This sample essay on Theme Of Isolation provides important aspects of the issue and arguments for and against as well as the needed facts. Read on this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.
Most of Alan Bennett’s characters in Part One of the “Talking Heads Monologues”, are lonely or they are threatened with loneliness, and this leads to alienation from society and the environment they live in. This essay looks at the effects of loneliness, illness, unhappiness and lack of self-knowledge and how this is portrayed in Bennett’s works.
It also shows how isolation and loneliness, are dealt with in different ways, by people of varying ages and backgrounds.
A great number of people are unaware of being lonely such as Doris in ‘A Cream Cracker under the Settee’ We were always on our own, me and Wilfred” “Mix, I don’t want to mix” Throughout their marriage, they never socialised. Doris had very definite views on cleanliness and avoided people for this reason.
Later on in the story we learn that this could have stemmed from the stillbirth of their son and for Doris this is her defence mechanism. Doris, indirectly, reveals that she never got over the trauma of losing her son, possibly clouding her view of life. Wilfred, obviously did not understand or feel her emotions. “I don’t think Wilfred minded” “It was then he started talking about getting a dog”
It is easier to put up a barrier and hide away rather than reveal our true feelings.
This can later lead to loneliness and isolation. By not showing our true selves we are in danger of hiding who we really are. In the case of Miss Irene Ruddock (A Lady of Letters) she is lost in a society that no longer cares. She is younger than Doris and is wrapped up in her own self. Again, she is unaware of this. In the past, neighbourly interest was welcomed. But in present society, personal contact is discouraged, either by her or by the young family who are her neighbours, so instead she spies on them.
She is critical of her neighbours, who she feels do not meet her standards and who she watches in secret. “I don’t even know their names” Irene is very judgmental even though she doesn’t know their circumstances. “It’ll surprise me if they are married. He has a tattoo anyway” When reading this quote the first thought I had was now how Alan Bennett had dated the monologue. As in today’s society it is perfectly acceptable to have a tattoo and is no longer frowned upon. Miss Ruddock can no longer rely on the church to provide her order and security, as shown in the scene when she is visited by the vicar.
He offers to prove his identity by showing her his cross, she dismisses the gesture by saying “A cross doesn’t mean anything. Youths wear crosses nowadays. Hooligans. They wear crosses in their ears” It is no longer a symbol. She feels that she is being alienated by the way the church is structured. The only time she has structure to her life is when she is in prison. The letters Irene writes are her only contact with the outside world. “In fact I wrote to the crematorium… but I actually didn’t know her all that well” She went to the funeral because “at least its an outing”
Irene feels she is a pillar of the community as she writes to the Council, the Queen and even the Archbishop of Canterbury. She feels they all take her seriously as a public spirited member of the community but she is unaware of what a nuisance she is. Although she has already been in trouble before, “The court bound you over to keep the peace” She carries on with the harassment. I feel this is because she has no family or friends to talk to. It is also about her self-esteem and making her self feel important. She eventually ends up in an institution because her state of mind is caused by her loneliness and egocentricity.
She has no idea that this is of her own making due to her snobbery. However, she thrives on the regime of the institute, becoming institutionalised because it gives her life structure and she is able to form relationships. Although she remains a very formal character she becomes caring and compassionate towards others. “I’m so happy” Both Iris and Doris harp on about the past, when they were less lonely and isolated. Doris remembers “You could walk down the street and folk smiled and passed the time of day” Both of these are good examples of a paradox.
The problems that once stood in their way, has turned and changed their lives for the better. Irene recalls when everybody knew “the occupants of every single house. Everybody could, once upon a time” This quote is another good example of how Alan Bennett has dated his monologues as society has changed and moved on. Miss Ruddock’s story does have a happy ending. When she is brought face-to-face with her actions and the reality that she is going to prison, she is able to exchange her life of isolation and have friends within the prison community.
She is actually able to offer sympathy and help to others. At the beginning of the monologue she feels pain and loneliness like Doris in A Cream Cracker under the Settee but at the end she feels connected and part of something. Both these women seem to miss the days of contact with their neighbours. The times when you could leave your door open and nobody would walk in. Both characters crave what they used to have. Due to their natures, it would not occur to them to change with the times. It did not occur to them to form relationships, by making friendly gestures to their neighbours.
