English Novel Study
February 16, 2011 11:00 AM   Subscribe

What is a great pre-1980's novel to read and write about for English class?

For a large English project, I need to read a novel from before 1980. After I read it, I need to do research on it and objectively find the themes and symbols.

Can you suggest good novels to read? I enjoy sci-fi, suspense and novels with a great message. 1984 has already been chosen just in case you were going to suggest that one.

Thanks in advance!
posted by Dmac_rocker to Education (34 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Dmac, are there any other criteria besides pre-1980? American authors only? Translations?
posted by Paris Elk at 11:05 AM on February 16, 2011

Some of my school report favorites: Slaughterhouse Five, Brave New World, Animal Farm.

If you want to step outside the mold a little (which is to say, every high school kid in America has done a report on at least one of those) while keeping with a similar style, Mother Night is great.
posted by phunniemee at 11:05 AM on February 16, 2011

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1931) might be good for you.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller you might like as well (1961).

Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut, 1969).

A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess, 1962.

One of my favorites is Revolutionary Road (William Yates, 1961) but it's not really sci-fi or suspense.
posted by k8lin at 11:06 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You're in High School, right?

Confederacy of Dunces
The Stand

Oh hang it, here:

100 best novels of the 20th century, and you want pretty much anything from the list on the left. The one on the right has obviously been tainted.
posted by carsonb at 11:07 AM on February 16, 2011

Native Son, by Richard Wright. Themes still apply today.
posted by Melismata at 11:10 AM on February 16, 2011

Hmmm... Great pre-1980s novels that a high school student would find fun that'd also challenge the teacher.

It's not SF, although it does play a bit with malleable realities, but I think I'd have really enjoyed reading The Magus, by John Fowles, for English class back in the day. Guy gets out of college, has trouble figuring out what to do with his life, ends up teaching at a school on a Greek island, gets his world severely messed with. Good stuff on the mutability of reality and deciding between stability and change. I read it in my early '20s, after my reality was mucked with in a remarkably similar way, and really appreciated its observations.

John Hersey is another of my favorite authors from my younger years. "The Child Buyer" could be a great place to start, exploring intelligence, how children relate to their parents, how we approach human potential. The one of his that's still on my bookshelf, "The Walnut Door", is a lot about sexual tension and submission and might be a little racy for high school English.

In the "1984" vein, if you're into Utopias gone wrong there's always Aldous Huxley, but now you're getting into the region of ideas that have been so heavily explored since then that going back to him would feel kind of redundant, and it's not exactly teacher-challenging. Still, the final paragraph of "Brave New World" is one of the all-time great images.
posted by straw at 11:16 AM on February 16, 2011

Response by poster: @ Paris Elk

Nope. It must have a lot of analysis written about it, that's the only catch.
posted by Dmac_rocker at 11:17 AM on February 16, 2011

Please read Scaramouche. It's awesome and not enough people know about it. It has to do with class struggle and injustice, a bit, but mostly it's just a huge amount of fun. Also it's fun to say the title.
posted by amtho at 11:23 AM on February 16, 2011

OK, some narrower suggestion based on your specs:

On the Beach by Nevil Shute - The story is set in what was then the near future (1963, approximately a year following World War III). The conflict has devastated the northern hemisphere, polluting the atmosphere with nuclear fallout and killing all animal life. While the nuclear bombs were confined to the northern hemisphere, global air currents are slowly carrying the fallout to the southern hemisphere.

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov - ... roughly three millennia in Earth's future, a time when hyperspace travel has been discovered, and a few worlds relatively close to Earth have been colonised — fifty planets known as the "Spacer worlds". The Spacer worlds are rich, have low population density (average population of one hundred million each), and use robot labor very heavily. Meanwhile, Earth is overpopulated (with a total population of eight billion), and strict rules against robots have been passed.

(Both descriptions from Wikipedia.)
posted by carsonb at 11:26 AM on February 16, 2011

"Childhood's End" by Arthur C. Clarke is one of my most favorite sci-fi novels ever.

