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Literature / Normal People

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Normal People is a 2018 novel by Sally Rooney. The story follows Irish millennials Marianne and Connell from their secondary school in County Sligo to Trinity College in Dublin as they fall in and out of each other's romantic lives.

The book was adapted into a 12-episode series that aired on BBC Three and Hulu in April 2020. It stars Daisy Edgar-Jones as Marianne and Paul Mescal as Connell.

Tropes present in Normal People include:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Published in 2018, the book takes place from 2011 to 2015, with an emphasis on the post-2008 financial crash backdrop.
  • Abusive Parents: Marianne says her father was abusive to her mother. The latter is the neglectful kind of abusive, allowing Alan to bully Marianne and being ignorant to her daughter's misery.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The book ends with Connell discovering he's been offered a scholarship to attend a university in New York, and Marianne encouraging him to pursue it. In the last episode of the show, this plot point is elongated, occurring before Christmas and eventually culminating in Connell choosing to attend. In the book, his choice is never confirmed. Neither the book nor the show reveal what becomes of Connell and Marianne's relationship.
  • Adaptational Context Change: In the show, Lukas initially seems interested in having a normal, loving relationship with Marianne, but she's not into the affection and asks Lukas to degrade her instead. He complies, but she ultimately changes her mind and leaves when her self worth hits rock bottom. In the book, this scene doesn't exist; Lukas was into it from the start and she's the one who complies because she has no self worth anyway. She breaks up with Lukas when he says he loves her, which repulses her.
  • Adapted Out: Both Joanna and Niall have partners in the book who are absent in the series. Connell's 58-year-old grandma also has a short passage at the beginning of the book that was not adapted into the show.
  • All for Nothing: Connell and Marianne trying to hide their relationship, much to the detriment of that relationship is rendered useless when Eric tells Connell at Debs that everyone already knew.
  • Ambiguous Ending: In the book more so than the series. See Adaptational Alternate Ending above.
  • Artistic License: Minor example in the series. The timeline is compressed slightly between Connell and Marianne taking their exams, and the debs, presumably for the sake of an international audience. In the UK and USA, prom is an end of year dance that happens before graduation. In Ireland however, the debs happen at the very end of the summer, generally after the Leaving Cert results come out.
  • Auto Erotica: Of the numerous times they have sex in the second episode, one of them takes place in the backseat of Connell's car.
  • Bondage Is Bad: Downplayed. Connell certainly thinks the particular way in which Marianne engages with BDSM is unhealthy, unsafe, and comes from a lack of self worth, and that in her desire to submit to men, she allows them to hurt and take advantage of her. She also seems to have some backwards ideas about what it means to be submissive, especially in the book. However, at the same time, Connell isn't necessarily right to pathologise her, and a history of abuse doesn't mean Marianne is incapable of Safe, Sane, and Consensual BDSM, or that it doesn't exist.
  • Cain and Abel: Alan towards Marianne as he openly resents her. His behavior gradually escalates into full on abuse, culminating in him slamming Marianne's door into her head, which is the point where Connell finally intervenes.
  • Calling Parents by Their Name: Connell often calls his mother by her given name Lorraine.
  • College Is "High School, Part 2": Averted. In school, Connell is the Big Man on Campus, while Marianne is seen as a bit of a weird loner. When they go to Trinity, she becomes one of the popular gang, while he has trouble fitting in.
  • Coming of Age Story: Begins in high school and continues through college.
  • Crush Blush: Marianne says that Connell can easily be misunderstood because he's constantly blushing and she notes that he's blushing even while talking to her. Considering that they both have unaddressed feelings for each other, it is implied his blushing is more this.
  • Disappeared Dad: Both Marianne and Connell; Marianne's father died and given that Lorraine had Connell as a teenager, it is assumed his father was never in the picture.
  • Driven to Suicide: Connell's friend Rob commits suicide towards the end of the series.
  • Eating Lunch Alone: Marianne does this at the school's cafeteria to emphasize how much of a social pariah she is.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: The sexual lives of Connell and Marianne are explored in the second episode of the series, which has many sex scenes. The last scene of the episode even has Marianne offering to do it with him in an abandoned house.
