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Sparknotes: Literature Summaries


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Their Eyes were Watching God
After two marriages to oppressive men, a woman finds temporary happiness with a husband twelve years her junior.
Hard Times
A wealthy merchant raises his children using principles of rational self-interest, which leaves them emotionally crippled; a morally upright factory worker suffers and dies because of his goodness.
Uncle Tom's Cabin
A pious, kind slave endures terrible mistreatment but never loses his faith in God.
Using folk remedies and Christian symbols, a band of men succeeds in killing a powerful, centuries-old vampire.
Fahrenheit 451
In a futuristic America, a firefighter decides to buck society, stop burning books, and start seeking knowledge.
Heart of Darkness
A sailor tells the story of his journey through the Congo, where he met an enigmatic, powerful, insane imperialist who had abandoned the rules of English civilization.
A Midsummer Night's Dream
After a bewildering night in a fairy-haunted forest, three couples are united in marriage.
Song of Solomon
A spoiled young man changes after learning about his family history.
The Red Badge of Courage
A native young man matures as a result of fighting in the Civil War.
Black Boy
Richard Wright, author and protagonist, defies his cruel family and his racist society, and becomes a successful writer.
A man has a love affair with his stepdaughter and kills the man who stole her away from him.
Little Women
Four sisters in nineteenth-century New England struggle with poverty, juggle their duties and desires, and find love.
Silas Marner
A benumbed, alienated man finds happiness after adopting a young girl.
The Epic of Gilgamesh
A man matures from a powerful person into a good king, but fails to achieve immortality.
Romeo and Juliet
Two children of rival families marry in secret but die tragically, reconciling their families.
A woman, enraged at her husband's betrayal, kills her sons.
Julius Caesar
After a statesmen murders the title character, a loyalist casts doubt on his motives, drives him out of Rome, and hunts him down.
Doctor Faustus
A sixteenth-century German scholar sells his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge, wealth, and supernatural powers.
A Clockwork Orange
A violent young boy is imprisoned and undergoes conditioning treatment which is eventually reversed.
A Passage to India
A sensitive Indian doctor struggles with unjust criminal charges and comes to understand that genuine friendship between Indians and the British is impossible under colonial rule.
The House of Seven Gables
A family finally breaks a curse brought down on it by an ancestor.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Two boys growing up in Missouri have a variety of adventures, thwart a murderer, and find gold.
A man recounts the time he spent living a life of simplicity near Walden Pond.
Of Mice and Men
Two migrant workers and best friends find tragedy when one of them accidentally kills a woman.
A Doll's House
A late-nineteenth-century bourgeois wife and mother leaves her family after coming to the realization that she has led a sheltered, child-ilke existence that her father and her husband enabled and encouraged.
To the Lighthouse
A family visits its summerhouse, enduring drastic change between visits.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
King Arthur's nephew accepts the challenge of a mysterious Green Knight, even though it will likely cost him his life.
The Scarlet Letter
A married woman living in Puritan Boston has an affair with a preacher, which leads to her public disgrace and his death.
Animal Farm
A group of animals mount a successful rebellion against the farmer who rules them, but their dreams of equality for al are ruined when one pig seizes power.
Death of a Salesman
A salesman, depressed about his failure to achieve financial success, grows increasingly unhinged and finally kills himself.
A Christmas Carol
A crotchety, selfish old man learns to be generous and love life.
David Copperfield
After surviving a poverty-stricken childhood, the death of his mother, a cruel stepfather, and an unfortunate first marriage, a boy finds success as a writer.
The Fountainhead
A brilliant, uncomprimising architect representing the excellence of individualism clashes with and triumphs over mediocre American society.
The Hobbit
A complacent hobbit discovers hidden heroism in himself when a wizard recruits him to undertake a dangerous mission
A scientist creates a monster, and then abandons it in horror, a decision that leads to disaster and the deaths of nearly everyone he loves.
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
A patient in a horrifying mental hospital is invigorated by the presence of a brave, wild, rebellious fellow patient.
The Aeneid
A Trojan destined to found Rome, undergoes many trials on land and sea during his journey to Italy, finally defeating the Latin Turnus and avenging the murder of Pallas.
