This study guide will help you analyze the novel Normal People (2018) by Sally Rooney. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective.
Our study guide also offer a comprehensive exploration of the characters and their interactions. The central characters of Normal People Marianne and Connell, are treated with particular depth in our study guides. We explore their evolving relationship and how their social circumstances, individual traumas, and personality traits shape their experiences and decisions.
The quotes from the study guide are taken from the 2019 paperback edition published by Faber & Faber.
Excerpt from the study guide:
Eventually, Connell starts dating Helen and at first, he avoids telling Marianne. When he tells her, Marianne is very upset, despite being in a relationship herself. This is perhaps because Marianne still sees herself as someone who is not worthy of Connell, and the fact that he is in a relationship with another girl proves this to her in her mind. She continues to enter toxic relationships and engage in self-destructive behaviors. In contrast, Connell is in a healthy and fulfilling relationship with Helen. Moreover, Connell appreciates that he feels normal with Helen: “He knew that he belonged with her. What they had together was normal, a good relationship. The life they were living was the right life” (p. 170).
When they meet again, Connell and Marianne show that despite their failed relationships, they understand each other and can connect with each other on an intimate level: “He senses a certain receptivity in her expression, like she’s gathering information about his feelings, something they have learned to do to each other over a long time, like speaking a private language” (p. 161).
Ultimately, Connell and Marianne only get to a point where they can happily be together once they both grow as individuals and learn what healthy relationships are like. Connell works on his anxiety over what people would think of him for dating Marianne and learns to be open and communicate with Marianne, while Marianne escapes her family’s abuse and begins to learn that Connell cares for her and she is not unlovable. The end of the book hints that Connell and Marianne might be starting to understand how to be together in a healthy and fulfilling way.