School Curriculum Books that have Changed My Life

Swarna Gowtham, Staff Writer

*Warning-  There are Spoilers present


  1.  Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (Freshman Year)

This Dickens Classic is dreaded by all who were unlucky enough to save the assigned forty chapters of reading till the night before ( * has war flashbacks to 2015 Christmas break*), but regardless this novel did change my view on many things that include my greater views on society and love. In the novel, Pip has this undying love for his childhood beau Estella, and within the middle of the novel he expresses this love with a speech:


“Out of my thoughts! You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read, since I first came here, the rough common boy whose poor heart you wounded even then. You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since – on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets. You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with”.


This, which is basically eighteenth century-esque for “ your always on my mind girl” but written with a certain touch of romantic intonation that makes the passage and the relationship between Pip and Estella a dynamic one especially since you realize that despite this, Estella still rejects Pip ( even when Pip is not poor anymore). This basically communicates that no matter your societal status and fortune, you still may not get what you want in life, this includes your love interest.


2.The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Sophomore Year)

Although I did drag a little through this one, it was a good icebreaker into the true complexities of American Literature and the realities of what Americans went through during the hardships that followed 1930’s America.

The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of a fictional family, the Joads, and their hardships they went through to immigrate to California, a place where jobs were promised for those affected by the Dust Bowl. Throughout the story, the family is faced with hardships throughout their journeys such as the loss of their Oklahoma property, starvation, a lack of shelter and the other crippling realities of poverty. Once they get to California, they are faced with discrimination against Californian natives who coin people like them (refugees from Oklahoma) as “Okies”. With such tribulations, however, the importance of family dynamic is never lost. While the Joads never really got a happy ending, the ending and Rose of Sharon’s triumph as a character leaves the reader with closure.

3. The Raisin in the Sun By Lorraine Hansberry (Sophomore Year)

The Raisin in the Sun is one of my favorite plays and its take on what it was like to be an African American in the 50’s plays into our emotions as Americans ourselves, especially since we ourselves live in such trying times when it comes to the topic of race. Its constant reference to where the Younger’s live, a tiny dilapidated apartment in Chicago’s south side with just one tiny window in the kitchen (which later becomes a symbol for the tiny sliver of hope that the Youngers have despite the lack of lifetime success they have gained as a family) and the dying plant that sits on the ledge of their kitchen window (symbolism for their dying hope), is beautifully presented by Hansberry in her play. This play in many ways also deepened my understanding of American Literature and the themes and forms of symbolism that many books in this genre try to convey.

4.The Catcher In The Rye by J.D Salinger (Sophomore Year)

Although this was a lot of people’s favorite, The Catcher in the Rye was a less than pleasant piece for me to read during my sophomore year. I would say my sophomore year was the most emotionally and mentally draining year of my academic career thus far, and if any of you have read this novel, you could understand why I loathed it. But in many ways, I loathed it because I saw the main character, Holden Caulfield, in myself. During my sophomore year, I went into a self reclusive state in my life where I struggled with my identity and own sense of self-motivation. With such tribulations in my own life, Holden Caulfield’s rant about his own feeling of loneliness and reclusiveness was unpleasant for me to read however it was voraciously relatable. The coming-of-age tone to this piece of literature is a mirror and an opportunity of self-reflection. Although I did reluctantly finish it, two years later I am able to say that The Catcher in the Rye was one book that made me see the world of adolescence and growing up a lot differently and introspectively.   

5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Junior Year)

Last but not least Pride and Prejudice, I found this book to be a difficult and heavy read because of its Victorian style of writing. But its idea on what it was like to take on womanhood in Victorian England was very interesting to me. In Austen’s era, daughters were seen as investments to their family and the ultimate purpose in a woman’s life resided in how comfortably she married. Due to this fact, many in those days would see the narrative of the Victorian woman as boring and uninteresting or rather just an aid to a romance that takes place in a novel. In, Pride and Prejudice, however,  Austen takes the spectacle of a woman a bit further and makes sure that her main character, Elizabeth Bennet, comes across as a revolutionary when it came to female characters in novels. She isn’t naturally flirty nor is she described as a magnificent beauty (unlike her sister, Jane, in the novel) but she is smart, charismatic, and headstrong in her opinions. She is unwavering by what men think or say of her and makes sure that her sense of fulfillment and want in life is achieved. It’s funny because although Darcy (Elizabeth’s love interest in the novel) is very much present and important, I feel that Darcy, the male character is more so used as the aid to the romantic plot in the novel more so than Elizabeth. Usually in novels during this time period, it would be the opposite. Very clever on Austen’s part.