Sociological novel: A novel detailing the prevailing societal — economic, political, and social — conditions during the period in which the work is set. Sociological novels, which are sometimes called problem novels, social novels, or thesis novels, typically illustrate — and thus expose — a particular social problem, such as inequality, poverty, racism, sexism, social stratification, or poor working conditions. Sociological novels that are more didactic and put a premium on advocating social or political change may be called social protest novels or even propaganda novels.
EXAMPLES: Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton (1848), Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), Charles Dickens’s Hard Times (1854), Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862), Émile Zola’s Germinal (1885), Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906), John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939), Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940). Contemporary examples include Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (2001); The Swallows of Kabul (2005), written by Algerian army officer Mohammed Moulessehoul under the nom de plume Yasmina Khadra; Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day (2008), which addresses the 1919 strike of the Boston police union; and Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins mystery series (1990— ), which documents life in the Watts neighborhood of South Central L.A.