“Normal People” by Sally Rooney: an Analysis of the Best-selling Novel from the Complex World of Young Adults

The “New Adult” genre has gained popularity in recent years as it focuses on the life experiences of young adults navigating the transition from adolescence to adulthood. One outstanding work that makes impressive use of the building blocks of this genre is the novel Normal People by Sally Rooney. In this analysis, we will examine how Rooney uses the characteristic elements of the New Adult genre in her work and how she treats the theme of sexuality in the story.

The protagonists as typical representatives of young adults.
A key element of the New Adult genre is the portrayal of protagonists in the 18- to 30-year-old age group who face the challenges of growing up, searching for identity, and interpersonal relationships. “Normal People” focuses on Connell and Marianne, two characters who perfectly embody these characteristics. Connell and Marianne are graduates of the same high school, but they belong to different social classes. While Marianne’s mother is a lawyer, Connell’s mother comes to them twice a week to clean. The novel follows them through their senior year of high school, their college choices, and their student years, including an Erasmus year Marianne spends in Scandinavia. Their complex relationships, both romantic and platonic, reflect the confusion and uncertainties that young adults experience in their lives.

Relationships and friendships

Another important aspect of the New Adult genre is interpersonal relationships. “Normal People” revolves mainly around the relationship between Connell and Marianne, which ranges from friendship to romance to a complicated web of relationships.

Marianne is an outsider at school, super-bright but correspondingly arrogant in her behavior toward her classmates. However, because Connell often picks up his mother from work, he gets to see another private side of Marianne. They talk, learn to appreciate each other and sleep together. However, Connell makes a point of not letting anyone at school know about this because he sees his position within the class community at risk. A complicated relationship is thus inevitable.

Rooney sensitively describes the developments and stumbling blocks in their relationships, highlighting how these relationships affect the characters’ development.

Sexuality and Intimacy

A prominent feature of the New Adult genre is the portrayal of sexuality and intimacy. Rooney handles this subject in a remarkably realistic and profound way. She shows how Connell and Marianne discover and explore their sexuality without falling into cliché. The portrayal of sex in “Normal People” is not only physical but also emotional. The author shows the importance of communication, consent, and emotional connection in sexual relationships.

Self-discovery and identity development

A central motif in the New Adult genre is the search for identity and self-discovery. Connell and Marianne go through a profound development in “Normal People.” They learn who they are and who they want to be as they confront society’s expectations and their inner conflicts. This search for identity is an important aspect of growing up, which Rooney masterfully portrays.

Social issues and social criticism

The New Adult genre often offers the opportunity to highlight societal issues and social criticism. In “Normal People,” themes of social inequality, power structures, and mental health are subtly but effectively addressed. Rooney shows how characters’ social backgrounds affect their decisions and relationships.

Overall, “Normal People” by Sally Rooney does an impressive job of showing how the New Adult genre captures the complex world of young adults. The characters Connell and Marianne, their relationships, and how Rooney handles the subject of sexuality are finely crafted and reflect the characteristic building blocks of the genre. This novel offers not only a compelling story but also a profound reflection on the experiences and challenges of young adults in today’s world.

PS: Meanwhile, “Normal People” has been filmed as a series in 12 parts. The Series is available on hulu.

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