  • Everybody Knew Already: The tragedy to Marianne and Connell's first relationship is revealed when Eric tells Connell at debs that they all knew he and Marianne were sleeping together. This makes Connell's decision to take Rachel to debs instead of Marianne to hide his relationship with her, which destroys their relationship, completely pointless.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: In school, Marianne wears her hair down to her waist and often tied back in a modest braid, and her bangs are cut short in a harsh line. By the time Connell runs into her in college, where she's become more confident in herself, her hair has shortened considerably and she wears it down with longer, less 'uptight' bangs.
  • First Kiss: Connell and Marianne share their first in the first episode after Marianne confesses to him. It's also Marianne's first kiss ever.
  • Grass is Greener: Connell, now a first year at Trinity, feels awkward and isolated in the wealthier and more educated environment, filled with people who are much more forthright in their opinions than him. So when he visits his friend Rob back in Sligo, he casually muses whether his friend made the right choice staying in Sligo. Rob scoffs at the idea immediately and tells Connell to enjoy his time living in the big city. And from the conversation, it is clear that Rob thinks Connell is living the better life.
  • Hate Sink:
    • Jamie is rude to everyone, complains about feminism repeatedly, is a complete Strawman in every argument, displays subtle racism and generally seems to hate everything. As he's also Marianne's Romantic False Lead, he doesn't hold back attacking Connell.
    • Peggy is obnoxious, Does Not Like Men, has No Sympathy when Connell gets mugged and takes Jamie's side when he's being an asshole in Spain - victim blaming Marianne.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Connell acknowledges in his therapy session that he's been feeling pretty dissatisfied with life for a while, but Rob's suicide completely breaks him.
    • His friend revealing that they all knew he and Marianne were at the very least hooking up at Debs causes Connell to have a breakdown in the middle of the street, as he realizes that all of his social anxiety about the relationship and the pain he caused Marianne was All for Nothing.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Joanna in the book was confirmed to be in a relationship with another woman. A scene was filmed showing this but cut from the broadcast.
  • Hourglass Plot: In school, Connell is the popular one and Marianne is the loner. Marianne later finds her niche among the upper-middle-class students at Trinity whilst Connell is a Fish out of Water.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Marianne feels out of place in school next to the more obviously beautiful Rachel. Connell has to reassure her he finds her pretty. She's even surprised when he calls her beautiful in college.
  • I Can't Believe a Guy Like You Would Notice Me: Marianne has shades of this. She's pretty upfront about her attraction to Connell while he is more reserved. Even while they are in the middle of having sex for the first time, she wonders why he's here as there are plenty of girls more attractive than her who have told him they like him. Connell brushes it off by saying that he's not sure about all of that, just that he knows he likes talking with her.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation:
    • Marianne is highly intelligent and knows it, challenging even her teachers publicly in class if she feels so inclined. This has made her unable to connect with her peers in high school and has made her into a friendless loner. She doesn't break out of this until she goes off to Trinity where she is finally surrounded by more like-minded people.
    • Connell seeks to defy this trope in part by somewhat downplaying his own intelligence around his peers. Doing so, allows him to blend in and remain social and popular in high school. However, when he goes to Trinity, this ends up biting him in the ass when he realizes his tendency to stay quiet makes it hard for him to connect with his new classmates.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: The Irish variant. Both Marianne and Connell study at Trinity College - the most prestigious university in the country.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Marianne's classmates are casually cruel to her and assume she's a weirdo because she doesn't really have any friends in school.
  • Longing Look: Done a lot by Marianne towards Connell in the pilot to indicate her attraction to him.
  • Lovable Jock: Connell is one of the few decent athletic boys at the school.
  • Love Confession:
    • In the first episode, Marianne bluntly tells Connell that she likes him, which catches him off guard. When he goes to her house to pick up his mom later, he asks her what kind of like she meant, before initiating a kiss with her when she clarifies it was romantic and that they could keep their relationship a secret from their classmates.
