The novel as a literary form is very dynamic. It acts not only as an artistic expression by the author, but can also function as a unique examination of various human topics. Effective novels feature characters and situations that allow the reader to look at the world through different perspectives. The possibilities of focus and subject in novels are limitless and reading a well written novel can be a mind expanding experience. Some topics are considered many times by different authors in various ways. One such topic is the value and consequence of human interaction. Among the novels that scrutinize this topic are “The Catcher in the Rye”, “Of Mice and Men”, and “Sula”. “The Catcher in the Rye” follows a young man who has great difficulty in relating or connecting to anyone else. “Of Mice and Men” follows two characters who depend on each other completely. “Sula” examines the extent that one woman can affect the people around her. All three novels illuminate different aspects of human interaction.
The novel “The Catcher in the Rye”, by J.D. Salinger, reveals the difficulty of connecting to others. Holden has no patience for the people who surround him. He uses this as a motive to keep himself away from everyone he meets. Although he is outwardly polite and decent toward them, on the inside he is filled with frustration. To further complicate matters, he consistently finds ways to isolate himself from his family. He leaves school early and does not go home or speak with his parents. He does have a connection with his little sister, but even this is strained by Holden’s antisocial tendencies. The result of Holden’s contempt for others is an inescapable loneliness. By condemning everyone else as “Phonies”, he manages to feel lonely even when he is with others. He begins to realize that he cannot sustain himself. He craves connection with others. In the end, he even misses people that he chose to get away from. It seems that in order to truly connect with others, you must be willing to accept them even if their flaws annoy you.
In “Of Mice and Men”, another extreme of human interaction is explored. George and Lennie, the two main characters of the novel, are connected in such a strong way that they could be considered co-dependent. They travel together, take care of each other, and have been “together for so long” that they cannot imagine life any other way. They go so far as to dream together and work together toward the same goal. There dream is possibly the only thing they have in common. They are opposites in virtually every way, including physically and mentally. Their friendship is notable because of these differences and the strong presence of acceptance between them. However, the story ends tragically and questions the limits of friendship. George is so committed to protecting Lennie that he actually kills him to save him from a more savage end. For most people, this would be an impossible choice.
The novel “Sula” by Toni Morrison, further examines human relationships by showing the profound relationship that an individual can have with a community. The novel is sweeping in scope, and boils many years down to traumatic and significant events. The character Sula leaves “Bottom” for ten years and returns to be received as a pariah. The effects of her actions and her mere presence ripple out through Bottom in various ways. She lives for herself and this proves to be disastrous for her and her best friend Nel. Her actions serve to isolate her from her community, her family, and her best friend. However her actions prove to be positive in a way for the rest of the community. In Sula, the people of Bottom find a common enemy. They appreciate their spouses, friends, and family more than they would if she were not there. In fact, the town unravels after her death and the story brings to light the often overlooked significance an individual’s behavior can have on others.
Humans interact with each other in many different ways. These interactions are infinitely complex and can never be completely defined. Furthermore human interaction is in one way or another deeply important to everyone’s life. Some novels can help us to probe the nuances and results of the possibilities found within relationships. Three novels that have value in this way are “The Catcher in the Rye”, “Of Mice and Men”, and “Sula”. Readers can benefit in their own lives by contemplating the interactions of the characters in these novels.
Salinger, J. D. (1945). The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Steinbeck, John. (1937). Of Mice and Men. New York: Penguin Books.
Morrison, Toni. (1973). Sula. New York: Vintage International.