And "The Great Gatsby" is one of the most beautiful books ever written, in my humble opinion.
posted by Lobster Garden at 11:29 AM on February 16, 2011

Farenheit 451 fits the bill nicely.
posted by Paris Elk at 11:32 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Frankenstein is pretty terrific with sci fi elements, some suspense and all kinds of messages.
posted by Pineapplicious at 11:33 AM on February 16, 2011

Next of Kin by Eric Frank Russell, lots of good stuff about questioning authority and how to deal with intractable situations.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:35 AM on February 16, 2011

Anything by Joseph Conrad. I'm pretty sure Heart of Darkness has been analyzed to death.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 11:36 AM on February 16, 2011

Brave New World or Stranger in a Strange Land
posted by mcstayinskool at 11:38 AM on February 16, 2011

"The Leopard," by Lampedusa.
"Under the Volcano," by Malcolm Lowry
"The Red and the Black" or "The Charterhouse of Parma," by Stendahl.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 11:39 AM on February 16, 2011

"Down and Out in Paris and London", by Orwell. A small book and a great read.
posted by Dragonness at 11:42 AM on February 16, 2011

Seconding Farenheit 451 and any of the Vonnegut books mentioned. Also, I loved The Chrysalids by John Wyndham when we read it in school, written in the 50s I believe.
posted by Relic at 11:51 AM on February 16, 2011

Anthem by Ayn Rand. It's short and oh so fascinating. I loved it. Makes you think and there is A LOT to write about.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:05 PM on February 16, 2011

(as in themes and symbols galore!)
posted by Sassyfras at 12:06 PM on February 16, 2011

Howards End by E.M. Forster (amazing book, and also benefits from having an extremely well-made movie adaptation).

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence is quite good if you (and your teacher) can handle the graphic nature of the novel.
posted by litnerd at 12:17 PM on February 16, 2011

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1921) is the great grand daddy of science fiction dystopian novels. There is literary analysis on it as well.
posted by amileighs at 12:26 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to all who responded!

I chose Slaughterhouse Five as my novel.
posted by Dmac_rocker at 12:28 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: But all these novels are great and since I really haven't been reading that much lately, I should look into all of these!

This is my first ever post on Meta Filter and I am EXTREMELY pleased with the responses! Thank you all so very much!
posted by Dmac_rocker at 12:30 PM on February 16, 2011

I may be a little late responding (as you've already made your choice), but I've always liked the hidden interplay of magic versus science in Roger Zelazny's Jack of Shadows which was written in 1972.

... and now I need to go purchase another copy...
posted by schade at 12:37 PM on February 16, 2011

Monkey Planet by Pierre Boule (basis for Planet of the Apes, but only vaguely, more of a social commentary than straight sci-fi novel))
World According to Garp by John Irving (Irving's writing is chock full o' symoblism)
Shibumi by Trevanian
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Breakfast of Champions by Vonnegut
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein (essentially the retelling of the Christ story, so lots to work with).
posted by doctor_negative at 12:54 PM on February 16, 2011

Deadeye Dick and Mother Night be better choices if you want to do Vonnegut. Well, I guess I should say I like them more than Slaughterhouse 5.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:18 PM on February 16, 2011

Slaughterhouse Five is a great pick.
posted by angrycat at 1:30 PM on February 16, 2011

I was going to suggest The Stranger by Albert Camus, though if translations are out then that wouldn't work.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:52 PM on February 16, 2011

Response by poster: Keep suggesting if you want! It will give me an excuse to read more books.
posted by Dmac_rocker at 2:48 PM on February 16, 2011

posted by J. Wilson at 3:25 PM on February 16, 2011

Slaughterhouse Five is a great choice. The background of the novel is that Vonnegut himself was a soldier in World War II and he was taken prisoner, held by the Germans, and then the city where he was held was the target of an absolutely devastating fire-bombing by the Allies which levelled the whole city ("the fire-bombing of Dresden"). So he lived through this terrible experience, which is described in the novel.

The novel itself is unlike other books you might have read, because the storyline jumps around a lot. There is a reason Vonnegut chooses to have the storyline jump around, so think about that as you're reading. What effect does the jumping-around have on the reader? That should give you something good to write about.

Also, after you've read the book, you might be interested in this article "Pilgrim's Progress" by a young man who has come home from being a soldier in Iraq. He compares his coming-home-from-war experience to the experience of Billy Pilgrim in the novel.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:41 PM on February 16, 2011

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair is fantastic.

Vonnegut taught at the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa. Not sure if you have to go into stuff about the author as well as the novel, but that period of his life is interesting.
posted by wwartorff at 5:31 PM on February 16, 2011

Came in to suggest We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (if translations are acceptable).
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 5:52 PM on February 16, 2011

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