Isolation Has Been a Frequent Research Paper

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Isolation has been a frequent topic of literature and fiction, but it developed into a distinct and crucial theme over the latter half of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, as political and technological developments rapidly diminished the status and influence of the individual in the face of overwhelming economic, political, and social forces. Of course, by definition writing is something of a solitary experience, but the dramatic changes which occurred over this period, especially in areas like Eastern Europe and Russia, which did not exhibit the opulent wealth of the West, seemed to precipitate a special consideration of isolation that acknowledged its peculiar connection to boredom, shame, and active oppression. By considering how Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground, Anton Chekhov's "The Man in a Case" and "The Lady with the Lapdog," and Franz Kafka's the Trial deal with the topic of isolation, one is able to see the various ways in which society isolates the individual, whether through disempowering them socially or politically, through the internalization of shame as a means of behavioral control, or through the direct, oppressive application of legal and physical force when internalized methods of isolation will no longer suffice.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Research Paper on Isolation Has Been a Frequent Topic of Assignment

To begin this study, it is worth mentioning that the first text under discussion, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground, has only ever been available to the public in a censored form as a result of the very same political and social pressures that contributed to its representation of isolation in the first place. The book is divided into two parts, with the first being a kind of extended diatribe or monologue, and it is this portion that, according to Dostoyevsky, government censors altered substantially. The changes were so great that Dostoyevsky wrote "the misprints are horrendous; it would have been better not to print the next-to-last chapter at all (the most important one, where the idea of the work is itself expressed) than print it as it is, that is, with many deleted phrases and self-contradictions" (Dostoyevsky qtd. In Rosenshield 324). When reading the chapter in question, one can see that Dostoyevsky's criticisms are not without merit, because the Underground Man (as the narrator has been dubbed by critics) seems to arrive very near an important point regarding the reason for his dissatisfaction without ever fulling broaching it. Nevertheless, considering this chapter, as well as the concluding chapter to Part I, will allow one to better understand how the novel represents the narrator's isolation and the reasons for it, even if those reasons are never given full expression.

In the penultimate chapter of Part I, the Underground Man criticizes "a palace of crystal that can never be destroyed," a reference to Nikolay Chernyshevsky's What is to be done? And other texts that posited idealized, utopian possibilities for political and social organization (Dostoyevsky 30, Rosenshield 333). The Underground Man rejects this idealized image because it is "a palace at which one will not be able to put out one's tongue or make a long nose on the sly," or, in other words, it cannot be rejected, mocked, or otherwise diminished by the individual, but instead stands firmly above human desire or agency (Dostoyevsky 30-31). While this chapter is of course more difficult to analyze due to its censored message, one can at least observe that the Underground Man is almost terrified of the political possibilities he sees before him because they represent a kind of political organization unassailable by the individual, to the point that, as he remarks later, "the long and short of it is, […] it is better to do nothing!" (Dostoyevsky 31-32).

This line begins the final chapter of Part I, and introduces the Underground Man's overarching philosophy of "conscious inertia," wherein he isolates himself because his action is essentially meaningless; in the face of unassailable, indifferent political and social organizations, the individual might as well exist motionless, in a vacuum, because his or her actions have no bearing on the surrounding world (Dostoyevsky 32). Thus, isolation in Dostoyevsky's novel is simultaneously imposed and self-maintained, because the Underground Man finds himself initially isolated from society, but his attempts to effect any sort of change (such as his "revenge" on the officer or his conversations with Liza) only serve to reinforce his isolation by demonstrating that he, even without any "crystal palace," he is ultimately unable to put his tongue out at society.

In two of his short stories, Anton Chekhov examines isolation with something of a finer grain, demonstrating how the psychological experience of shame is one of the means by which society imposes isolation on the individual. Shame is a complex emotion, and relates not only to "a fear of ridicule," which connotes an external application, but also "a failure to live up to one's ego ideals," which connotes an internal element (Sperber 175). Shame is so effective as a means of isolating the individual precisely because it contains elements of both; that is to say, it represents an internal chastisement at a failure to live up to external standards of behavior. In Chekhov's "The Man in a Case" and "The Lady with the Lapdog," the defining feature of the central characters are their isolation born out of some internal shame, with Belikov isolating himself physically as well as figuratively in the former, and Gurov isolating himself through his unhappiness at his life.

One may understand how Belikov's isolation is born out of shame by noting how many layers of protection he maintains between himself, his belongings, and the world. Belikov "had a case for his umbrella, and a case for his watch made of gray suede, and when he took out his penknife to sharpen his pencil even that had a little case" ("The Man in a Case" 134). The narrator goes on to describe how this tendency is further evidenced in Belikov's features and mannerisms, such that Belikov's peculiar isolation is reiterated through his "style of dress, mode of interaction with others, vocational choice, dwelling-type, its locale, and so on" (Sperber 176). Belikov struggles with his isolation from his colleagues and students until he essentially dies from shame after someone draws a caricature of him, having "preferred to have broken his neck and both his legs to being made a laughing-stock" (Chekhov 144).

The interesting thing about Belikov is that his isolation, and subsequent shame, comes not from the society around him, but rather from his faulty internalization of what he imagines that society's standards to be. That he has a skewed image of what constitutes proper behavior or demeanor is evident when he worries about the caricature, thinking "the whole town would know now, it would get to the principal and the school trustee -- oh and where might it all lead! -- someone would draw a new cartoon, and it would end in him being asked to submit his resignation..." (Chekhov 144). Belikov is unable to effectively navigate the social world and so he builds up a number of rigid standards for himself in order to feel less isolated, but this only serves to isolate him more. The caricature is a relatively small matter, but because Belikov has internalized what he imagines to be the standards of society, it absolutely destroys his sense of self-worth and any connection he has to others.

Gurov, the central character in "The Lady with the Lapdog," is not nearly as neurotic as Belikov, but he nevertheless embodies the kind of isolated individual suffering from "the poison of toxic shame" because for much of the story, he is seemingly unable to confront the reality of his attraction to Anna (Sperber 188). However, unlike Belikov, he begins by attempting to push this shame onto Anna. For example, after first meeting her, Gurov thinks "there is, after all, something vaguely pathetic about her," when in reality, he is arguably the more pathetic of the two; while Anna is young, possibly naive, and unhappy with her life, Gurov is the one who has failed to actually realize love or happiness despite his advanced age, and he is not even able to truly recognize what he feels for Anna until after they have both suffered ("The Lady with the Lapdog" 409). Both characters feel isolated from their respective spouses and the world around them, but Gurov unnecessarily perpetuates this isolation through his own shame at his position in life, shame that he first attempts to pass off onto Anna before coming to terms with it by the end of the story. While "The Lady with the Lapdog" ends on a somewhat hopeful note (or at least more hopeful than Notes from Underground or "The Man in a Case"), it nevertheless reiterates how shame functions as a kind of public-private cooperative, working to isolate the individual through his or her internalized standards of behavior and thought.

The final text to be discussed here, Franz Kafka's the Trial, includes the most explicit depiction of how society can isolate the individual, because it focuses on the way society,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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