Isolation, Alienation and Madness in Canadian Short Fiction
by Mirko Škundrić
The feelings of isolation and alienation can be frustrating, dangerous and eventually they can even drive a person mad. People have always dealt with such issues differently. Some managed to abandon those feelings and continued with their lives while others succumbed to them as they were unable to overcome and/or control them. Those souls who “surrendered” often faced destruction or even death as they were unable to cope with changes and the pressures of living a life below their expectations with no one to trust and confide, not even their beloved ones. When people are alone and isolated for a certain amount of time there is a chance that they forget about real life and even become “bushed”. This is one of the many problems of vast countries such as Canada especially its dry prairies and northern arctic regions can change people. In this essay, I will try to analyze and investigate different circumstances that can lead to emotional states, some of which are prominent themes in Canadian fiction – isolation, alienation, loneliness, loss of identity and madness. Isolation and alienation can occur out of many reasons. It is not only an isolated landscape that may trigger feelings of loneliness, fear or helplessness, but also isolation and alienation from society or even people closest to you. Other definitions may also include spiritual and emotional isolation. In Sinclair Ross’ The Painted Door the protagonist Ann fells alone and isolated for many reasons. Ann is not pleased with her life. She and her husband John live in the middle of nowhere, far away from company and populated settlements. The remote surrounding in which they live creates a feeling of extreme isolation, especially after previously living in a city. After being exposed to this geographical isolation for some time, Ann’s feelings of loneliness eventually intensify to the point where she even feels alienated from her own husband. But at that point she does not realize that her yearning for a better and different life will consequently change her life for worse and will make her feel guilty and miserable for the rest of her life.
After having an affair with Steven she realizes that this is not what she really wanted and she also realizes that she has made a big mistake sleeping with him, while her husband was away. Therefore, we cannot consider Steven as the fulfillment of her desires for a better life, but rather as a temporary means to “cure” her from her isolation and loneliness. As John unexpectedly returns home during a storm, he witnesses the betrayal and leaves Ann never to return again.
… the explicit theme is centered on adultery. However, there are other, more subtle, motifs in the story that play a very significant role in its success. The themes essential in making the protagonist's adultery understandable are the landscape, her isolation, and the feelings of betrayal and guilt that she experiences following the central act of the story. (The Painted Door)
Ultimately, Ann’s needs to feel loved and acknowledged, as well as her actions out of desperation and loneliness, lead her to the destruction of her life and, consequently, the life or her husband. The blizzard, which can be seen as a metaphor for passion, as well as the physical and emotional separation from her husband engage her to do things she probably, under “normal” circumstances, would not consider doing. Therefore, it is in those extreme conditions where we have to search for the driving force behind Ann’s adultery. The answers that would “justify” her actions and would, as well, give us an insight into her inner loneliness and isolation are all hidden in this seemingly unreal wasteland. In this story we can find:
…thematic elements considered the bedrock of Canadian writing: a landscape so bleak in winter that it seemed a region alien to life, but a house standing nonetheless...
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