To be lonely is often an easy thing to deal with, but being alone is another matter in itself. To understand this, one must comprehend the difference between loneliness and isolation versus being alone. Being alone means you are not in the company of anyone else, you are the only one present. Loneliness is a complex and unpleasant emotional response of feelings of isolation, and can happen at anywhere, anytime. Feelings of isolation affect all types and ages of people, targeting the elderly and adolescents. According to many texts we have read in class such as: Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin, A Rose For Emily by William Faulkner, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Johnathon Safran Foer, loneliness is caused by feelings of not being able to escape and reach freedom and feelings of isolation. These novels deal with isolation, by forcing the main characters to abandon their own ideals and learn who they are without their family to guide them. People being forced to abandon their faith and ideals, without guidance from others, pressures them to either gain freedom by facing their isolation and grief, or they risk loosing their sense of reality by never coping with hardships life brings.
Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin is a powerful story about a woman, named Louise Mallard who has just received the news that her husband has passed away in a tragic train wreck. Mrs. Mallard reacts like any grieving widow, she is clearly upset and rushes to her bedroom to escape the people around her. At first, she doesn’t consciously allow herself to reach freedom without her husband. The knowledge reaches her symbolically by repetition of the word “open”. The open window and the open square in front of her house emphasizes opportunities and lack of restrictions without others to help her. While in her room, the readers get to see a completely different side of her. Louise in some sense feels happy, she is fond of the freedom she gains from her husband’s death. The main character becomes suddenly relieved by the thought of freedom from marriage and slavery associated with love. Mrs. Mallard is described as a wife that abandoned herself throughout marriage. The husband is described as being happy with the marriage, despite the fact that his wife views the marriage as toxic. Now that her husband passes away, Louise Mallard is happy because she is now alone? Or is Mrs. Mallard truly upset that her husband has passed?
Chopin states, “she said it over and over under the breath: “free, free, free!” The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body, (Chopin 1). For the first time, the audience gets to experience the protagonist showing a different side to her character; behind closed doors Mrs. Mallard can truly express what she is feeling, without feeling guilty around her family and friends. As Louise begins to feel happiness, she becomes fearful and tries to beat it with her will power, but the force is too powerful to ignore. Once the main character allows herself to overcome this fear, she finds her desire for self-determination and her uncomprehending stare becomes replaced by a smile and acceptance. In one of the most critical passages of the story, Chopin describes Louise’s vision of this new found freedom as not about retting rid of her husband, but about taking control of her own life. While Louise’s joy is closely related to her status as a women in the 19th century, it is important that this story doesn’t apply its ideals to just women, in a time period of feminism. Chopin writes “there would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a will upon a fellow-creature,” (Chopin 2). Louise believes that now her husband is dead, there is no one to force obedience, now all that matters to her is that she can achieve freedom. Past ties and expectations that were of cruel nature are revealed as shackles that have been isolating her, even the love of a good person keeps one from gaining freedom. Chopin believes that it is both men and women who lack freedom, and steal it from one another.
Towards the end of the story, just before Louise leaves her bedroom, she begins to illuminate the extent of her life. “She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long,” (Chopin 2). Before Brently Mallard’s death, Louise views her life as being destructive, visioning years of dull and unchanging independence. The “shudder” she once experiences is full of dread and hatred, that becomes replaced and evolves into a life worth living. The main character was hoping her life would be cut short before the death of Brently, but after his death she is now praying for a long, happy life. Rather than associating loneliness with dread, this isolation is what Louise anticipates in the future. Once Louise leaves her bedroom at the end of the story, she is greeted with her husband who walks in alive and well. Upon seeing Mr. Mallard who believes his wife will be eager to see him, Louise “died of heart disease — of joy that kills,” (Chopin 2). The audience immediately recognizes this irony, and it seems clear that her shock isn’t over joy of her husband’s arrival, but rather the shock that she must return to her dreadful life and cherish her own freedom. She briefly experiences joy- the joy of imaging a life in her full charge and control; it was the removal of that intense feeling of joy that led to her death. Louise was able to escape her isolation by facing the grief of her lost husband, but once he came back she is forced to give up her freedom. This same idea of losing your sense of freedom is depicted in, A Rose For Emily by William Faulkner.
