Back To School: Revisit These Classic Novels & Where They Take Place

Exploring the heart of novels we’ve all known and loved – and the locations that inspired them.

Back to School classics books
Photo by Gülfer ERGİN on Unsplash

With Autumn on the horizon, it’s easy to reminisce about the back-to-school season. These four classic novels have been renowned not only for their longevity and commentary on what it means to be human, but also as powerful stories worth revisiting in adulthood. From To Kill a Mockingbird to The Catcher in the Rye, these four back to school classics are shaped and guided by their locations – destinations you can visit today.

To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird via @two_lil_bookworms on Instagram

Taking place in fictional Maycomb, Alabama, Harper Lee’s classic American novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, follows young characters Jem and Scout Finch as well as their father, Atticus Finch. The story parallels Scout and Jem’s coming-of-age with Atticus’ decision to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of rape by a white woman. The overarching themes of To Kill a Mockingbird transcend the era in which it was written, and it is scored with significant commentary on racism and prejudice, morality and law, childhood and its loss.

This is a novel worth revisiting if not for its timelessness, for the fact that To Kill a Mockingbird is a potent literary reminder to stand up with one’s conscience with hope and belief in what we know is right. Today, Alabama has much to offer as a Southern United States travel destination, particularly for its camping opportunities at Gulf State Park, and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center located in Huntsville, where the center’s exhibits offer immersive and educational experiences to bring travelers closer to understanding our galaxy than ever before.

Lord of the Flies

Back to School Classics: Revisited
Lord of the Flies via @johnjosephconnelly via Instagram

William Goulding’s Lord of the Flies was rendered a classic for both its raw, shocking narrative following a group of British schoolboys as they attempt to govern themselves and survive on an uninhabited island, and for the themes that underscore it. Goulding’s work is powerful in an allegorical sense, as it examines the disparities groupthink and the individual and the relationship between power and corruption. Part of what makes Golding’s Lord of the Flies so striking to revisit is the perspective gained with distance from one’s own childhood. Reading Lord of the Flies as a teenager versus as an adult makes for a world of difference: we are able to conceptualize how young Ralph, Piggy, and Jack really are as they navigate and perpetuate a very adult conflict.

While Goulding never provides the name of the deserted island on which the boys are stranded, it can be inferred that the island is located in the Pacific Ocean, and the fauna and flora encountered there by the schoolboys is distinctly tropical. I tend to believe that the island Goulding references is one of the Hawaiian islands––but when you revisit Lord of the Flies, you can decide. Modern day Hawaii is renowned for its beautiful beaches as well as the distinct flora and fauna that comprise its breathtaking island landscape. Hawaii has a rich cultural history of its own, with a deep and profound value for the natural world; our abilities to care for the environment and one another. Whether for the hiking at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or to soak in the sun on Kaanapali Beach in Maui, Hawaii is an essential location on any travel bucket list.

The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye via @freshpagesbyea on Instagram

J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is known best for its iconic protagonist Holden Caulfield. Set in the 1950’s, the story is told by Holden as he traces the events of his past – specifically the days between the end of his fall school semester and Christmas. The narrative follows Holden from his boarding school in Pennsylvania to Manhattan, his home, where he visits long standing hotspots like Central Park and the Central Park Zoo.

The Catcher in the Rye is worth revisiting for its commentary on alienation, the realities and facades of the world surrounding us, and a healthy dosage of teenage angst. To read The Catcher in the Rye in adulthood is to reflect on the universality of being a teenager, and additionally for the reminder that navigating the world is not simple: we’re all doing the best we can. On your next trip to New York City, you can trace Holden Caulfield’s steps from Central Park to the American Museum of Natural History, to the Museum of Modern Art, to Central Park South Lagoon. New York city is renowned for its museum stops, standouts amongst the city’s cosmopolitan culture.

Moby Dick

Back to School Classics: Revisited
Moby Dick via @amysbooketlist on Instagram

Whether you’re familiar with the story or you’ve read the full text, Moby Dick, written by Herman Melville, is a narrative known far and wide. Moby Dick has been called a “Great American Novel”, and for good reason. At a surface level, the novel is absolutely about Ahab’s obsessive quest after giant sperm whale Moby Dick, who has dismembered Ahab below the knee. That said, this New England epic is about far more than whaling and adventure upon the high Atlantic seas: it traces the ideas of fate, human knowledge and its limits, and madness and devotion. With such compelling themes and gripping, immersive prose, Moby Dick is the sort of novel apt to make its readers think. While these concepts readily fuel lectures and essays, taking the time to contemplate the depth and concepts of Moby Dick in revisiting the story allows for an entirely new perspective, an unguided understanding of the novel. Furthermore, Melville makes important commentary on sociopolitical class structure throughout Moby Dick, examining the exploitative nature of the whaling industry in the 1840s. The historical significance of the novel, coupled with its epic tale and universal themes solidify Moby Dick as one of the best novels to revisit in adulthood.

Fans of Moby Dick and Herman Melville may choose to visit New England in a fashion aligned with the novel: from Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport to Massachusetts’ New Bedford Whaling Museum, to The Herman Melville House in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. While most of Moby Dick’s narrative takes place on the high seas, visiting these New England hotspots brings a new perspective and immersion to the novel, especially for their archival and historical prowess.

Juliana Riedman

Contributing Editor

A South shore Long Island Native, Juliana is scarcely seen without a book in hand. Whether on a plane or at the beach, her passion for reading is rivaled only by her drive to explore. From museum-hopping, coastal hiking to curling up with her cat; she is always seeking her next adventure - and her next good read.

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