Best 20th Century Novels

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20th Century Novels

The previous century graced us, savvy readers, with some of the best literary texts ever existed. Some of them reflected the reality the authors were caught in (like Remark’s novels), some went way further to the dystopian/utopian worlds, like George Orwell or Aldous Huxley. In this article, we’ll list examples of the best novel writing the 20th century brought us and shortly describe why it’s a must to read them while you’re at a college. 

William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”

First published in 1954, this allegorical novel has made it to the “100 most influential novels of all time” list, and it’d be a wonder if it didn’t. It pictures the group of preadolescent boys who’ve happened to live on the uninhabited island as a result of a plane crash during the war evacuation. Their rigid attempts to organize their life – read, to fight for the status of a ruler, – have become disastrous ones as they realized they’re developing the paranoid thinking and are blinded by their desire as social creatures to settle a clear social hierarchy. It’s clear why the teachers nowadays give the students this novel when they are asking to write an explorational essay on what a human can do when one is put in a situation where he/she seems to be the only authority. 

Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Last Tycoon”

We hope we’ve surprised you with this choice as this is one of the many samples in the world literature that remained raw and unfinished, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t great. The beauty of the story isn’t even in the plot itself (which, believe us, will leave you half-breathing with a lot of twists around the father-daughter-family friend relationship) – it’s in the mixing of narrative voices (first from Cecilia and third from an observer) that Scott Fitzgerald has used to show the story. That gives a feeling of peeping at somebody’s life as if you’re watching a movie in a movie theater. We feel like that was a smart move to do as the plot has to do with the movie industry and the story of producers’ partnership, and we have to admit: it’s great synesthesia that reading a book feels like watching a movie.   

Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”

Moving on to some of the more recent writing and here we have another American writer Tim O’Brien whose work revolves around a feeling of the man whose country has been unnecessarily involved in the Vietnam War. Of course, you can spot a lot of themes when you start thinking about The Things They Carried: here you have Vietnam syndrome that the former soldier experiences as he gets back from the hell of war to the hell of society America has turned into towards the soldiers who carried out their duties the government has imposed them to. Written in the form of linked short stories, he brings up memories from the battlefields of the people he encountered, oh his victims and experience of a man sent to kill for no reason. This text remains one of the most powerful ones on the Vietnam War still and this is why you can see a lot of essay examples on this particular novel as it blends the memoir and novel genres.  

Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”

Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Rated by librarians as “a book everyone should read before they die”, this modern classic by Harper Lee is one of the most famous works that revolve around the racial issues in the segregated USA. Published in 1960, it addresses the issues that were so inherent to the Deep South of the country, including social injustice, gender roles, rape, racial inequality, and struggle some people had to live through. Even though dealing with the themes that aren’t funny at all, the strong side of the novel here is in its artistic presentation and use of humor to create a somewhat warm and compassionate atmosphere. And to write it from the perspective of 6 y.o. girl – it does take a lot of courage to do in the 60s. 

Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”

Many people who’ve read the book find it is extremely resonating with the current events or moods in the world, and we totally can get it. With its futuristic (not so for some countries) World State, AI-based social hierarchy (is that really new now?), and the desire of the authorities to take the full control of its citizens, it doesn’t feel like it was a dystopian novel but rather the manual for some countries during the wave of dictatorship regimes across the world. Even for those who’ll read the novel today, it would be hard to believe it was published in 1932. 

George Orwell’s “1984”

It’s hard not to include this one in the list because it’s an absolute masterpiece that combines the elements of sci-fi and dystopian writing. Continuing the tradition that Huxley’s started, Orwell has gone even further as he simply portraited what was going on in the Nazi’s and Communism states without the need to explicitly naming them. You know that Big Brother was for SS and the KGB – the two units that spied for every suspicious citizen and arranged assassinations of those who were not obedient enough. And the Thought Police – don’t we still have it in some countries where the freedom of thought remains a utopia? To put it simply, this novel is a must-read not to get scared but to fight the things that contradict the common human sense. 

George Orwell’s “1984”

The 20th-century writers have experimented with many themes and narration styles to make their unique voices stand out, but what probably unites them all is their desire to reflect on the human condition and write texts that would make people question, think, and reflect. And let’s be fair, these are just a very few who succeeded in this. 

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