Isolation dominates the life of seventy four-year old Emily Grierson in, A Rose For Emily by William Faulkner, in 1931. The main character, Emily, lives under the control of her father who thinks no man is good enough for his daughter. Emily’s father is in charge of her life pushing away anyone who comes near his daughter, and forces Emily to live like this for years until his abrupt death. After the death of her father, Emily is left with nothing but bad memories and states, “we remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will ” (Faulkner 370). Due to the fact that her father pushes every man away from her before his death, Emily is left alone after his passing. Loneliness “can occur during life transitions such as the death of a loved one, a divorce or a move to a new place,” (Novotney, 2019). Emily soon isolates herself from others because she is used to living with her dad which causes her to become lonely and change her attitude towards men. At this point in American history, women were general known by their role of wife and mother, something Emily was unable to achieve. Because of this, the town felt sympathy for Emily’s loneliness. Also, out of respect for Emily’s late and well-regarded father, the county allows Emily to not pay taxes.
Emily didn’t talk to men for a while, until she comes across a handsome man by the name of Homer Baron, a man of color. Homer Baron is a northerner who claims he has no intention of marriage, and plans to remain a bachelor forever; he is often seen at the bar talking to young men which questions his sexuality. “A key part of feeling lonely is feeling rejected, and that, it turns out, is the most damaging part,” (Shulevitz, 2013). The women of the town begin to say Emily and Homer riding around town with no intention of marriage was, “disgrace to the town and a bad example to the young people,” (Faulkner 371). In the 1930s, women were seen as being role models and mothers, while having a husband that was of their class. Without Emily solidifying her relationship, the society which she lives in begins to loose sympathy and gain hatred for the main character’s ways of life. The town soon becomes worried being that she is ruining her father’s honor by dating a guy beneath her, and Emily responds by going to the store to buy poison. After this, Emily is not seen leaving her house for over six months, showing that the actions of her own town now shunning her, leads to her isolation from the world. Her hair turns gray, she gains weight, and she dies in the darkness of her basement that is not illuminated for years. Upon hearing of her death, the towns people go to Emily’s house and breakdown the door of her bedroom, revealing a gruesome scene. They find the presents Emily ever got Homer, and on the bed they find the rooting corpse of Homer Baron next to an indentation that contains a faint, gray hair. This gray hair indicates that Emily has been lying down, next to the corpse of her dead boyfriend up until her death where the insanity took over her life. The main character did not want to be alone with nothing, just like after her father’s death, that they only way she could escape her loneliness was by killing her only true love. This same idea of losing your sense of freedom is also displayed in, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Johnathon Safran Foer
Foer’s novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, is written using very casual language to describes the life of a boy named Oskar Schnell who loose his father, Thomas Schnell, in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Oskar is characterized as being extremely curious, and his childhood innocence leads him to observe, question, and comment on everything he experiences and witnesses. Oskar finds himself constantly throughout the novel struggling to cope with feelings of grief and pain, being that he is traumatized by the fact he missed 5 phone calls from his dad on the day of his death, and refuses to tell anyone he was too afraid to answer. Oskar spends the whole novel trying to figure out why and how his dad exactly died by traveling across the country with a key that was found in Thomas’s closet. Oskar discovers this key in the back of his father’s closet in an even lope labelled “Black” inside a blue vase; he soon plans an expedition to explode New York City in search of answers. The protagonist wears this key around his neck for the rest of the novel, putting a Band-Aid on his heart when he gets irritated symbolizing his protection from grief. One of the main things Oskar wants to do is “spend his Saturdays and Sundays finding all of the people named Black and learn what they know about the key in the vase in Dad’s closet” (Foer, 51). Since Oskar wants to know about his father, he searches for every possible answer reliving the day of his father’s death over and over in his mind.
