In his poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot wrote “Do I dare/disturb the universe?”
Erin Haley looks at novels that present characters who dare to ask the same question as Prufrock. The main theme is independence, she says. Such characters “challenge the status quo.” Because challenging the status quo and seeking independence are classic undertakings of adolescence, many of the books about characters who dare to disturb the universe are in the YA (young adult) category.
Haley lists four books in which characters dare to disturb the universe:
- The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
- Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
- And One for All by Theresa Nelson
- Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
I’m only familiar with the first two books on her list; the first is a YA novel, while the second is not.
But the question of characters daring to disturb the universe got me thinking about my own reading. I wonder if all fiction doesn’t deal with this topic in some way or other. The basic requirement for fiction is conflict, and conflict usually involves challenging at least some aspect of the status quo.
Since disturbing the universe is just about a given in YA literature, I decided to look for adult books that explore the same concept. After a quick look over my most recent reading list, I’d include these novels on my own list of books featuring characters daring to disturb the universe:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
No matter what the topic, I usually turn to this classic novel to illustrate it. Not only does Atticus Finch dare to question the status quo by defending (both legally and literally) Tom Robinson, but Scout and Jem follow his example in their unusual relationship with Boo Radley, the town recluse.
The two women in Kallos’s first novel dare to disturb the universe by reaching out to each other and, in the process, by redefining the concept of family. This is one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read.
Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman
Here’s another Alice Hoffman novel. In this one a woman must rethink the meaning of her whole existence when she discovers that her current reality is based on a lie. It takes a lot of courage and strength to redefine yourself and rediscover what you believe in.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
I can’t say much about this novel without giving away a critical plot point. What I can say is that the protagonist admirably rises to the occasion of living an unconventional life.
One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus
Would you be willing to betray social conventions if that were your only chance for living an independent life? The female protagonist of this novel said “yes.”
I’d love to hear what books you’d include on your own list. Please let us know in the comments section.