The House on Mango Street
A woman growing up in poverty in 1960s Chicago is determined to find her own path in life without forgetting her past.
The Republic
Plato explores justice and the just society.
Dubliners of all stripes live their lives.
Paradise Lost
Satan and his followers rebel and go to Hell, God creates the world, and Adam and Eve sin.
The Metamorphosis
After turning into an insect, a man falls out of favor with his family and eventually dies.
Madame Bovary
A middle-class woman, frustrated by her humdrum life, embarks on a series of careless affairs that lead to her financial ruin and suicide.
Ethan Frome
A man longs to flee from his wretched wife and run off with her vivacious cousin but finds he lacks the courage.
Fearful, confused, and lost, a man is taken on a tour of Hell and led toward salvation by a Classical poet.
A Streetcar Named Desire
An aging Southern belle clashes with her immigrant brother-in-law and retreats into her fantasies.
The Chosen
Two boys from Brooklyn learn about themselves and their relationship to Judaism through the conflicting views of their fathers.
The Iliad
During the Trojan War, a great Trojan warrior dies at the hands of a great Greek warrior.
Upon returning from a victory in Troy, a warrior is killed by his wife.
Tess of the D'Urbervilles
The life of an impoverished girl is ruined when a sinister man impregnates her.
One Hundred Years of Solitude
The fortunes of a family wax and wane along with the fortunes of Macondo, the town they founded.
The Plague
Quarantined with the Bubonic plague, the citizens of an Algerian rown eventually overcome their selfish instincts and battle the epidemic together.
Anna Karenina
After having an affair with a handsome military man, a woman kills herself.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
A man has a comparatively happy day in the Soviet labor camp where he is imprisoned.
The Brothers Karamazov
A bastard son kills his father; his three brothers--one passionate, one smart and skeptical, and one loving--share some of the moral culpability for the murder.
Light in August
A half-black man kills his white lover, a crime for which he is eventually killed and castrated.
As I Lay Dying
In the 1920s in the American South, a deceased woman's husband and children undertake a difficult journey to Jefferson to bury her corpse.
The Pearl
After finding a hugely valuable pearl, a man becomes greedy and violent.
The Canterbury Tales
A group of travelers making a pilgrimage to Canterbury tell each other stories that they are by turns crude, hilarious, creepy, gruesome, and pious.
Robinson Crusoe
A man is shipwrecked on an island, where he lives for more than twenty years, fending off cannibals and creating a pleasant life for himself.
Gripped by pride and insecurities, a man finds a spiritual father in someone who is exiled from home while his wife entertains her lover.
A man successfully transforms a woman from a Cockney flower girl into a duchess, but her transformation leaves her without a place in society.
War and Peace
Russian families endure Napoleon's invasion and their own private troubles.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
A respectable doctor concocts a potion that enables him to become an evil and violent man.
The Count of Monte Cristo
After escaping from unjust imprisonment, a man disguises himself as a count, avenges his downfall, and ries to exact diving retribution before acknowledging that only God has that power.
The Glass Menagerie
A young man, fed up with his responsiblities to his nostalgic mother and crippled sister, flees family life.
The Turn of the Screw
A governess believes that the children in her care are in league with two ghosts.
The Prince
Argument for the separation of politics and ethics in his seminal handbook for rulers.
The Things They Carried
A soldier looks back on his days in Vietnam.
A great warrior goes to Denmark on a successful mission to kill Grendel; he returns home to Geatland, where he becomes king and slays a dragon before dying.
Billy Budd
An innocent young sailor, kills an evil sailor in a moment of rage, a crime for which he is hanged.
The Good Earth
A poor Chinese farmer lives a long life of difficulties and successes, struggling w/ith the tension between his desire for wealth and his traditional Chinese values.
The Stranger
A disaffected young man kills an Arab man on the beach and is sentenced to death.
Cyrano de Bergerac
In seventeenth-century France, an eloquent poet who is brilliant swordsman and has a grotesque nose woos his beloved on behalf of the handsome but inarticulate Christian.
Much Ado about Nothing
Believing that his fiancé is unfaithful, a man publicly shames her before recognizing his mistake and marrying her; two longtime rivals are tricked into admitting that they love each other.
