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Solitude: Courage or Acquiescence?

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Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist, argues, “When you get free from views and words, reality reveals itself to you,” implying that when one silences preconceptions about self and the surrounding world, one discovers the true nature of life. Withdrawing oneself from society allows for the purification of mind, body, and soul. Although seeking isolation is healthy, forced solitude harms the human condition. Since total isolation damages one’s mental and physical health, involuntary solitude can turn the mind against itself.

In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury highlights the benefits of solitude and the consequences of alienation. Bradbury contrasts a constructive form of isolation with a detrimental form: Montag’s alienation from society and Mildred’s alienation from herself. Unlike Bradbury, Charlotte Gilman focuses on the negative aspects of isolation in The Yellow Wallpaper.

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In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain traces Huck’s character growth and self-discovery, both of which can be attributed to his voluntary isolation from society. Similarly to Twain, the transcendentalists discuss the power of solitude and highlight the ideals of isolation.

Solitude becomes harmful to the human condition when it is no longer intentional. While voluntary isolation allows for the emergence and discovery of one’s self, involuntary and permanent solitude can be detrimental. In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury establishes a theme of solitude. Since Montag’s solitude is voluntary and self-inflicted, it positively impacts him. In learning how to silence the views of society, Montag psychologically isolates himself. To remain in control of his own life, he learns to reject the basic values of his society. Montag’s growing dissatisfaction with the surrounding culture and his opposition to conformity results in his disconnection from the community.

Montag explains to Faber, “Nobody listens anymore. I can’t talk to the walls because they’re yelling at me. I can’t talk to my wife; she listens to the walls. I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough, it’ll make sense” (78, Bradbury), implying his frustration with the lack of human connection and society’s dependence on media. Unlike his peers, Montag refuses to let the media distort his reality or replace human interaction. Most of the community is oblivious to their unhappiness and reliance on technology. Because of this, Montag is alienated from society, and he begins to question his purpose in life. As the book progresses, Montag learns to embrace voluntary solitude. In distancing himself from society, Montag avoids losing his notions of free thought. He becomes curious. Through reading, Montag learns to value knowledge and deep thought. To better demonstrate Montag’s alienation, Bradbury contrasts the complexity of understanding literature with the simplicity of watching television.

By intentionally isolating himself from the dystopian society, Montag is able to discover the essence of life. Bradbury explains, “This was all he wanted now. Some sign that the immense world would accept him and give him the long time he needed to think all the things that must be thought” (136, Bradbury), implying that by rejecting the technological world, Montag discovers his haven. Montag realizes that society needs to be reborn. Until this occurs, he will remain in withdrawal and dedicate himself to the cause of preserving knowledge. Montag discovers that choosing to remove oneself from the physical routine of society allows for the purification of mind. In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury alludes to the benefits and necessity of voluntary isolation. In contrast, Mildred’s involuntary solitude is detrimental to her mental and physical health. She portrays the lack of fulfillment in a society powered by technology. Montag urges Mildred to read and value knowledge and disconnect from the mass media. Rather than embracing a fuller life, Mildred separates herself from reality and rejects human interaction. In the dystopian society, technological progression interferes with self progression.

While Montag focussed on the latter, Mildred sacrificed her well-being for technology. After Montag requests that Mildred turn the parlor off, she responds, “That’s my family” (46, Bradbury), implying how she has replaced human connection with technology. Mildred is so disconnected from her core self that she rejects her suicide attempt and numbs her pain with techonology. Unlike Montag’s decision to withdraw himself from society, Mildred’s reliance on technology forces her to become isolated. After Montag asks where they first met, Mildred “… laughed an odd little laugh that went up and up. ‘Funny, how funny, not to remember where or when you met your husband or wife’”(40, Bradbury), illustrating how Mildred disregards the importance of genuine human relationships. Not only is Mildred isolated from society, but she’s also alienated from herself. Mildred’s involuntary isolation transforms her into a disconnected shell of a human, devoid of genuine emotions. Huck’s voluntary isolation ultimately benefits him. Twain traces Huck’s journey as he learns to celebrate solitude on the raft. Rather than allowing his father to instill the hypocrisy and pretensions of the civilized world, Huck isolates himself from humanity. Although Huck had a companion in Jim, they were each outside the realm of society.

