The Oxford Dictionary states obsession to be something or someone that you think about all the time which are clear characteristics in the novels protagonists. Hellers novel shows this through Barbara, an English Teacher, explicitly reciting every movement she remembers a colleague making and later protecting her despite the fact she has committed sexual actions with an underage student. Were having an affair states Sheba which is shocking especially as Connolly is a student of hers. Within society the noun affair is most often negatively connoted however especially in this case due to her abusing her authority as a teacher to find a sexual partner.
Due to Barbaras firm defence of Sheba, a reader is led to question whether Barbara has just friendly feelings for Sheba, the criminal, but maybe also a deeper attraction. Other readers may interpret this as obsession, due to Barrowcliffes quote, as it is clear that becoming involved with and defending a criminal allows Barbara to damage herself more.
In contrast, in Ishiguros novel it could be argued that Mr Stevens, an English butler, is more of a man lost in time as he has been unable to adapt to a post war society where his occupation has become pretty much obsolete. The rest of my life stretches out as an emptiness before me he forlornly says. Through the verb stretches Stevens makes his life seem almost worthless which is further implied by emptiness. Through this Ishiguro suggests that because of his obsession to his role he now feels like his life is worthless due to societies lack of need for occupations like his. This is as emptiness often implies that a person is feeling a sense of worthlessness and emotional despair. In a post war society Stevens still portrays himself as a 1920s butler despite time moving on. Due to his inability to adapt some may distinguish him as being obsessed with his profession as a result of his in depth analysis of his past life as a functioning butler. In the novels, obsession is shown in different ways, one being potentially less harmless than the other. This is as Stevens obsession only really affects himself in the end as he is left as a relic within society while Shebas actions have lasting effects on Connolly as a reader presumes he too will have to take punishment for his willing fullness in the relationship.