Posted by: chartroose | May 19, 2008

Weekly Geeks # 4 – Conformity and Alienation

This week’s theme: Choose a political or social issue that matters to you. Find several books addressing that issue; they don’t have to be books you’ve read, just books you might like to read. Using images (of the book covers or whatever you feel illustrates your topic) present these books in your blog.


The lion’s share of the novels that I’ve read throughout my life have dealt in large part with one or both of these subjects, and I’m hard-pressed to think of a theme that is used as often as conformity or alienation.  The reason authors focus on how it feels to be on the outside (or scrabbling to stay on the inside) so often is because it is sometimes the major focus of our lives, especially when we are young.  How many of us, both male and female, have secretly wept because we were picked last in gym class?  How many of us were devastated because some neanderthal bully told us we were ugly or fat or stupid or geeky or one of a myriad number of other silly put-downs that shouldn’t have mattered a damn but somehow meant more than anything in the world to us?

Everyone wants to be admired, or at least accepted.  Even as adults, we can be crushed by an unkind word (yeah, Care, quit it already!) or an obvious snubbing by our families, friends or coworkers.  Some people want so desperately to belong to the “in-crowd” that they will sacrifice their morality and integrity and practically everything in between just to fit in.

Here are a few of my favorite novels, some of them science fiction, that deal with either conformity or alienation or both because they often go hand-in-hand.


 The Chocolate War

I mentioned this in my post about favorite kids books.  This really had an impact on me, and it is the “conformiest” novel I can think of.  The mob mentality totally rules here, and anyone who refuses to conform is ripped to shreds.


The Chrysalids

I’ve been waiting to mention John Wyndham because I want to devote an entire post to him, but The Chrysalids absolutely has to be part of this list.  The novel is set in a post-holocaust future.  There are mutations due to radiation, and anyone who deviates from the norm is cast out into “The Fringes,” a wasteland where one’s prospects of survival are almost non-existent.


Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang


One of the best novels ever written about human cloning.  Kate Wilhelm’s thoughtful portrait of clones wanting to become their own individual selves is a classic, and I need to read it again.


The Handmaid’s Tale

This novel about “breeders” totally creeped me out, but it was an excellent read.


Never Let Me Go

The kids in this novel blindly accept their fate without question.  I’m currently listening to this on cd and loving it.


Invasion of the Body Snatchers

The novel is much better than the movies (but then, I adore Jack Finney).  You learn more about the aliens and their motivations in the novel, plus Finney is a suberb writer.



The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

One of the saddest novels I’ve ever read, and also one of the very best.  Mr. Singer — God how I miss Mr. Singer!


Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon

This novel is heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful, thank goodness!


In This Sign

Can there be anything more isolating than deafness?  This is a beautifully plotted and thoughtful examination of a deaf couple and their hearing daughter.


Geek Love

This novel belongs in a class by itself.  The only thing that may be more isolating than deafness is to be a carnival freak, although these freaks were raised to appreciate themselves and each other.  Great, great story.


The Ha-Ha

Read my review here.  I’m anxiously awaiting Dave King’s next novel.  Where are you, Mr. King?  I miss you!


The Catcher in the Rye

Of course, of course, of course.


That’s it, at least for now.  I’ll think of a dozen others that I’ll wish I included before I go to bed tonight.  I’ll probably have nightmares about the poor neglected novels I didn’t mention.  I’ll be chased in tonight’s dreams by Camus and Dostoyevsky wielding copies of The Stranger and Crime and Punishment and screeching in their respective tongues that they’ve been robbed, closely followed by Victor Hugo bemoaning the fact that all of his novels are about alieniation.  How can I snub him so?  I will then be enveloped by The Hunchback of Notre Dame in my one of my dreams.  He will wrap me in his arms, weeping and sniveling, and I’ll wake up drenched in tears and saliva with my ears ringing stentoriously.

Maybe I’ll just take some no-doz and stay awake all night long.  



  1. You picked a great theme. Thanks for all the recommendations. The only one I’ve read is Catcher in the Rye, but I’m very interested in the others. Some I’ve been meaning to read for some time and hopefully I’ll get to them this year (namely Geek Love and The Handmaid’s Tale).

  2. You’re welcome, Nymeth! I love your new little avatar.

  3. Great theme, and great books! I have not thought of The Chocolate War in a long time, but that was a great book. . . and I watch so many people try to fit in – as a teacher – this is a great reminder of the value of bucking the system.

  4. Thank you, Andi! “The Chocolate War” had such an impact on me, and I was so impressed with Jerry’s courage that it changed the way I viewed and interacted with other people forever. It was a very good change.

    BTW – I’ve just added you to my blogroll.

  5. I’m over it! LOL and, sigh, thanks for all the books for my tbr list.

    Somebody else had the Carson McCullers book on their WG4 list, too. For feminism?

  6. Hi Care,

    Hmm, I never considered “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” to be all that feminist, but it is multilayered, and Mick, the young female protagonist, does learn quite a bit about the world and the people and things she needs to let go of, so yeah, maybe it is kind of feminist.

    I’ll quit picking on you now, but I’ll continue to think of reasons to link to you every once in awhile!

  7. Some great choices there chartroose. The Handmaid’s Tale is such an amazing book! Actually pretty much all of Atwood’s books are stunning. Have you read Cat’s Eye?

    Geek Love is another good choice too.

  8. Chartroose, what a great theme and what a great list. I’ve never even heard of half of these and I’m eager to explore them. I’m definitely bookmarking this post!

  9. […] Also, Chartroose has an awesome list of books of which I’ve only read one for her post this week: on Conformity and Alienation. […]

  10. Great list! I’ve added The Ha-Ha to my bookmooch wishlist. I loved the Handmaid’s Tale…oh so good. And I have to say I just couldn’t get into The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. 😦

  11. Thanks Kirsty and Julie! I have read Cat’s Eye, and yeah, it was great too.

    I’m sorry you couldn’t get into “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.” I lent a friend a copy of the book and she didn’t like it either. I guess it’s just not going to affect everyone the same way.

  12. Awesome list! A lot of those books are on my to be read list. And I’ve read a few of them. I read the chocolate war way back when… I feel like I should reread it though.
    Anyways, great theme and great list. 🙂

  13. Thanks Steph! Do you have a blog or website I can take a peek at?

  14. […] we are; the way we objectify everyone and everything that isn’t like us.  Like I mentioned in a previous post, Never Let Me Go is about conformity, and not just the conformity of the clones, but the conformity […]

  15. […] books that’s been on my mental TBR list for years. Chartroose’s terrific post about conformity and alienation prompted me to finally read […]

  16. Click on the link for quotes from “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier.

  17. […] to request and this POPPED into my head to search.   It was available, so I mooched it.     Chartroosehas mentioned it a few times in her many posts with themes of alienation and quirky characters, so I […]

  18. […] oh, pretty much anything in this post from May… […]

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