Featured favorites: 5 most defining novels of the 20th century
Martha's Vineyard Times File Photo
"Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad – Traveling up the Congo River, transporting ivory, Marlowe becomes intrigued with investigating Kurtz, an ivory agent. This story explores the darkness within the human heart. It also deals with the themes of colonialism, racism, and savagery.
"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Nick Carraway narrates the story of his summer stay on Long Island during the Roaring 20s. He is invited to a party at the home of the mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby. Nick become embroiled with the heavy drinking high-rollers who laugh a lot, but are rarely happy.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee – Scout and Jem live with their father, Atticus, in a "tired old town" in Alabama. All the characters are rich and alive. Atticus, a lawyer, defends Tom, a Black man, accused of raping a white woman. Scout and Jem defy their father and hide in the balcony of the courtroom. Some town folk are dismayed at Atticus's defense and stalk the children.
"Catch-22" by Joseph Heller – Yossarian, a WWII bombardier, is angry because thousands are trying to kill him. His real enemy is his own army, that keeps increasing the number of missions he must fly. He is caught in the Catch-22 bureaucratic rule that states that a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and ineligible to be relieved.
"Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger – Holden Caulfield, the narrator of this, his own story, is 17. Filled with the angst, worry, and dreams of the teenager, this story takes the reader on a rollicking journey of bad skin, sexuality, both disdain and dependence for adults, and alienation. Probably one of the most read coming-of-age novels.