Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
The Second World War was the most tragic and the most significant event of the 20th century. It is a key topic in a great number of literary works, one of the most prominent of which is Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. It is considered one of the most controversial novels due to author’s unconventional representation of war and its essence. The duties of a soldier – patriotism and heroism – turn out to be just a dangerous delusion. A man who is involved in the horrors of battle is just a body that is exposed to violence, his soul is hacked to pieces; he is involved in the absurd reality of war, his image is de-romanticized and stripped of its heroic halo.
Some of the most conservative ideological and moral foundations which guarantee a relative firmness of the world order were undermined and shattered in the novel by this prominent Jewish-American writer.
Billy Pilgrim is the main protagonist in the novel. He is a ridiculously cowardly person who has suffered from multiple psychological traumas from which he cannot recover, no matter how long he lives. The novel describes his adventures during the war, particularly the bombing of Dresden, which left an imperishable impression on him. Vonnegut also introduces the element of science fiction in the novel, which turns it from a war story to a slightly naive and comical story about aliens that subsequently transforms itself into a structured philosophical system. The author ridicules the belief in progress, he depicts the powerlessness of the ordinary person in the face of a soulless, evil world and justifies wars in the context of the history of humanity and the overall historical process.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
The very first line of this novella is rather scary, controversial, and at the same time intriguing. “One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.” The transformation of Gregor into an insect is a vivid metaphor of alienation from community and the world. Having lost his human appearance, the protagonist finds himself out of the bounds of human existence. He is instantly deprived of his right to occupy even the lowest level of society; now he can’t even get a humane response from the members of his own family. It is a story about the gradual extrusion of the unwanted person from the circle of close relatives which ends with a family trial during which they sincerely wish death upon Gregor.
There is a certain symbolism in the process of the ruthless rejection of a person who is “sick” with his misery in the face of a trouble-free and indifferent society. The metamorphosis happens not only to Gregor but also to his father, mother, and sister. They may not change on the outside, but their inner transformations may be even worse as they reveal their true nature, which consists of greed, selfishness, and aversion to a member of the family who is in misery.
Franz Kafka delves into the subjects of self-sacrifice, workaholism, and family relationships. It is a very controversial book that could make you feel disgusted but which may also make you realize the true value of unconditional love.
American Psycho by Easton Ellis
The name of the narrator and the villain protagonist of this book is Patrick Bateman. He is a successful investment specialist from Wall Street, and he hates homosexuals, people with AIDS, beggars, racists, hip-hop, idiots, a lack of style and taste, and many other things and people. His intolerance is so bitter that oftentimes it leads to violence, abuse, or even murder. This book is inexpressibly weird, and sometimes the reader will get the feeling that he is perusing the immensely interesting and outrageous clinical record of a patient from a mental institution. There is a great chance that after reading this utterly controversial novel for the first time, you won’t figure out what is going on in the dark mind of Patrick Bateman, and you won’t understand his motivations or whether or not his crimes were real or just a figment of a sick imagination. American Psycho won’t leave the reader unaffected: you will either want to burn it, or it will become one of your favorite books.
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
This philosophical novel which is also a parable was published in 1954 and immediately caught the attention of readers and critics. It has a simple but at the same time very captivating plot, realistic characters, a psychologically precise rationale of all actions, and an exotic location. All these elements have been interwoven into a controversial anti-utopia that depicts the brutalization of mankind.
The novel begins with the crash of a plane near an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean. A group of boys miraculously manages to survive, and they form a community that establishes a sort of primitive democracy. At first, their only duty is to maintain a smoke signal that could lead rescuers to their island. But the seemingly peaceful atmosphere starts to deteriorate as some members of the group raise a rebellion and form their own tribe.
Many literary critics have considered this novel as a political warning and a condemnation of fascist ideas, but the true meaning of The Lord of Flies is more comprehensive. William Golding has depicted the timeless essence of human nature, which is sinful and horrible, and able to commit the most brutal crimes in the absence of a positive deterrent power.
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
On the first pages of the novel, the author acquaints the reader with a 17-year old American boy who is expelled from school right before Christmas. His name is Holden Caulfield, and he is a typical teenager: reckless, impulsive, and always eager to defy any expectations. He hates his school, which is full of sneaky and stupid peers; he despises Mr. Spenser, his history teacher, for his miserable appearance and useless teachings; he loathes it when people try to play somebody else’s role and hide their true character. At the same time, Holden is aware of his own weak spots, such as deceitfulness, cowardliness, and the lack of enough willpower to change his life and pursue his dreams.
This novel teaches the reader to stay true to himself and to reject all the falsehoods which are manifested in the moral standards of society.
What is so controversial about this book, you might ask? Apart from having a deep philosophical meaning, The Cather in the Rye is filled with vulgar language, sexual references, depictions of alcohol abuse, and expressions of intolerance. Some even claim that this book was one of the reasons why John Lennon was shot. Despite all that, The Catcher in the Rye is definitely a great literary work by a prominent American writer.