Theme of Loneliness, Isolation, & Alienation in Literature with Examples

Humans are social creatures. Most of us enjoy communication and try to build relationships with others. It’s no wonder that the inability to be a part of society often leads to emotional turmoil.

World literature has numerous examples of characters who are disconnected from their loved ones or don’t fit into the social norms. Stories featuring themes of isolation and loneliness often describe a quest for happiness or explore the reasons behind these feelings.

In this article by , we will:

  • discuss isolation and loneliness in literary works;
  • cite many excellent examples;
  • provide relevant quotations.

🏝️ Isolation Theme in Literature

  • 🏠 Theme of Loneliness
  • 👽 Theme of Alienation
  • Frankenstein
  • The Metamorphosis
  • Of Mice and Men
  • ✍️ Essay Topics

🔍 References

Isolation is a state of being detached from other people, either physically or emotionally. It may have positive and negative connotations:

  • In a positive sense, isolation can be a powerful source of creativity and independence.
  • In negative terms , it can cause mental suffering and difficulties with interpersonal relationships.

The picture enumerates literary themes related to being alone.

Theme of Isolation and Loneliness: Difference

As you can see, isolation can be enjoyable in certain situations. That’s how it differs from loneliness : a negative state in which a person feels uncomfortable and emotionally down because of a lack of social interactions . In other words, isolated people are not necessarily lonely.

Isolation Theme Characteristics with Examples

Now, let’s examine isolation as a literary theme. It often appears in stories of different genres and has various shades of meaning. We’ll explain the different uses of this theme and provide examples from literature.

Forced vs. Voluntary Isolation in Literature

Isolation can be voluntary or happen for external reasons beyond the person’s control. The main difference lies in the agent who imposes isolation on the person:

  • If someone decides to be alone and enjoys this state of solitude, it’s voluntary isolation . The poetry of Emily Dickinson is a prominent example.
  • Forced isolation often acts as punishment and leads to detrimental emotional consequences. This form of isolation doesn’t depend on the character’s will, such as in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter .

Physical vs. Emotional Isolation in Literature

Aside from forced and voluntary, isolation can be physical or emotional:

The picture shows the types of isolation in literature.

  • Isolation at the physical level makes the character unable to reach out to other people, such as Robinson Crusoe being stranded on an island.
  • Emotional isolation is an inner state of separation from other people. It also involves unwillingness or inability to build quality relationships. A great example is Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye .

These two forms are often interlinked, like in A Rose for Emily . The story’s titular character is isolated from the others both physically and emotionally .

Symbols of Isolation in Literature

In literary works dedicated to emotional isolation, authors often use physical artifacts as symbols. For example, the moors in Wuthering Heights or the room in The Yellow Wallpaper are means of the characters’ physical isolation. They also symbolize a much deeper divide between the protagonists and the people around them.

🏠 Theme of Loneliness in Literature

Loneliness is often used as a theme in stories of people unable to build relationships with others. Their state of mind always comes with sadness and a low self-esteem. Naturally, it causes profound emotional suffering.

We will examine how the theme of loneliness functions in literature. But first, let’s see how it differs from its positive counterpart: solitude.

Solitude vs. Loneliness: The Difference

is a profound sadness caused by a lack of company and meaningful relationships. is a rewarding, positive experience of being alone. For example, some creative people seek solitude to concentrate on their art without social distractions. Importantly, they don’t feel sad about being alone.

Loneliness Theme: History & Examples

The modern concept of loneliness is relatively new. It first emerged in the 16 th century and has undergone many transformations since then.

  • The first formal mention of loneliness appeared in George Milton’s Paradise Lost in the 17 th century. There are also many references to loneliness in Shakespeare’s works.
  • Later on, after the Industrial Revolution , the theme got more popular. During that time, people started moving to large cities. As a result, they were losing bonds with their families and hometowns. Illustrative examples of that period are Gothic novels and the works of Charles Dickens .
  • According to The New Yorker , the 20 th century witnessed a broad spread of loneliness due to the rise of Capitalism. Philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus explored existential loneliness, influencing numerous authors. The absurdist writings of Kafka and Beckett also played an essential role in reflecting the isolation felt by people in Capitalist societies. Sylvia Plath has masterfully explored mental health struggles related to this condition in The Bell Jar (you can learn more about it in our The Bell Jar analysis .)

