Isolation in American Literature the Term Paper
- Length: 11 pages
- Subject: Family and Marriage
- Type: Term Paper
- Paper: #13731057
Excerpt from Term Paper :
The mere fact that these people interact as much as they do is a sign of the blurring of class signs. Also, the image of Gatsby as essentially nouveau riche, is itself a statement indicating interclass mobility. Unlike Steinbeck's story, Fitzgerald's is much more concerned with individual prejudices and stereotypes. In Gatsby, the prejudgments are of the working class against the leisured class. The work also speaks to the utter aimlessness of someone like Gatsby - a man who lives it seems, just for the sake of inoffensive pleasure, but who, at the same time, contributes nothing to the overall society. The unbelievable disconnect between Gatsby's set, and the rest of humanity is captured in an offhand remark of one of his guests, who just happened to find himself in the library, "I've been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library."
As a tangible collection of real-world knowledge, what better metaphor for the unreality of Gatsby's world than that of a library? It is also significant that the library can be found at Gatsby's - the real world is never far away from the world of make-believe.
That both these worlds exist, in a sense side-by side, or one over the other, reveals how different Gatsby is from the Joads, or the people who harass and oppress them.
Gatsby was not to born to wealth - he is a self-made man. While his family is represented as having been shabby genteel, clearly Gatsby himself had not originally possessed any great wealth. In social terms, much of the Great Gatsby focuses on the frivolity of the very rich, on a subculture that lives to have fun. The "Middle America" from which the Gatsby actually came did not endorse such a lifestyle. The stern Protestant Work Ethic ruled the lives of people like Tom and Daisy. It was an ideal that valued hard work above all else, favored carefully managing one's money and resources, and condemned conspicuous display. There is nor real indication that Gatsby harbors any ill will toward those less fortunate than himself. In fact, one might almost be excused for thinking that, in all his frivolity, he is essaying to dull the memories of what must have not been a very pleasant youth. The ridiculousness of Gatsby's ostentation, and most significantly, the meaninglessness of it all is seen in a description of Myrtle's tiny New York apartment, "Furnished with a set of tapestried furniture entirely too large for it, so that to move about was to stumble continually over scenes of ladies swinging in the gardens of Versailles."
In attempting to re-create Versailles - the very type of a European royal palace - Myrtle has instead created the ludicrous. Versailles, and the lifestyle it represented, was appropriate only in a very particular setting, and to a very particular class, and way of thinking. Myrtle, is Gatsby in microcosm. The harsh judgment of her residence is therefore a criticism of Gatsby as well. In a very real sense, Gatsby is about people being isolated from reality.
Gatsby takes the idea of isolation a considerable step further than Steinbeck did in his story. If Gatsby and his class sin, it is by omission. They are not trying to oppress or overburden others - they just don't think about them. And once more, this lack of concern for one's fellow beings derives, not from a genuine callousness, but from a sense of being so completely absorbed in oneself, that there is no place for anyone else. This near total isolation, couple with a near total self-absorption permits Gatsby to concoct a life story that, while perhaps true, is embellished to such an extent that one is not sure of how much is fact, and how fiction. On their drive to New York, Gatsby tells Nick about his past, "collecting jewels, chiefly rubies, hunting big game, painting a little, things for myself only, and trying to forget something very sad that happened to me long ago."
There is not a mention of another living, breathing human being. Gatsby lives for himself, and for no one else - except if his allusion to "something very sad" is in fact a reference to another person. Of course, we know that this "something sad" is, in reality, his love for Daisy, he does not in those words give her even a truly human quality. What the self-made millionaire lacks, might well be another gem, or another trophy, or another thrill.
Much of the story of Gatsby revolves around the title character's attempt to create his own world, and most of all, to recapture a beautiful dream, and to expunge the sadness that had swallowed up that dream. Daisy's pronouncement, "What'll we do with ourselves this afternoon? And the day after that, and the next thirty years?" neatly paraphrases the fruitlessness of Gatsby's existence (and by extension her own).
Life is never more than a series of pleasures, or opportunities to indulge in pleasures. Even love, that most powerful of emotions, is only inspiring when it is fresh and new. Once the chase has been completed, and the lovers embark upon a new stage, the original romance is lost. The charm, the otherworldliness, of the first desire, is submerged under a sea of sameness, or else an endless attempt to recapture and recreate an impulse. Impulses are diverting because they are impulses and cannot be planned. Anything repeated becomes ultimately boring and depressing. Gatsby's story is the ultimate example of a person having isolated himself from meaning -- ever searching for the one thing that could have given meaning to his life, but no understanding, even so, that he had never desired a future with that dream... only a moment.
Most isolating of all are the musings of J. Alfred Prufrock in the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot. Prufrock's words come almost in the form of a lament. The sentiments that he expresses are at one with the loneliness and isolation that are felt by every modern day individual. One sees and experiences things, moves phantom-like through the natural world, but somehow always remains distinct from it.
LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells
Though T.S. Eliot treats us to an image of movement, and change, the metaphor he gives us is that of a "patient etherized on a table." Immediately, we have the sense that all of those wanderings are the stuff of dreams and fantasy. It is as if we are privy to the goings-on inside Alfred J. Prufrock's head. Symbolic of the intense isolation experienced by modern men and women is also the fact that, in those same lines, nothing without ourselves is ever distinctly heard or observed. We hear "mutterings," and see few people on the streets. The "one-night hotels" speak of transience, and of pleasures taken on the sly. Prostitutes are frequently associated with such places. Does Prufrock mean to infer that all the pleasures of the modern age are no better than the mercenary delights offered by a prostitute? Do we purchase even our own happiness? Nor must one forget the isolation of the prostitute. She is isolated from "good society." She is also isolated from her customers, many of whom she will never really know, and probably never see again. Those who patronize her, too, engage in a thoroughly anonymous experience.
How little we truly interact with each other is represented as well by the oyster shells that litter the floor. Shells are the discarded outer casings of some marine creature. The real life is inside the shell. Human beings who frequent restaurants, the floors of which are covered with oyster shells, are in a sense, like vampires - sucking the life out of their "food" and then casting away the shell - a thoroughly unfulfilling, and un-engaging experience that lasts but a moment. The saw dust on the floor adds further to the metaphor of corruption and waste. In T.S. Eliot's day it was common for cheap bars to have sawdust spread over the floors to absorb spills, and perhaps the blood that was the result of brawls. Furthermore, one would have seen sawdust on the floor a butcher's shop, to soak up the blood. The entire image is one of death and violence. Life exists only to dribble out and then be mopped up afterwards by a kind of inanimate sponge that itself is merely the residue of something else. Sawdust is the ultimate "byproduct."
The world of J. Alfred Prufrock is a terrible, grimy and dingy place. There is really nothing bright about it, but the love - the unnamed love -…