January 31, 2013
Walking down the hallway seemed never ending. The dim flickering lights created an eerie feeling that I couldn’t shake. The dull humming of the machines infested my mind. All I could think of is this horrid place that I will have to look forward too. These sounds, images, and thoughts brought on feelings of isolation. Similar to the element of isolation created in the literary works of Wordsworth, Gilman, and Hawthorne. All three literary works express the element of isolation through specific objects and imagery. The speaker and protagonist’s obsessions ultimately lead to their downfalls.
In William Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” the speaker isolates himself by comparing himself to a “lonely cloud that floats high o’er the vales and hills” (lines 1-2). This imagery isolates the speaker because the cloud is wandering alone, by itself, high above everyone and everything else. The speaker also brings the reader’s into his atmosphere when he says, “For oft, when on my couch I lie in vacant or in pensive mood, they flash upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude”(lines 21-24). This gives the reader’s insight into the actions and feelings of the speaker. The speaker tells the readers of his actions “I lie vacant” and “flash upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude” these quotes, communicate the loneliness and isolation of the speaker.
In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story The Yellow Wallpaper the protagonist is isolated by her obsession with the wallpaper that is hung in the nursery. Her mind obsesses over the rips and tears in the old, faded, paper. “The color is repellent, almost revolting: a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others” (398). The protagonist is so intrigued by the paper and the shapes it casts that she stares and lets the paper take over her thoughts. She studies the paper and counts it’s every tear, torn, and discoloration until she has memorized it. Her sickly obsession quickly turned into hallucinations and distortions. “I didn’t realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind that dim sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman. By daylight she is subdued, quiet, I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still. It is so puzzling. It keeps me quite by the hour ” (394). This quote describes how the protagonist’s obsession has shifted into distortions and hallucinations. She is creating pictures in her head to help her escape the isolation, loneliness, and eeriness of the house that she is stuck in. Her obsession and distortion has given her something to keep her mind busy. Unfortunately, creating the illusion of the woman and the built up isolation leads the protagonist to her downfall, which she exclaims at the end of the story “I’ve got out at last” (398).
Similarly, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story The Birthmark also has an element of isolation derived from the Aylmer’s, the protagonist, obsession with his wife’s birthmark. Comparable to The Yellow Wallpaper Aylmer can only think about this birthmark. Seeing the birthmark on his wife changes how he feels towards her. He feels that “this one defect grow more and more intolerable with every moment of their united lives. It was the fatal flaw of humanity which Nature, in one shape or another, stamps ineffaceably on all her productions, either to imply that they are temporary and finite, or that their perfection must be wrought by toil and pain” (468). The quote presents the readers with Aylmer’s feelings, which show how he cannot fathom the imperfection on his wife. This drives him mad because it is “intolerable” and a “fatal flaw” of Georgiana. His obsession with the birthmark leads him into isolation, which places a barrier between Aylmer and Georgiana and leads to her death.
One service project that I have participated in was helping at a nursing home. The feelings that I expressed in the introductory paragraph were the feelings that I experienced when I walked through the doors for the first time. I as observed my surroundings I felt uncomfortable and sad. I did not want to be placed in a home like that when I got older. Everything looked bland, colorless, and ordinary. It reminded me of a hospital and it put me in a dreary mood. Many of the people I worked with had gone through loss of their own. Being in the nursing home and seeing the elder people brought feelings of isolation. I felt upset for the people who had to live in this home. During my service I did everything in my power to try and bring some happiness and liveliness back to the elderly living in the nursing home. We would play games, sing songs, and listen to each other’s stories. By the end of my service my thoughts had changed. Walking down the hallway I didn’t have eerie feelings but rather feelings of familiarity and the good memories I had made with the people living there.
The three literary pieces and my service all connected through the element of isolation. The protagonist’s of the short stories and the speaker of the poem all experienced and showed signs of isolation just as I did walking in the nursing home for the first time. In the literary works, the characters were brought down by their isolation leading them to misfortune and death. In my case, I decided to overcome the isolation and bring happiness and life back into the elderly living in the nursing home.