👽 Theme of Alienation in Literature

Another facet of being alone that is often explored in literature is alienation . Let’s see how this concept differs from those we discussed previously.

Alienation vs. Loneliness: Difference

While loneliness is more about being on your own and lacking connection, alienation means involuntary estrangement and a lack of sympathy from society. In other words, alienated people don’t fit their community, thus lacking a sense of belonging.

Isolation vs. Alienation: The Difference

is often seen as a physical condition of separation from a social group or place. In emotional terms, it’s also similar to withdrawal from social activity. , in turn, doesn’t necessarily involve physical separation. It’s mostly referred to as a lack of involvement and a sense of belonging while being present. It’s closely connected with the , which you can read about in our guide.

Theme of Alienation vs. Identity in Literature

There is a prominent connection between alienation and a loss of identity. It often results from a character’s self-search in a hostile society with alien ideas and values. These characters often differ from the dominant majority, so the community treats them negatively. Such is the case with Mrs. Dalloway from Woolf’s eponymous novel.

Writers with unique, non-conforming identity are often alienated during their lifetime. Their distinct mindset sets them apart from their social circle. Naturally, it creates discomfort and relationship problems. These experiences are often reflected in their works, such as in James Joyce’s semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man .

Alienation in Modernism

Alienation as a theme is mainly associated with Modernism . It’s not surprising, considering that the 20 th century witnessed fundamental changes in people’s lifestyle. Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution couldn’t help eroding the quality of human bonding and the depth of relationships.

theme loneliness essay

It’s also vital to mention that the two World Wars introduced even greater changes in human relationships. People got more locked up emotionally in order to withstand the war trauma and avoid further turmoil. Consequently, the theme of alienation and comradeship found reflection in the works of Ernest Hemingway , Erich Maria Remarque , Norman Mailer, and Rebecca West, among others.

📚 Books about Loneliness and Isolation: Quotes & Examples

Loneliness and isolation themes are featured prominently in many of the world’s greatest literary works. Here we’ll analyze several well-known examples: Frankenstein, Of Mice and Men, and The Metamorphosis.

Theme of Isolation & Alienation in Frankenstein

Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is among the earliest depictions of loneliness in modern literature. It shows the depth of emotional suffering that alienation can impose.

Victor Frankenstein , a talented scientist, creates a monster from the human body parts. The monster becomes the loneliest creature in the world. Seeing that his master hates him and wouldn’t become his friend, he ruined everything Victor held dear. He was driven by revenge, trying to drive him into the same despair.

The novel contains many references to emotional and physical alienation. It also explores the distinction between voluntary and involuntary isolation:

  • The monster is involuntarily driven into an emotionally devastating state of alienation.
  • Victor imposes voluntary isolation on himself after witnessing the crimes of his creature.

To learn more about the representation of loneliness and isolation in the novel, check out our article on themes in Frankenstein .

Frankenstein Quotes about Isolation

Here are a couple of quotes from Frankenstein directly related to the theme of isolation and loneliness:

How slowly the time passes here, encompassed as I am by frost and snow…I have one want which I have never yet been able to satisfy and the absence of the object of which I now feel as a most severe evil. I have no friend. Frankenstein , Letter 2

In this quote, Walton expresses his loneliness and desire for company. He uses frost and snow as symbols to refer to his isolation. Perhaps a heart-warming relationship could melt the ice surrounding him.

I believed myself totally unfitted for the company of strangers. Frankenstein , Chapter 3

This quote is related to Victor’s inability to make friends and function as a regular member of society. He also misses his friends and relatives in Ingolstadt, which causes him further discomfort.

I, who had ever been surrounded by amiable companions, continually engaged in endeavouring to bestow mutual pleasure—I was now alone. Frankenstein , Chapter 3

In this quote, Victor shares his fear of loneliness. As a person who used to spend most of his time in social activity among people, Victor feared the solitude that awaited him in Ingolstadt.

Isolation & Alienation in The Metamorphosis

The Metamorphosis is an enigmatic masterpiece by Franz Kafka, telling a story of a young man Gregor. He is alienated at work and home by his demanding, disrespectful family. He lacks deep, rewarding relationships in his life. As a result, he feels profound loneliness.

The picture says that the main character in The Metamorphosis was isolated both emotionally and physically.

