Isolation of the Individual

“Never lived a man to whom ordinary contact with his fellows was more impossible, and that the mysterious solitude in which his fictitious characters move is a mere shadow of his own imperial loneliness of soul.” (Paul)

Isolation is something Hawthorne was quite experienced in. Many of his books dealt with the isolation of an individual, such as The Dolliver Romance where “wrought out with all the charm of Hawthorne’s matures style, a picture of isolation caused, not by the exclusive ambitions of youth, but by old age and the frailty of human nature.” (Paul)  Hawthorne seemed to be well-versed in the emotions that were elicited from being isolated and experiencing the feeling of loneliness, which is the reason why his books represent the feelings of isolation so well.

“Was that Scarlet Letter, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom.  It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity and inclosing her in a sphere by herself.” (1381)

The Scarlet Letter, arguably one of his most famous works, follows the same guideline of isolation. Hawthorne presents to us Hester Prynne, a woman who has been branded with a scarlet letter to show the world that she is a sinner and that she should be treated differently. Her departure from society however, allows her to discover new ideas and formulate her own reasons for her existence. Eventually she completely reverses what the Scarlet Letter symbolizes and is slowly assimilated back into society, but with new ideas for change.

“Out of our isolation grow the passions which but illuminate and render more visible the void from which they sprang.” (Paul)

What’s interesting to note is that Arthur Dimmesdale demonstrates suffering throughout the novel. However, he becomes more passionate about his sorrows which allows him to “stir the hearts of men” with his sermons. In a way, he becomes more enlightened as he delves deeper into his sins. His isolation contrasts that of Hester’s. Arthur begins to lose himself, as his sin continuously torments him. He contains his sin in order to remain with society, but because of this, he isolates himself emotionally, which leads to his downfall. Hester on the other hand benefits from her isolation and takes advantage of her separation from a society that is nowhere near an ideal society in her eyes.  Being free from society allows for different ways of thinking, as you are no longer bound by society’s rules and you are free to look at the world in different ways, without society’s influence looming over you.

“there may be found in the author’s successive works every form of solitude incident to human existence. I believe no single tale, however short or insignificant, can be named in which, under one guise or another, this recurrent idea (isolation) does not appear. It is as if the poet’s heart were burdened with an emotion that unconsciously dominated every faculty of his mind; he walked through life like a man possessed.” (Paul)

Isolation is usually merited in some way. When someone does not conform to societal norms they are shunned and deemed insane, ridiculous, mentally ill….the list goes on. Other times, the person shuts themselves out from society, as they refuse to follow the norms of society that presently exist. Hawthorne addresses the benefits and risks that are involved with isolation. Isolation can contribute to amazing groundbreaking ideas, but it can also destroy your life and lead you down a path of torment and sorrow. Thinking outside of the box is often not welcome, but taking the risk might be worth it.


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