Most people take society for granted, having lived within it their whole lives. They follow rules and social norms almost without thinking or realizing how much these rules affect their lives. It is only when these rules and norms are removed that people realize the significant impact of society on who they are. People assume social roles and when these roles are removed, whether by choice or by accident, they are forced to survive without the benefits or protections of society.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman and William Golding are two authors that attempted to show the negative effects of isolation from society. In “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Gilman Jane is isolated from society and slowly descends into her own world of delusion and insanity; in the Lord of the Flies by Golding, the isolated boys forgo the rules of civilization and revert to a state of savagery and paranoia. In each story, as in real life, isolation from society causes suffering what are the three main factors that influence total peripheral resistance (tpr).
A large part of staying within society and not being isolated from it is to fulfill an expected social role, whether as a mother, father, doctor, or nurse. Expectations from society are placed on each of these roles, as well as a pressure to conform. Whether people choose to accept them or not, social roles are assigned to everyone who participates in society. According to Gerrig, “A social role is a socially defined pattern of behavior that is expected of a person when functioning in a given setting or group” (Gerrig and Zimbardo 574). In both “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Lord of the Flies, pressures of fulfilling social role leads to physical and mental isolation and alienation from society and creates suffering.
In the article “The Outsider,” a genius boy named William James Sidis is described as someone whose intelligence made him isolated from society: “At eighteen months he could read The New York Times, at two he taught himself Latin, at three he learned Greek. By the time he was an adult he could speak more than forty languages and dialects. He gained entrance to Harvard at eleven, and gave a lecture on four-dimensional bodies to the Harvard Mathematical Club his first year” (Towers 6).
His IQ was reported between 250 to 300 points, and his intelligence isolated him from his peers and social norms. This hyper-intelligence distanced him from almost everyone else in the world, creating an isolated, lonely youth who suffered in his alienation. Since he was born, he was constantly fueled by the expectations of others pushing him to excel. It led to his drive to succeed beyond most others in the academic fields, but did not allow for him to ever experience “normal” life, in social terms.
Conforming to the ideas of others that wanted his brain used for noble pursuits, he missed out on simple social interactions or other joys of being human, eventually becoming a forty-six-year-old virgin who was unable to find sexual identity because he never incorporated it into his life. Sidis claims that despite all his intelligence and accomplishments, he is a failure, because he never got to be anything but an outsider. His isolation from normal society not only limited the options in his life, but also added unnecessary suffering. This real life isolation and the suffering it causes is seen in the characters of Gilman’s and Golding’s stories.
In “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Lord of the Flies, people became isolated from society and suffered because of it. Jane is an intelligent and independent woman, and this makes her an outsider in nineteenth century society, who expect women to be happy mothers and wives.
Though all of the stranded boys are isolated from society on the island, Ralph becomes an outsider from their community, after his intelligence and sense clash with the savage behavior the other boys adopt. In Jane’s case, she was an outsider for her rejection of “normal” society, while Ralph was an outsider because of his acceptance of it. Real life is no different than fiction, and people who think above the typical mentality and social norms often become isolated from society, thus becoming outsiders.
For Jane in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” it is the refusal to accept these social roles that makes her an outsider in her own world, combined with the dismissive attitude that she receives from others. In the story, Jane makes the claim that she cannot participate in social activities such as working and visiting family because of her mental illness. This is largely because of her dominant doctor husband who keeps telling her that she is and treating her as if she were helpless.
Her husband acts just as any husband of the time, treating her as a helpless woman instead of the intelligent and creative woman she is. He also is the one who will not allow her to write, so she begins her journal until she can work again: “So I take phosphates or phosphates-whichever it is- and tonics, and air and exercise, and journeys, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again” (Golding 88). What her husband dismisses is Jane’s deep depression, which is made worse by her isolation and sense of helplessness. “You see, he does not believe I am sick!” (88).
He robbed her of writing and being productive in the way she wishes, and offers her little alternatives. At the time, women were expected to keep house and raise the children, while Jane preferred writing and independence. She eventually comes to see domestic life as a prison, directly opposing the societal view of domestic life as the height of existence. Even before her descent into insanity, she is an outsider compared to the nanny and John’s sister who are happy filling their social roles as submissive housewives.
Jane is left in her isolated world alone in the house, with her husband gone much of the time on emergencies and serious situations. In her isolation, Jane grows increasingly detached not only from her husband and family, but from reality. By making her an outsider, Jane is unable to get over her depression and the isolation from society only makes her mindset worse. Isolation from society can negatively affect the behavior of people, much like it does to Jane. Many people with mental illness are kept out of “normal” society, instead locked away like Jane is.
This behavior robs people of the ability to interact with each other, almost negating the concept of what a society is supposed to be. This brings up the question of whether societies should be inclusive or if it is okay to create outsiders and exclude them. Nineteenth century society simply did not want to accept a strong independent woman. In Lord of the Flies, the entire definition of society is called into question.
In Lord of the Flies, isolation from society is the theme of the work.
The boys are isolated on a desert island and are forced to create their own rules, and soon Ralph finds himself isolated from this new society. Ralph initially uses his intelligence and morals to maintain order and establish a democratic society with the conch shell. He is a wise choice as leader and the signal fire displays the hope they have to return to civilization, but fear and paranoia begin to take over. The isolation from society leads Jack and his followers to abandon the rules, and this makes Ralph and his followers outsiders to them.
The instance where the boys killed the sow shows how far removed from society they are and by chopping off of its head and offering it to the beast seems to suggest that isolation from society leads to the breakdown of civilized behavior. In their blood lust, the boys chant, “Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood” (Golden 168). The boys take pleasure in the destructive power of killing, where they were only recently innocent schoolboys. They savagely murder Simon thinking he is the beast and they, “Leapt on to the beast, screamed, struck, bit and tore” (000000), like animals and not humans.
After the boys kill Simon, the only boy that does not believe in the beast, they in fact become the beast themselves by murdering the person who knows the truth. However barbaric, Jack’s society appeals to most of the boys and even Ralph and Piggy think it is a demented but mostly safe society. For Ralph and his followers, isolation from society did not cause him to revert to a savage state, though tempted by it. Perhaps the author is trying to suggest that all humans possess violent instincts and will revert to them when given the chance, but the truly strong individuals will manage to retain their sense of morality and independence. When the boys are rescued, Ralph realizes that the isolation from society forced all the boys to lose their innocence, though he managed to retain his sense of civilization.
Both Jane in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Ralph in Lord of the Flies are outsiders in their own worlds, isolated physically and by their own beliefs and thoughts. This isolation led to suffering for each. In both stories, frustration and paranoia provokes dark thoughts in the minds of the characters, as the boys on the island become savages, Ralph is forced to hide for his life, and Jane becomes insane. Both authors seem to suggest that isolation from society and its rules leads to only suffering and the breakdown of morality.
The good become evil, and the intelligent and independent thinkers lose their minds and sometimes lives. Ralph offers hope that this fate is not always true, but he is also forever changed by his experience. Jane’s position offers little hope, as she continues to deteriorate mentally throughout the story. But, the stories each offer questions about social roles and how they affect the mind, and whether isolation can allow a person to better understand the outside world or forget how to interact in it. The only thing that is certain is that few can escape from the reality of society.
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