F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald wrote a short story called “The Rich Boy”. Anson is the main character and he is unable to form stable and lasting human connections due to his alcoholism. Anson’s alcoholism, of course, creates an isolation and barrier between himself and potential future lovers of his, such as Dolly and Paula. Fitzgerald writes about Anson’s drinking problem, and readers infer that Paula experienced discontentment in her relationship with Anson because of his drinking. Paula’s mother eventually discovers Anson’s drinking problem, and she wants to isolate her daughter Paula from Anson because she does not believe that someone with that serious of a drinking problem is fit enough to provide for her daughter Paula.
Paula eventually marries a gentleman named Lowell Thayer and learning this news further isolates Anson. Fitzgerald writes, “Anson filled himself with whiskey that morning, and going to the office, carried on his work without a break-- rather with a fear of what would happen if he stopped. In the evening he went out as usual, saying nothing of what had occurred. . . For three days, in any place, in any company, [Anson] would suddenly bend his head into his hands and cry like a child” (Fitzgerald IV). In other words, Anson accesses alcohol to escape his reality and by using alcohol, he isolates himself by not admitting to himself that Paula, whom he was in love with and planned a future with, wanted something better than Anson for herself.
Ralph Ellison was a popular black male artist who was especially impacted by isolation from others because of intense racial tensions during his time period. Ellison’s first chapter of his novel “Invisible Man” is titled “Battle Royal”. This chapter is about an unnamed main male character who is very intelligent and is preparing to deliver his graduation speech in front of prestigious and high-society audience members, including bankers, lawyers, judges, doctors, fire chiefs, teachers and merchants (Ellison). Before reciting his speech, however, Ellison’s main character is forced to participate in a boxing match with ten men, with ultimately the final two men competing for money and fame. As luck would have it, all of the competitors isolated the main character and viewed him as their target and all went after him immediately, which left him as one of the final competitors. Ellison addresses mistreatment experienced by his main character because of his black skin color. Ellison writes, “But now I felt a sudden fit of blind terror. I was unused to darkness. It was as though I had suddenly found myself in a dark room. . . Blows pounded me from all sides while I struck out as best as I could. So many blows landed upon me that I wondered if I were not the only blindfolded fighter in the ring,or if the man called Jackson hadn’t succeeded in getting me after all” (Ellison).
In this quote, Ellison is sharing what the experience of being isolated felt like for his main character. This experience, of course, was upsetting, but nothing unfamiliar for him. Readers infer that this character was not phased by being isolated and thinking he was the only blindfolded fighter because he admits that he was used to experiencing mistreatment and spending his life in the dark, away from the world’s problems.
Langston Hughes is a famous black author and poet. His work was inspired by an isolation theme, perhaps because he felt isolated in life from his white superiors, and writing was his way of expressing his isolation. Hughes wrote a short story called “The Gun”. As the title suggests, a physical gun is a major part of this story. This gun symbolizes a human relationship for the main character, named Flora Belle. Flora Belle is a relatively young black woman who constantly struggles with forming connections with humans that last, and this lack of human connection leads to isolation for Flora Belle until she purchases her gun.
Hughes opens this short story by writing, “Picture yourself a lone bird in a cage with monkeys. . .Nevertheless, to be the only Negro child in this small white city made you a stranger in a strange world; an outcast in the house where you lived; a part of it all by necessity and yet no part at all” (Hughes). Hughes is sharing insight with readers into Flora Belle’s social life, or lack thereof. Flora Belle’s isolation from her own environment created a sense of her not belonging, deepening her isolation.
Flora Belle’s isolation turns into depression, which turns into her developing suicidal thoughts. Flora Belle wonders what her purpose is in life because her mother has passed away and her father has moved on, so Flora Belle feels out of place amongst her own family. Throughout this story, Flora Belle moves from city to city with the intention of branching out socially, but this never happens. Hughes writes that one day, Flora Belle decides to purchase a gun and bullets so that she could leave this world. The result is Flora Belle forming an intimate connection with this materialistic object. Hughes writes, “Each night the gun was there- - like she imagined a lover might be. Each night it came to bed with her, to lie under a pillow near her head or to rest in her hand” (Hughes 4). In other words, Flora Belle turns to this gun to replace a human connection. This gun provides the companion in life that Flora Belle always searched for but could never seem to find. Flora Belle purchasing this gun removed her sense of being isolated from the world.
Jack London is the author of the short story called “To Build a Fire”. The setting takes place in the winter season, and the narrator decides to isolate himself from the rest of the world for a little while by going on a walk through the woods. In London’s version of this story, the narrator crosses paths with a stray dog and struggles to take care of him. The dog instinctively knows that this man needs to build a fire to maintain body heat and to avoid hypothermia, but due to this man’s lack of prior experience in intensive cold, he does not understand this. This man desperately needs a human companion to take care of him and to avoid such dangerous isolation, but he is unable to meet up with a companion. Due to this man’s stubbornness and isolation, this cost him his own life in the end. London recalls that the narrator once had a conversation with a man from Sulphur Creek, and this man said to the narrator, “The man had been very serious when he said that no man should travel alone in that country after 50 below zero. Well, here he was; he had had the accident; he was alone; and he had saved himself. . . Any man who was a man could travel alone” (London 72). In other words, London created a character whose stubborn personality altered his reality and caused him to become isolated and closed-off towards the rest of the world.
There is also a modernized film adaptation to this storyline. Producers added scenes and certain details, such as the man was intentionally isolating himself from the world because he was escaping a female with whom he was in disagreement with. The main character before entering the woods stopped at a convenience store to purchase cigarettes and alcohol, and the store clerk verbally voiced his concerns about this man going on such a significant adventure all by himself, but the main character disregarded the clerk’s advise and chose instead to isolate himself. Link to modernized film adaptation is below:
To Build a Fire Short Story
Fitzgerald, Ellison, Hughes, and London are all known for expressing male-patterned isolation through their writing. Part of this isolation is perhaps the result of real life experiences of being isolated from society. Isolation created periods of loneliness during all four of these male author’s lives. These four selected men were determined to create characters and make them come alive so that isolated readers would feel slightly connected, if only for a short period of time, to another human being. Isolation dragged these men down in life but also provided them with their inspiration to express themselves through writing.
Ellison, Ralph. 1952 “Battle Royal”. Invisible Man. Random House, Inc. Publisher. Chapter 1. Accessed 10 Apr. 2018.
Fitzgerald, Scott F. 1926 “The Rich Boy”. Accessed 10 Apr. 2018.
Hughes, Langston. 1933 “The Gun”. Something In Common. Harlem Renaissance. Accessed 10 Apr. 2018.
London, Jack. 29 May 1902 “To Build a Fire”. Print. Accessed 10 Apr. 2018.
“Made Here - Fire: A Modern Version of Jack London's Classic Short Story.” YouTube, Vermont PBS, 12 Dec. 2017.