Far from the Madding Crowd
After her admirer shoots her husband, a woman marries the steady man who has long loved her.
The Awakening
The wife of a New Orleans businessman drowns herself at sea after a series of awakenings leave her increasingly independent, aware of her desires, and alone.
Great Expectations
After a kindly criminal makes him rich, a boy learns that wealth and class do not determine work.
The Diary of a Young Girl
While hiding from the Nazis with her family, a young girl keeps a diary detailing her daily life and thoughts.
Mrs. Dalloway
A middle-aged woman throws a party, and a young veteran commits suicide.
My Antonia
A successful lawyer recalls his childhood in Nebraska.
A Room of One's Own
An anonymous novelist surveys the history of women writers and analyzes their recent efforts.
Oliver Twist
A young pauper endures cruel treatment and persecution before finding benefactors and discovering his inheritance.
The Picture of Dorian Grey
The portrait of a sinful young man ages while the young man depicted in the portrait remains youthful.
Moby Dick
A monomaniacal captain tries and fails to kill a monstrous white whale.
The Woman Warrior
A Chinese American woman tells the story of her life.
Our Town
In a small town in turn-of-the-century New Hampshire, a girl marries the boy next door and dies in childbirth, realizing how little people appreciate their everyday lives.
Invisible Man
A young black man grows disillusioned with the stereotypes propagated by whites and blacks alike.
Crime and Punishment
In an attempt to prove a theory, a student murders two women, after which he suffers greatly from guilt and worry.
On the Road
A man abandons New York and its intellectualism to seek enlightenment through unmeditated experience on the American road.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
A black girl growing up in the South struggles against racism, sexism, and lack of power.
After meddling unsuccessfully in the love life of her friend, a woman marries a man as intelligent and spirited as she.
The Sun also Rises
A young American veteran of World War I lives in Paris and travels with his friends and the woman he loves.
The Great Gatsby
A self-made man woos and loses the aristocratic woman he loves.
The T empest
A powerful magician who used to be the Duke of Milan causes his enemies to wash up on his island, then uses his magic to reconcile with them and regain his dukedom.
Gulliver's Travels
A seventeenth-century English doctor chronicles his travels to four fantastical lands, whose inhabitants the author uses to satirize and critique English society.
Alice in Wonderland
A girl falls asleep and dreams of a series of adventures.
Near the end of World War II, an army captain struggles to survive by navigating a self-serving and illogical military bureaucracy.
The Odyssey
A Greek warrior undertakes an arduous journey back to his homeland and his loyal wife and son, experiencing many fantastical adventures along the way.
Ordered by his father's ghost to kill his uncle, the new king, a young prince struggles with doubt and alienation in Denmark's corrupt court.
The Jungle
A turn-of-the-century Lithuanian immigrant and his family struggle to survive in wretched poverty in the meatpacking district of Chicago, oppressed by America's brutal capitalism; at last, the head of the household discovers and embraces socialism.
A man searches for the truth and for knowledge of himself, living many different kinds of lives in the process and ultimately becoming a Buddha.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
A man concludes that he must be unfettered by family, friends, religion, and nation to be a true ar
Jane Eyre
An impoverished young wmoan struggles to maintain her autonomy in the face of oppression, prejudice, and love.
The Color Purple
A meek, abused, impoverished young black woman eventually finds independence with the help of her woman friends.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
An intelligent thirteen-year-old boy flees with an escaped slave and slowly recognizes the hypocrisy of his society.
The Merchant of Venice
A man tries to use the law to butcher a merchant, but a resourceful woman disguises herself as a legal scholar and saves the threatened man.
Wracked by irrational jealousy, a man kills his wife.
All Quiet on the Western Front
A young German soldier loses his idealism, his friends, and finally his own life fighting on the French front during World War I.
Lord of the Flies
A group of English boys, marooned on an island, rapidly turn lawless and bloodthirsty.
Slaughterhouse Five
A veteran of World War II remembers being in Dresden during the firebombing and describes his postwar existence.
The Call of the Wild
A pampered dog adjusts to the harsh realities of life in the North as he struggles with his recovered wild instincts and finds a master who treats him right.