As Oskar’s expedition progresses, the search for the missing lock distracts him from his grief and allows him to stay connected to his father. However, his motivation to find the missing lock shifts from preserving his father’s memory to proving his love. “I got heavy boots because I was reminded me of the lock that I still hadn’t found, and how until I found it, I didn’t love dad enough” (Foer 251). The main character believes because he didn’t answer the phone calls- from his father on the tragic day, he needs to push himself to find the lock to relieve himself from the feelings of guilt. However, upon Oskar’s expedition, he is finally forced to face society alone.
As Oskar travels around New York City, he meets every person with the last name “Black” in alphabetical order. Along his journey, Oskar is forced to face his fears by traveling across bridges, and riding the subway. Halfway through the novel, Oskar recounts his father’s story of the Sixth Borough, which symbolizes the protagonist’s struggle in society during the aftermath of the dreadful terrorist attack. Osker’s vivid imagination and extreme levels of anxiety and stress make it difficult for him to form friends making him isolated form the outside world; many of his bystanders poke fun at him making it hard for Oskar for maintain his confidence. He states “the high bridges between Manhattan and the Sixth Bourough strains and finally crumbled, one at a time, into the water,” (Foer 189). The collapse of the bridge symbolizes Thomas Schnell’s attempt to help Oskar fit into society. Without his father’s guidance, Oskar feels abandoned and alone, slowly drowning below the surface of society, just like the Sixth Borough. When Oskar encounters William Black, the owner of expedition for the missing lock, he realizes that you must be able to learn to let go.
When Oskar discovers that Mr. Black owns the box he doesn’t wish to discover the contents, after searching for months for answers due to his own fear of its belongings. The protagonist expresses his feelings of guilt and anxiety to Mr. Black after upon learning that he also tragically lost his father. In one of the most important moments in the story, Oskar finally reveals to someone that he didn’t answer the phone calls from his dad on the day of his death. William Black is the key in opening Oskar’s heart to deal with the isolation he feels by expressing, “do you forgive me?” “Do I forgive you?” “For not being able to pick up?” “For not being able to tell anyone.” He said, “I do,” (Foer 302). Mr. Black reassures to Oskar that he shouldn’t feel guilty for not picking up the telephone, and he is allowed to be scared to face the reality that Thomas is gone. This act of forgiveness is what opens Oskar’s heart, and the key and lock are not what are physically opened, but rather they open Oskar emotionally. Even though Oskar doesn’t receive the actual answers on how his father died, his relationship with Mr. Black enables him to cope and reminds him that it is okay to be scared in life. At the end of the story, Oskar rips of the Band-Aid that was placed on his heart after finding the key, showing that it is okay the let go of the past, and everyone will heal with time.
All of these authors come from a time period where grief was very difficult, no matter the year. Chopin and Faulkner both come from a time where women are seen as living at home, and taking on distinct gender roles and stereotypes, it was hard to gain your freedom. Foer comes from a time period when the 9-11 terrorist attacks struck the American society forever, many people didn’t know how to deal with their unexpected losses of their loved ones. All of these authors wrote specific books on their experiences like, Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin, A Rose For Emily by William Faulkner, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Johnathon Safran Foer. These novels deal with isolation, by forcing the main characters to abandon their own ideals and learn who they are without their family to guide them. People are forced to abandon their faith and ideals, without guidance from others, forces them to either gain freedom by facing their isolation and grief, or they lose their sense of reality by never coping with hardships life brings. “It is estimated that over 40% of us will feel the aching pangs of loneliness at some point in our lives,” (Winch, 2014). The only way for us to deal with the pain with feel, is to face it head on and understand that it is okay to feel lonely, and it is something we all must except.
- Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. 1894.
- Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily. 1930.
- Shulevitz, Judith. “The Lethality of Loneliness.” The New Republic, 13 May 2013, newrepublic.com/article/113176/science-loneliness-how-isolation-can-kill-you.
- Novotony, Amy. “Social Isolation: It Could Kill You.” Monitor on Pscyhology, vol. 50, May 2019, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/05/ce-corner-isolation.
- Safran-Foer, Jonathon. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. 2005.
- Winch, Guy. “10 Surprising Facts About Loneliness.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 2014, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201410/10-surprising-facts-about-loneliness.