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American Literature Classics

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A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
"A Farewell to Arms" is the unforgettable story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front and his passion for a beautiful English nurse. Hemingway's frank portrayal of the love between Lieutenant Henry and Catherine Barkley, caught in the inexorable sweep of war, glows with an intensity unrivaled in modern literature.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Set at a boys' boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world. A bestseller for more than thirty years, A Separate Peace is John Knowles's crowning achievement and an undisputed American classic.Lexile 1110
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg at the turn of the 20th century is by turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting. The daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness -- in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
At the heart of Catch-22 resides the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero endlessly inventive in his schemes to save his skin from the horrible chances of war. Catch-22 is a microcosm of the twentieth-century world as it might look to some one dangerously sane -- a masterpiece of our time.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Set against the bleak winter landscape of New England, "Ethan Frome" tells the story of a poor farmer, lonely and downtrodden, his wife Zeena, and her cousin, the enchanting Mattie Silver. In the playing out of this short novel's powerful and engrossing drama, Edith Wharton constructed her least characteristic and most celebrated book.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Guy Montag is a fireman whose job is to start fires, and he enjoys his job. He has never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs nor the joy of watching pages consumed by flames. He never questions anything until he meets a 17-year-old girl who tells him of a past when people were not afraid and a professor who speaks of a future in which people can think.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Invisible Man is a milestone in American literature, a book that has continued to engage readers since its appearance in 1952. The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of "the Brotherhood", and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Lovely Meg, talented Jo, frail Beth and spoiled Amy learn the hard lessons of poverty and of growing up in New England during the Civil War. Based on Louise May Alcott's childhood, this lively portrait of 19th-century family life possesses a lasting vitality that has endeared it to generations of readers.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
In one of the world's greatest adventure stories, a crew of whalers sets out in pursuit of a fierce white whale. Their names ring through the canon of American literature: Ishmael, the narrator; Starbuck, the sober and serious chief mate; and above all Captain Ahab, part Faust and part Job, leading them to the ends of the earth -- and the destiny he will share with his foe.
My Antonia by Willa Cather
"My Antonia" depicts the pioneering period of European settlement on the tall-grass prairie of the American midwest, with its beautiful yet terrifying landscape, rich ethnic mix of immigrants and native-born Americans, and communities who share life's joys and sorrows. Jim Burden recounts his memories of Antonia Shimerda, whose family settle in Nebraska from Bohemia. Her story is that of the land itself, a moving portrait of endurance and strength.
Native Son by Richard Wright
The protagonist of Wright's groundbreaking novel is hardly a hero, but that's the point. Bigger Thomas is a young African-American man in 1930s America who will never get a chance to be a hero. Thomas finds desperation, confusion, and fear behind every corner and reacts accordingly in a tragic series of events that continue to spark outrage and conversation decades after publication.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
An unlikely pair, George and Lennie, two migrant workers in California during the Great Depression, grasp for their American Dream. When they land jobs on a ranch in the Salinas Valley, the fulfillment of their dream seems to be within their grasp. But even George cannot guard Lennie from the provocations, nor predict the consequences of Lennie's unswerving obedience to the things George taught him.
Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut
Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
No account of Missourian literature would be complete without mention of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain. While Twain enjoyed a prolific career (the effort of constructing a complete bibliography of his works continues over a century after his death), he is best remembered for his 1884 novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Ostensibly a children's novel, this story of the friendship and adventures of abused runaway Huck Finn and escaped slave Jim as they travel down the Mississippi River to freedom touches on issues of morality, identity, and race, and remains influential (if not controversial) to this day.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
In 1921 "The Age of Innocence" was listed by Publishers Weekly as one of the bestselling novels of the year and it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The novel looks at the highest circle of New York social life during the 1870s where Newland Archer, a young lawyer, prepares to marry May Welland. But before their engagement is announced, he meets the mysterious, nonconformist Countess Ellen Olenska. Ellen mirrors his own sense of disillusionment with society and provokes a moral struggle within him as he continues to go through the motions. A social commentary of surprising compassion and insight, The Age of Innocence toes the line between the comedy of manners and the tragedy of thwarted love while bridging the divide between public popularity and critical acclaim.
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Stolen from his life as a beloved pet, Buck must learn to adapt to abuse as a Klondike sled dog, to life with a loving master, John Thornton, and finally when Thornton dies, to life in the wild as a leader of the wolf pack.
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
This novel is the story of Holden Caufield with his idiosyncrasies, penetrating insight, confusion, sensitivity and negativism. Holden, knowing he is to be expelled from school, decides to leave early. He spends three days in New York City and tells the story of what he did and suffered there.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
Pearl Buck portrays a China when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the 20th century were but distant rumblings. This moving story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-lan illuminates the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during this century.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads -- driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The mysterious Jay Gatsby's youthful neighbor, Nick Carraway, fascinated with the display of enormous wealth in which Gatsby revels, finds himself swept up in the lavish lifestyle of Long Island society during the Jazz Age. Considered Fitzgerald's best work, The Great Gatsby is a mystical, timeless story of integrity and cruelty, vision and despair.
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
A Lithuanian immigrant comes to America in search of fortune only to sacrifice his health and family to the wheels of industry.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
An old Cuban fisherman faces his supreme ordeal: a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Using the simple, powerful language of a fable, Hemingway takes the timeless themes of courage in the face of defeat and personal triumph won from loss and transforms them into a magnificent 20th-century classic.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The story of Hester Prynne -- found out in adultery, pilloried by her Puritan community, and abandoned, in different ways, by both her partner in sin and her vengeance-seeking husband-possesses a reality heightened by Hawthorne's pure human sympathy and his unmixed devotion to his supposedly fallen but fundamentally innocent heroine. In its moral force and the beauty of its conciliations, "The Scarlet Letter" rightly deserves its stature as the first great novel written by an American.
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
"The Sound and the Fury" is the tragedy of the Compson family, featuring some of the most memorable characters in literature: beautiful, rebellious Caddy; the manchild Benjy; haunted, neurotic Quentin; Jason, the brutal cynic; and Dilsey, their black servant. Their lives fragmented and harrowed by history and legacy, the character's voices and actions mesh to create what is arguably Faulkner's masterpiece and one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
A poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation, the novel introduces two of Hemingway's most unforgettable characters: Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley. The story follows the flamboyant Brett and the hapless Jake as they journey from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Janie Crawford, an attractive, confident, middle-aged black woman, returns to Eatonville, Florida, after a long absence. The black townspeople gossip about her and -speculate about where she has been and what has happened to her young husband, Tea Cake. They take her confidence as aloofness, but Janie's friend Pheoby Watson sticks up for her. Pheoby visits her to find out what has happened. Their conversation frames the novel.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Eight-year-old Scout tells about growing up as the daughter of Atticus Finch, a widowed lawyer, in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama during the 1930's. She and her older brother, Jem, happily occupy themselves with resisting "progressive education" and stalking the local bogeyman-until their father's courageous defense of a black man falsely accused of rape introduces them to the problems of race prejudice and brings adult injustice and violence into their childhood world.
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
"Uncle Tom's Cabin or, Life Among the Lowly" is an anti-slavery novel. Published in 1852, the novel had a profound effect on attitudes toward African Americans and slavery in the United States, so much in the latter case that the novel intensified the sectional conflict leading to the American Civil War.
Updated 09/19/2014