Waiting for Godot
Two men wait for a third man, who never comes.
Pride and Prejudice
Five sisters attempt to make happy marriages, and the two eldest succeed.
The Old Man and the sea
An old man shows his nobility when he kills a glorious marlin.
A Citizen of the totalitarian country Oceania rebels against the ruling Party and is tortured and brainwashed as a result.
Brave New World
An outsider raised on the Reservation tries and fails to find love in the World State, a place where people are robbed of their humanity and sedated with the drug soma.
A Man for all Seasons
A man refuses to swear an oath to the supremacy of King Henry VIII and is beheaded.
A Raisin in the Sun
An impoverished family dreams of a better life and succeeds in buying a house in a hostile neighborhood.
Things Fall Apart
A Nigerian clan leader, terrified of being weak like his father was, brings destruction and tragedy on himself and his family.
To Kill a Mockingbird
A girl confronts evil as her father unsuccessfully defends an innocent black man accused of raping a white woman.
The Last of the Mohicans
During the French and Indian War on the wild frontier, a supremely competent white woodsman joins forces with the last two Mohican Indians to save a group of British colonists from the Huron Indians.
Native Son
A young black man, terrorized by racism and poverty, kills two women.
Don Quixote
A seventeenth-century middle-aged gentleman who wants to be a knight-errant sets off with his peasant squire on a series of adventures in a world no longer governed by chivalric values.
Hedda Gabler
Constrained by a dull husband and a fear of scandal, a woman turns her energy and thirst for power to destruction, ultimately killing herself.
The monster of Beowulf longs to take part in human communities and struggles to reconcile his intellectual knowledge that the world is meaningless with his emotional desire to believe art's promise that life has meaning.
A Tale of Two Cities
During the French Revolution, a woman's love turns a selfish man into a hero.
An ex-slave is haunted by the memory of the daughter she killed.
The Sound and the Fury
A Southern family on the decline crumbles completely when one of his members has a child out of wedlock.
Sense and Sensibility
Two sisters mature and find husbands.
A Farewell to Arms
A disaffected young soldier falls in love with a nurse and flees the war to be with her, she dies in childbirth.
The Bell Jar
A young woman whose talent and intelligence have brought her close to achieving her dreams must overcome suicidal tendencies.
The Handmaid's Tale
A woman tells the story of her severely restricted life as a state-sanctioned baby-maker in a totalitarian society in the imagined near future.
The Importance of Being Earnest
Two young men court two young women, winning their hearts by pretending to be named Ernest.
Wuthering Heights
A mistreated man robbed of his true love tries to revenge himself on his abusers.
The Grapes of Wrath
A terrible drought forces thousands of farming families, the Joads among them, to move to California in search of work.
The Outsiders
A group of poor kids hold their own against a group of rich kids, losing two of their members in the process.
After suffering many misadventures that contradict the idea that God has a grand plan, a man finds happiness in hard work.
The Crucible
Hysteria grips the residents of Salem, Massachusetts, who try their neighbors as witches and execute nineteen people.
Cry, the Beloved Country
A black South African discovers that his son has murdered a man after leaving his home village for Johannesburg.
A Separate Peace
A private school student injures his best friend, whom he both loves and envies.
Inspired by a witches' prophecy, a man murders his way to the throne of Scotland, but his conscience plagues him and his fellow lords rise up against him.
King Lear
A king divides Britain between his flattering daughters, who bring ruin to the kingdom.
Les Miserables
A hardened criminal finds redemption, adopts an orphan, flees a monomaniacal cop, saves lives, encounters misunderstandings and cruelties of all kinds, and finally dies a happy man.
An eastern European Jewish teenager survives the concentration camps during the Holocaust, having lost his father and his faith in God.
The Joy Luck Club
A group of Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters struggle to communicate and understand each other.
The Catcher in the Rye
After being expelled from prep school, a sixteen-year-old boy goes to New York City, where he reflects on the phoniness of adults and heads toward a nervous breakdown.
The Mayor of Casterbridge
A man tries and fails to atone for his past mistake--selling his wife and daughter to a sailor.

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