are a few key points he makes that flesh out this vision:
We are all fragments, “as the hand is divided into fingers”, of a greater creature, which is mankind itself, “a doctrine ever new and sublime.”
An individual may live in either of two states. In one, the busy, “divided” or “degenerate” state, he does not “possess himself” but identifies with his occupation or a monotonous action; in the other, “right” state, he is elevated to “Man”, at one with all mankind.
To achieve this higher state of mind, the modern American scholar must reject old ideas and think for him or herself, to become “Man Thinking” rather than “a mere thinker, or still worse, the parrot of other men’s thinking”, “the victim of society”, “the sluggard intellect of this continent”.
“The American Scholar” has an obligation, as “Man Thinking”, within this “One Man” concept, to see the world clearly, not severely influenced by traditional/historical views, and to broaden his understanding of the world from fresh eyes, to “defer never to the popular cry.”
The scholar’s education consists of three influences:
I. Nature as the most important influence on the mind
II. The Past manifest in books
III. Action and its relation to experience
The last, unnumbered part of the text is devoted to Emerson’s view on the “Duties” of the American Scholar who has become the “Man Thinking.”
_____________________________________”Self Reliance”
Self-Reliance is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s compilation of many years’ works and the archetype for his transcendental philosophies. Emerson presupposes that the mind is initially subject to an unhappy conformism.[6][7] Throughout the essay he gives a defense for his famous catch-phrase “Trust thyself”. This argument follows three major points: the self-contained genius, the disapproval of the world, and the value of self-worth.
In the first section, Emerson argues that inside of each person is genius. He writes: “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius.” The remainder of this section is spent exploring this concept. Emerson claims that examples of people who trusted themselves above all else include Moses, Plato, and Milton.
Emerson continues by decrying the effects that society has upon the individual. He says that when people are influenced by society, they will compromise their values in order to retain a foolish character to the world. He states: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” When a man adheres blindly to thoughts or opinions he has vocalized in the past, purely for the sake of seeming true to his principles, Emerson argues that he violates his nature. A man must be willing, every day, to open his conciousness to his intuition, whether or not what it tells him is in conflict with prior conclusions he had come to. The essay concludes with a discussion of the value of self-worth. Emerson states that “man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say ‘I think,’ ‘I am,’ but quotes some saint or sage.” This section contains arguments which are similar to the modern ideals of self-esteem being based upon a person’s intrinsic character rather than any external party.
Throughout this essay, Emerson argues against conformity with the world. He gives an archetype for his own transcendental beliefs, but also argues for his slogan “trust thyself”. To follow Emerson’s self-reliant credo fully, one must learn to hear and obey what is most true within their heart, and both think and act independent of popular opinion and social pressure.
James Weldon Johnson

“The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man” (1912) novel

he Ex-Colored Man’s mother protected him as a child and teenager. Because of the money provided by his father, she had the means to raise him in a different environment than most other blacks. He was exposed to only upper-class blacks and mostly benevolent whites. After his mother’s death, his poor orphan status exposed him to a part of black life unknown to him while living a sheltered life with his mother. He adapted very well to life with lower-class blacks, and was able to move easily between the classes of black society. During this carefree period of his life, he was still able to teach music and attend church, where he came in contact with the upper class blacks. The Ex-Colored man living in an all black community discovered three classes of blacks; the desperate class, the domestic service class, and the independent workman. The Ex-Colored Man believed the desperate class consists of poor blacks that loathe the whites. The domestic service, domestic worker class consists of blacks that work as servants to the whites. The third class consists of well-to-do blacks that had no interaction with the whites. Many white readers, who viewed all blacks as a stereotype of a single class, are unfamiliar with the narrator’s description of class distinctions among blacks. Johnson’s description of the black classes also serves to show that blacks and whites also have the same human tendencies to seek social status.

Background: in post Reconstruction era America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The Ex-Colored Man was forced to choose between embracing his black heritage and culture by expressing himself through the African-American musical genre ragtime, or by “passing” and living obscurely as a mediocre middle-class white man. Johnson originally wrote The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man anonymously in 1912 by the small New York publisher Sherman, French, and Company. His decision to publish the novel anonymously stemmed in part from his sense that signing his name to a potentially controversial book might damage his diplomatic career.[1] The book’s initial public reception was poor.[2] It was republished in 1927 by Alfred A. Knopf, an influential firm that published many Harlem Renaissance writers. This time Johnson was credited as the author. Though the title suggests otherwise, the book is not an autobiography but a novel. However, the book is based on the lives of people Johnson knew and from events in his own life. Johnson’s text is an example of a roman à clef.

Edgar Allan Poe

“The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843)

a short story that is told by an unnamed narrator who endeavors to convince the reader of his sanity, while describing a murder he committed. (The victim was an old man with a filmy “vulture-eye”, as the narrator calls it.) The murder is carefully calculated, and the murderer hides the body by dismembering it and hiding it under the floorboards. Ultimately the narrator’s guilt manifests itself in the form of the sound—possibly hallucinatory—of the old man’s heart still beating under the floorboards.
It is unclear what relationship, if any, the old man and his murderer share. The narrator denies having any feelings of hatred or resentment for the man. He states: ‘I loved the old man! He had never wronged me! He had never given me insult!’. He also denies the assumption that he killed for greed: ‘Object there was none.’, ‘For his gold I had no desire.’ It has been suggested that the old man is a father figure, the narrator’s landlord, or that the narrator works for the old man as a servant, and that perhaps his “vulture-eye” represents some sort of veiled secret, or power. The ambiguity and lack of details about the two main characters stand in stark contrast to the specific plot details leading up to the murder.
The story was first published in James Russell Lowell’s The Pioneer in January 1843. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is widely considered a classic of the Gothic fiction genre and is one of Poe’s most famous short stories.

Additional Information:
The narrator is a classic example of an unreliable narrator, because he is telling the entire story himself and there is no objective narration to back up his assertions. The first lines of the story show this, as the narrator is trying to explain that he is not mad, that he is perfectly sane, only that he is in the throes of some unnmamed illness that heightens his senses:

“…why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them… How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily –how calmly I can tell you the whole story.”

Cite this page

Major American Authors & Summary of Works. (2018, Jan 09). Retrieved from

Major American Authors & Summary of Works

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