top of page

Love in the Time of Capitalism: Analysing Sally Rooney’s Normal People

Young people today don’t communicate the way they used to. Differences in class and

communication styles have created formidable gaps to be bridged in order to form meaningful

relationships. No contemporary writer captures this dilemma better than Sally Rooney, which is

why her novel Normal People has resonated so strongly amongst young adult audiences.

Normal People follows Marianne and Connell, two young people coming of age together and

constantly drawn to one another. Their relationship becomes a formative force in both of their lives as they struggle to overcome their own damage and be better people for each other.

“It’s funny the decisions you make because you like someone, he says, and then your whole life is different. I think we’re at that weird age where life can change a lot from small decisions.”

Two of the dominant adversarial forces to their relationship are their families’ differing social

statuses and their inability to communicate in ways that display dependence or vulnerability. The frustrating, heartbreaking truth of this love story is the way these factors resurface time and again to create new rifts.

Rooney, known among fans as a self proclaimed Marxist, weaves political commentary expertly into her novels. Her characters are consistently abhorrent of their dependence on money while also acknowledging their almost perverse attraction to it, the way it shapes their everyday lives.

“That’s money, the substance that makes the world real. There’s something so corrupt and sexy about it.”

'Normal People' adaptation on BBC Three

Throughout Marianne and Connell’s relationship, money is a sinister presence lurking in the background. The couple meets initially because Marianne’s notoriously wealthy family employs Connell’s mother as a cleaner. Connell remains painfully aware of this fact throughout the story, insinuating that Marianne will inevitably end up married to a rich man, that she will never understand the hold money has over his life.

“For Marianne, who doesn’t pay her own rent or tuition and has no real concept of how much these things cost, [the scholarship is] just a matter of reputation. She would like her superior intellect to be affirmed in public by the transfer of large sums of money.”

When the pair is at their closest, money seems arbitrary and they feel more authentically

themselves than ever. But when they drift apart, social groupings and hierarchies take on higher importance and their inner selves become harder to express outwardly.

'Normal People' adaptation on BBC Three

“Life is the thing you bring with you inside your own head.”

There is a special and pervasive loneliness from both characters’ perspectives. This perceived isolation isn’t only strengthened by external divisions like social standing, but also from internal fears of expressing oneself and one’s needs. Vulnerability and communication are difficult for Rooney’s characters, who pride themselves on independence to a fault. Rooney’s tactical choice to eliminate quotation marks from her dialogue expertly and poetically displays the uncertainty in the characters’ interactions.

There’s a distance between young adults today. Money shapes identities and relationships in

impactful ways, and taboos around vulnerability have given way to conversations where nobody says what they really mean. Sally Rooney’s Normal People has skyrocketed to mass popularity because of its careful depiction of these themes. While the outlook for modern relationships may seem bleak, Marianne and Connell’s story is ultimately one of hope. It’s a story of two people who bridge these seemingly insurmountable distances to discover love in its purest form.

“Life offers up these moments of joy despite everything.”

Words by Alexa Lewis

(@blondeandabook on IG)

Edited by Lucy Eaton

(@llucyeaton on IG)


bottom of page