Doris is different from the other characters as she goes to the extreme of isolating herself. This is illustrated by the fact she wants trees in her front garden but actually puts bushes to stop any intrusions. Susan is the vicar’s wife in ‘In Bed amongst the Lentils’ and her unhappiness/loneliness is harder to analyse. Alan Bennett here show that Susan is a witty and complex character. She is not so helpless that she could not have avoided a loveless marriage and a role, tying her to the church in which she has lost faith.
Her disappointment seems to relate to her whole world and she uses drink to mask her loneliness and as a means to escape the real world. Susan is younger than Doris and Irene and by the end of the monologues you are left with the feeling that Doris and Irene are her future. Susan’s cynical and often ironic remarks make the monologues quite humourous. Susan’s loneliness stems from her husband’s ‘fan club’ of church helpers. In the words of Princess Diana, she feels there are “three of us in this marriage”.
“We must cherish him” Susan’s way of cherishing him is with some chicken wings and tuna fish sauce” When the bishop comes to visit Geoffrey, she knocks a jug of Carnation milk over the bishop and when cleaning him down compares it to “Mary Magdalene and the Nivea cream all over again” Susan is secretly an alcoholic, which is another expression of her isolation. She drinks to make herself feel better for a while. Geoffrey knows about the problem but refuses to acknowledge it, which makes Susan’s isolation worse. This relationship can be compared to Doris and her husband.
Marriage should be the closest of relationships but within it they feel alienated. The subject’s never discussed” Instead of changing her life with Geoffrey, Susan decides to have an affair with Mr Ramesh, who owns the local shop. She feels she needs someone to talk to and by having an affair feels she will be loved. This affair is also a distraction from her marriage and its problems. Even when she sleeps with Mr Ramesh she tells us “It’s the first time I really understand what all the fuss is about” She tries not to bring her new feelings for Ramesh into her life with Geoffrey by detaching from her feelings, she only feels apathy towards Geoffrey.
Even when Geoffrey is angry with her because of the missing communion wine she doesn’t care and is even more interested in having a drink. Susan is persuaded by Mr Ramesh to seek counselling from AA. We get the feeling that this is a good thing for her to do for herself but when Susan admits to being an alcoholic to her husband he does not give her the emotional support that she needs. He uses the situation to his advantage. This is a good example of their breakdown in communication. “I find myself transformed into a feather in his cap”
Susan tells about Asians and Mr Ramesh and their ability to build things up and move on. For example, with his local shop, he builds it up into a thriving business and then he moves on. Ramesh’s outlook on life excites her but he has the freedom to move on and she doesn’t. “It’s a good thing. We ought to be like that” She realises that her circumstances could improve but in her isolated state of mind she cannot put talking it through into practice. If she could, like Miss Ruddock, her situation might have got better, since Susan seems to be a humorous person.
She survives her lonely life by mocking not only what she sees as the pointless activities of her life but of herself as well. In the last scene she ‘seems like a different woman’ but we are left unsure of any future happiness. Bennett uses bathos throughout the monologues especially with Susan, who keeps her thoughts to herself. “It’s on the tip of my tongue to say that if Jesus is all he’s cracked up to be why doesn’t he use tap water and put it to the test” She is unconsciously using her sarcasm to protect herself. Bennett is very moving and thought provoking.
He sums up Susan’s life in general “parked by a lay-by on the ring road wondering what happened to our life” To me this provokes a wonderful use of imagery as it shows her life is going round but not ending up anywhere. Loneliness by these characters is brought on by their lack of self-knowledge. This may contribute to both their sadness and the comedy of the narrator. It is perhaps part of their strategies for survival that the narrators do not see themselves as pitiable and lonely. The main themes of Bennett’s, Talking Heads, are loneliness and the failure to understand one’s own life.
He also pays respect and attention to the point that there is a ‘Little Person’ inside us all – sometimes, foolish, wilful, vain, mistaken and self-deluded. The narrator’s problems may be the problems of ordinary people and often, unfortunate people at a particular point in time. I found that the each narrator touches on everyday issues that effect us all and that’s why when reading Talking Heads you don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the issues raised. Bennett tackles things with a light-hearted view but gets his point across in a very meaningful way.
In conclusion Bennett is showing us that loneliness can apply to anyone and in different forms. The way he has chosen to show loneliness may be a product of male domination within personal relationships. I personally feel he could have written from this perspective because he is male. Also, most of Bennett’s plays make the audience aware of the organisations that are provided by the State to cope with the needs of the characters. These efforts are seen as a poor substitute for a family, friends and neighbours. These characters don’t have this support and this may be the root of their problems.