    • In the second episode, Marianne more or less confesses her love for Connell by telling him she would let him do anything to her after he allows his friends to publicly berate and shame her. The reserved Connell later tells Marianne plainly that he loves her too.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: In the TV adaptation, Connell's penis is briefly shown when he's lying nude after one of the times he and Marianne have sex.
  • Manly Tears: Averting and subverting this trope helps make Connell a compelling character.
    • Subverted when Connell goes to a therapist towards the end of the series after his high school friend Rob commits suicide. At first he's crying over the loss of his friend, but as he speaks it's clear he's crying over just how lost and out of place he feels in school and his inability to share those sentiments with anyone around him.
    • Averted when Connell breaks down crying over the phone after the debs when he realises how much he misses Marianne, which is something not typically covered under "manly."
  • Monochrome Casting: Done intentionally in the series, where the portions in rural Sligo have a majority of white characters with only the occasional person of colour in the background. This contrasts with the Dublin scenes, where characters of other ethnicities and nationalities feature more prominently.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Connell, a handsome young man, is shown in many shirtless scenes during or after having sex with Marianne, along with once fully nude.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Marianne is pretty, and is shown topless many times while having sex with Connell or otherwise, plus once entirely naked.
  • Pet the Dog: One of Connell's school friends is a bit of a Jerkass and bully towards Marianne, but he and Connell meet for drinks after college starts and he admits he misses him.
  • Precision F-Strike: Lorraine drops several f-bombs while giving Connell a "Reason You Suck" Speech regarding his treatment of Marianne. He's especially uncomfortable because she's using the world in a sexual context.
  • Romantic False Lead:
    • Rachel, who's something of an Alpha Bitch, ends up as Connell's date for his debs (Irish version of the prom), which puts an end to his relationship with Marianne. By the time they run into each other in college, Rachel had briefly become his girlfriend but they split up entirely offscreen.
    • Gareth, Marianne's first boyfriend at Trinity, is tossed aside almost as soon as Marianne reconnects with Connell.
    • Jamie who Marianne starts seeing in college after a misunderstanding between her and Connell.
    • Helen, Connell's girlfriend for a portion of the book, breaks up with him a few weeks after Rob's funeral. She knows that Connell is carrying a torch for Marianne the entire time.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: An interesting example in which the novel leans more towards Team Reason, written in a cerebral, detached way, while the series leans more towards Team Emotion. The series almost completely removes the intellectual pondering prevalent throughout the novel (possibly because it would be difficult to translate to screen), and instead focuses on the characters' emotional journeys.
  • Secret Relationship: In secondary school, Connell and Marianne's relationship is kept secret. Connell thinks it'll be awkward, as he's a popular jock while she's at the bottom of the food chain, so he fears judgment and losing his social standing. However, after he breaks Marianne's heart, his friends reveal that they knew all along and didn't care.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: A comparison is drawn between the two leads. Connell is from working class roots, is extremely uncomfortable around his posh Trinity peers and has to work two jobs to both afford tuition and accommodation. Marianne is the daughter of a solicitor, comes into her own surrounded by posh intellectuals and has everything paid for her by her family.
  • Straw Feminist:
    • Subverted. Marianne has strong feminist beliefs in school but is portrayed realistically.
    • On a surface level, Peggy delights when a man is put in his place and seems to delight in humiliating awkward men. However, it's Zig-Zagged, as Peggy has no issue excusing Jamie's awful behaviour and tries to pressure Marianne into staying with him after an altercation.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: In high school, Connell is on friendly terms with a young-ish English teacher of his named Ms. Neary. Ever perceptive, Marianne picks up on this a casually taunts Connell with it, asking if he's having an affair with her, something he vehemently rejects. When he returns back to Sligo after going off to college, Ms. Neary hits on him, much to his discomfort.
  • Their First Time: Connell and Marianne sleep together for the first time in the second episode. From the filming it is made quite apparent that this is an emotionally intense experience for them both. After they've broken up the first time, they later discuss how sex with other people is just not the same as it is between them.
  • Uptown Girl: Connell's mother is the Sheridans' housekeeper.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Connell is often shirtless or even completely naked. The series turned Paul Mescal into a sex symbol.