1. What is it?
Social alienation is the feeling of detachment from society – a feeling of being an ‘outsider’ who doesn’t connect to normal society or social behaviour.
2. How is it made?
|A generally unhappy character
|Internal monologues rather than dialogues
|Fleeting one-time meetings with strangers that do not turn into friendships
|Scenes of alcohol abuse, especially drinking alone
|Cynical observations or insults towards society
|Unusual routines and waking hours
|Often a lack of ambition, or ambition nobody else understands.
|Urban setting emphasises lack of social connection because other people are nearby but not friends.
3. Examples in literature
The Catcher in the Rye
Know Your Book
by J.D. Salinger
Title: The Catcher in the Rye
Author: J.D. Salinger (1919-2010)
Genre: Fiction; novel; coming-of-age
Plot: Holden Caulfield, 16, is a misanthrope on the cusp of being expelled from boarding school. In his final days at school he gets into a jealous fight with his roommate and sneers at many of his peers as being phonies. He then heads into New York and invites out a girl he dislikes before upsetting two other friends. Holden decides to visit the only person whose company he does enjoy: his 10-year old sister, Phoebe.
Setting: Pencey Prep, PA; New York
Characters: Holden Caulfield (narrator); Phoebe; Sally Hayes; Ward Stradlater; Carl Luce
Excerpt from Chapter 12:
I was surrounded by jerks. I’m not kidding. At this other tiny table, right to my left, practically on top of me, there was this funny-looking guy and this funny-looking girl. They were around my age, or maybe just a little older. It was funny. You could see they were being careful as hell not to drink up the minimum too fast. I listened to their conversation for a while, because I didn’t have anything else to do. He was telling her about some pro football game he’d seen that afternoon. He gave her every single goddam play in the whole game–I’m not kidding. He was the most boring guy I ever listened to. And you could tell his date wasn’t even interested in the goddam game, but she was even funnier-looking than he was, so I guess she had to listen. Real ugly girls have it tough. I feel so sorry for them sometimes. Sometimes I can’t even look at them, especially if they’re with some dopey guy that’s telling them all about a goddam football game. On my right, the conversation was even worse, though. On my right there was this very Joe Yale-looking guy, in a gray flannel suit and one of those flitty-looking Tattersall vests. All those Ivy League bastards look alike. My father wants me to go to Yale, or maybe Princeton, but I swear, I wouldn’t go to one of those Ivy League colleges, if I was dying, for God’s sake. Anyway, this Joe Yale-looking guy had a terrific-looking girl with him. Boy, she was good-looking. But you should’ve heard the conversation they were having. In the first place, they were both slightly crocked. What he was doing, he was giving her a feel under the table, and at the same time telling her all about some guy in his dorm that had eaten a whole bottle of aspirin and nearly committed suicide. His date kept saying to him, “How horrible . . . Don’t, darling. Please, don’t. Not here.” Imagine giving somebody a feel and telling them about a guy committing suicide at the same time! They killed me.
|Skimming, Scanning and Basic Comprehension
1. What is the narrator doing in this passage?
2. Where had the couple been that afternoon?
3. Why does the narrator think ‘real ugly girls have it tough’?
4. In what narrative voice is The Catcher in the Rye told?
5. What hyperbole is used in the passage? Underline it.
6. What irony exists in ‘Joe Yale’s’ storytelling?
7. The passage describes two different couples. How do these couples compare?
8. Why does the writer use the term ‘Joe Yale’? What type of person is being described?
9. What does the narrator think about ‘Joe Yale’ types? What evidence in the text supports this?
10. The narrator sees a contrast between the men and women on these dates. What is the contrast?
11. What contrast exists between the dating couples and the narrator?
12. How does the writer create a sense of the narrator’s social alienation within the passage?
13. The narrator is dismissive of Ivy League universities and students. Do you think that certain organisations create certain types of people?
14. Social alienation and loneliness, across all ages, have been identified as growing problems. What do you think is causing these problems to become more common? How could they be solved?
15. Both the dates are described negatively. Is dating enjoyable?
Wide Sargasso Sea
Know Your Book
by Jean Rhys
Title: Wide Sargasso Sea
Author: Jean Rhys (1890-1979)
Genre: Fiction; novel; anti-colonialist; feminist
Plot: A rewriting of Jane Eyre from Mr Rochester’s ‘mad wife’s’ point of view, the book begins in Jamaica where Antoinette, a Creole child, is orphaned after her mother is mentally abused by an English husband. Antoinette grows up and then also marries an English husband, who mentally abuses and cheats on her. When her plan to make him love her fails, he takes her to England. Here she is imprisoned in his house and begins to lose her sanity.
Setting: Jamaica; Dominica; Thornfield Hall, England; 1830s
Characters: Antoinette Cosway; the husband; Annette Cosway
Excerpt from Part 3:
When night comes, and she has had several drinks and sleeps, it is easy to take the keys. I know now where she keeps them. Then I open the door and walk into their world. It is, as I always knew, made of cardboard. I have seen it before somewhere, this cardboard world where everything is coloured brown or dark red or yellow that has no light in it. As I walk along the passages I wish I could see what is behind the cardboard. They tell me I am in England but I don’t believe them. We lost our way to England. When? Where? I don’t remember, but we lost it. Was it that evening in the cabin when he found me talking to the young man who brought me my food? I put my arms round his neck and asked him to help me. He said, ‘I didn’t know what to do, sir.’ I smashed the glasses and plates against the porthole. I hoped it would break and the sea come in. A woman came and then an older man who cleared up the broken things on the floor. He did not look at me while he was doing it. The third man said drink this and you will sleep. I drank it and I said, ‘It isn’t like it seems to be.’ – ‘I know. It never is,’ he said. And then I slept. When I woke up it was a different sea. Colder. It was that night, I think, that we changed course and lost our way to England. This cardboard house where I walk at night is not England.
|1. Which of the following does not describe the narrator’s reaction to arriving in England?
|2. The tone of the passage suggests the narrator is
a) envious of the locals
b) nervous about her new surroundings
c) eager to make friends
d) lacking in modesty
e) suffering from depression
|3. The narrator’s isolation is highlighted by
a) not knowing the names of other people
b) smashing the glasses and plates
c) asking others numerous questions
d) reminiscing about family back home
e) immersing herself in fantasies
|4. The use of questions in the passage is to
a) emphasise confusion at the situation
b) prove others are interested in her background
c) create polite but meaningless small talk
d) show a keenness to learn about her new environment
e) challenge the reader’s perception of England
|5. Social alienation is both The Catcher in the Rye and Wide Sargasso Sea manifests itself as
a) violence against others
b) a desire to be elsewhere
c) friendship with another social outcast
d) hatred or disdain for a person’s surroundings
e) ennui at the frivolous chatter of locals