Huck’s discontent is answered when he is alone, or alone with Jim. Before Huck escapes, he notes, “I felt so lonely that I wished I was dead” (4, Twain), demonstrating how Huck experiences feelings of loneliness more when he is within society, rather than on the outskirts of it. After escaping the suffocating environment that is society, he reinvents by undergoing a moral transformation. Huck’s solitude benefits him in that it helps him discover himself and develop a new set of beliefs. His journey exposes him to hypocrisy, fraud, religion, and prejudice, helping him grow into a more mature version of himself. At the end of the story, Huck notes, “…I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest…” (373, Twain), illustrating his newfound appreciation for solitude. By considering to further isolate himself from humanity, Huck implies the great extent to which he values solitude. Huck’s voluntary isolation played a key role in his character development and his self-discovery.

The foundation of transcendentalism centers around the necessity of solitude. In their writings, Emerson and Thoreau imply that sometimes humanity poisons the purity of the individual. In “Why I Went to the Woods,” Thoreau speaks to the benefits of temporary withdrawal. He writes,“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” (1, Thoreau). Thoroughs decision to spend time alone in the cabin argues to the merit of voluntary solitude. He implies that by escaping the injustices of the civilized world and silencing preconceptions about life, one stops waiting to die and begins to live. Emerson argues, “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude,” alluding to the necessity of self-reliance. Emerson unravels the evolution of solitude and implies that one of life’s greatest challenges is adhering to your ideals amid a crowd. Transcendentalists and other adherents argue that one must balance society and solitude to fully understand the true nature of life.

In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator’s mental deterioration is a result of her forced solitude. While depicting the narrator’s downward spiral, Gilman highlights themes of isolation and restriction. For their summer vacation, the narrator and her husband, John, secured a colonial mansion described as “…quite alone, standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village” (2, Gilman). The binding and suppressing nature of the house mirror the narrator’s emotional position. Just as the house is isolated from society, the narrator is separated from humanity as a result of her husband. John imposes a cure for his wife’s disorder: isolation. Her husband’s attempted treatment aggravates her descent into madness. John confines her to an upstairs bedroom and forbids her from writing in her journal. The narrator notes, “I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus–but John says the very worst thing I can do is think about my condition…” (2, Gilman), implying her isolation is forced rather than voluntary. Not only is she trapped in an abusive marriage, but she’s robbed of any social interaction or self expression.

Her mental health begins to decline as she obsesses over the wallpaper in the bedroom. Without any opportunities to interact with society, the narrator begins to obsess over the wallpaper in the bedroom. The narrator’s obsession leads to a rapid decline in her mental health as the line between reality and fantasy is blurred. Her belief that a woman is trapped in the wall escalates to a point in which she embodies the woman, crawling around the room for eternity. In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the narrator’s forced isolation drives her to insanity. Just as Thoreau, Emerson, Bradbury, and Twain advocate the importance of solitude, many researchers study the scientific benefits of voluntary isolation. A Forbes article explores how solitude “helps you know yourself,” relating to the concept of self-discovery. Many scientists recommend solitary meditation as a way to focus on the present, without being besieged by past regrets or future mistakes.

In Real Happiness, Sharon Salzberg notes, “Meditation helps us diffuse stress, experience greater tranquility, find a sense of wholeness, strengthen our relationships, and face our fears.” Sharon suggests that by temporarily isolating yourself from society and practicing meditation, one can learn to live more comfortably and fully in the present moment. Similarly to Thoreau’s temporary withdrawal from society, researchers suggest daily isolation. Scientists highly recommend spending time alone for at least twenty minutes every day to gain clarity and a better view of our inner self. Researchers recognize that the thought of spending time alone paralyzes certain people. A Success article suggests that those who struggle with the concept of voluntary isolation usually lack a level of connection with themselves, implying they’re the ones that need it most. To gain a better understanding of surrounding world, temporary solitude is essential. Similarly to how authors and transcendentalists promote voluntary isolation, scientists continue to investigate the advantages of solitude. Solitude allows for spiritual growth and internal healing. Twain, Thoreau, and Emerson argue that voluntary solitude is essential to self-discovery. In contrast, Gilman suggests that involuntary isolation is destructive in that it damages one’s mental health. Bradbury highlights both the positive and negative aspects of solitude.

He implies that while voluntary isolation leads one to discover the true essence of life, forced isolation robs one’s sanity. The intentional act of withdrawal can invoke constructive experiences while unintentional isolation can be detrimental. Forced solitude harms the human condition by taking over the mind. Involuntary isolation not only sabotages one’s physical health, but it also can threaten one’s sanity. Solitude turns detrimental when it is no longer voluntary. While there are various drawbacks to solitude, it allows for the discovery or rediscovery of one’s soul and purpose. To truly discover the essence of being alive, one must silence the surrounding world.

Cite this Solitude: Courage or Acquiescence?

Solitude: Courage or Acquiescence?. (2021, May 14). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/solitude-courage-or-acquiescence/

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