A Humanitarian novel is one where the story addresses the inequality between classes, and particularly the sin of such respect of persons. These differences may be ethnic, economic, or geographical. Quite often there is overlap between these three categories. Sometimes the issue could be political, but I did not include any such novels in this because the emphasis is politics and government. Any story that deals with an Us and Them dichotomy would serve as a Humanitarian novel.
10. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton – Set in 1965 Tulsa, The Outsiders sets the Greasers against the Socs. Two Greasers kill some Socs who attack them and they are on the run. On their own, they are neither Greasers nor Socs, but just human.
9. To Have And Have Not by Ernest Hemingway – Harry Morgan is a boat charterer in Florida who is harassed by several manifestations by The Man. He gets the rough treatment from the rich, crime bosses, and law enforcement in the U.S. and Cuba.
8. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair – This novel deals with the suffering of immigrants in Chicago meat-packing plants. It shows the dangerous and unclean working conditions for these people.
7. Native Son by Richard Wright – Bigger Thomas is a destitute black man during the Depression who turns to crime. His lawyer points out that he is what society has made of him.
6. The Death Of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy – Ivan moves into a new place intended to show his family’s superiority. He injures himself hanging curtains and the doctors can do nothing. He realizes he will die and in is anguish since something so horrible would happen to someone who was so good. A few hours before he dies he realizes he has not been good, but selfish. With this realization, his pain goes away and he dies.
5. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens – Oliver suffers many mistreatments from the orphanage to the workhouse to the streets, where he falls in with young pickpockets. Despite his harsh life, Oliver retains a certain grace about himself and his life.
4. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe – Eliza escapes slavery and is chased by her master, Simon Legree. Through many adversities she gets away and Simon dies. The hardships and evils of slavery are shown as well here as in any novel.
3. Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain – A slave named Roxy switches her son for the white son of her owners. She is fair-skinned and her son only 1/32nd black, so the switch succeeds. The slave’s child raised in white privilege becomes a spoiled brat while the white child raised as a slave is taught virtue and lives rightly. This novel shows that skin color means nothing, but only the choices we make to follow good or evil.
2. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – The working poor, along with prisoners and prostitutes, and shown to have a miserable existence and are constantly mistreated by anyone who can hurt them. The consequence is uprising and revolution.
1. The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck – We know that Steinbeck believed in an “oversoul,” which means we all share one soul. This means we are not only responsible for our families, but for everyone else’s welfare. And any act of cruelty is not only wrong, but against our own interests.
As with all of my Top Ten lists, these are my opinion. You may think of a different set of books. What would your Top Ten favorite Humanitarian novels be? Let me know of your list in the Comment section below. And if you enjoyed this post, share it with others.