Gregor’s family isolates him both as a human and an insect, refusing to recognize his personhood. Gregor’s stay in confinement is also a reflection of his broader alienation from society, resulting from his self-perception as a parasite.  To learn more about it, feel free to read our article on themes in The Metamorphosis .

The Metamorphosis: Isolation Quotes

Let’s analyze several quotes from The Metamorphosis to see how Kafka approached the theme of isolation.

The upset of doing business is much worse than the actual business in the home office, and, besides, I’ve got the torture of traveling, worrying about changing trains, eating miserable food at all hours, constantly seeing new faces, no relationships that last or get more intimate. The Metamorphosis , Part 1

In this fragment, Gregor’s lifestyle is described with a couple of strokes. It shows that he lived an empty, superficial life without meaningful relationships.

Well, leaving out the fact that the doors were locked, should he really call for help? In spite of all his miseries, he could not repress a smile at this thought. The Metamorphosis , Part 1

This quote shows how Gregor feels isolated even before anyone else can see him as an insect. He knows that being different will inevitably affect his life and his relationships with his family. So, he prefers to confine himself to voluntary isolation instead of seeking help.

He thought back on his family with deep emotion and love. His conviction that he would have to disappear was, if possible, even firmer than his sister’s. The Metamorphosis , Part 3

This final paragraph of Kafka’s story reveals the human nature of Gregor. It also shows the depth of his suffering in isolation after turning into a vermin. He reconciles with his metamorphosis and agrees to disappear from this world. Eventually, he vanishes from his family’s troubled memories.

Theme of Loneliness in Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men is a touching novella by John Steinbeck examining the intricacies of laborers’ relationships on a ranch. It’s a snapshot of class and race relations that delves into the depths of human loneliness. Steinbeck shows how this feeling makes people mean, reckless, and cold.

Many characters in this story suffer from being alienated from the community:

  • Crooks is ostracized because of his race, living in a separate shabby house as a misfit.
  • George also suffers from forced alienation because he takes care of the mentally disabled Lennie.
  • Curley’s wife is another character suffering from loneliness. This feeling drives her to despair. She seeks the warmth of human relationships in the hands of Lennie, which causes her accidental death.

Isolation Quotes: Of Mice and Men

Now, let’s analyze a couple of quotes from Of Mice and Men to see how the author approached the theme of loneliness.

Guys like us who work on ranches are the loneliest guys in the world, they ain’t got no family, they don’t belong no place. Of Mice and Men , Section 1

In this quote, Steinbeck describes several dimensions of isolation suffered by his characters:

  • They are physically isolated , working on large farms where they may not meet a single person for weeks.
  • They have no chances for social communication and relationship building, thus remaining emotionally isolated without a life partner.
  • They can’t develop a sense of belonging to the place where they work; it’s another person’s property.
Candy looked for help from face to face. Of Mice and Men , Section 3

Candy’s loneliness on the ranch becomes highly pronounced during his conflict with Carlson. The reason is that he is an old man afraid of being “disposed of.” The episode is an in-depth look into a society that doesn’t cherish human relationships, focusing only on a person’s practical utility. 

I never get to talk to nobody. I get awful lonely. Of Mice and Men , Chapter 5

This quote expresses the depth of Curley’s wife’s loneliness. She doesn’t have anyone with whom she would be able to talk, aside from her husband. Curley is also not an appropriate companion, as he treats his wife rudely and carelessly. As a result of her loneliness, she falls into deeper frustration.

✍️ Essay on Loneliness and Isolation: Topics & Ideas

If you’ve got a task to write an essay about loneliness and isolation, it’s vital to pick the right topic. You can explore how these feelings are covered in literature or focus on their real-life manifestations. Here are some excellent topic suggestions for your inspiration:

  • Cross-national comparisons of people’s experience of loneliness and isolation.
  • Social isolation, loneliness, and all-cause mortality among the elderly.
  • Public health consequences of extended social isolation .
  • Impact of social isolation on young people’s mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Connections between social isolation and depression.
  • Interventions for reducing social isolation and loneliness among older people.
  • Loneliness and social isolation among rural area residents.
  • The effect of social distancing rules on perceived loneliness.
  • How does social isolation affect older people’s functional status?
  • Video calls as a measure for reducing social isolation.
  • Isolation, loneliness, and otherness in Frankenstein .
  • The unique combination of addiction and isolation in Frankenstein .
  • Exploration of solitude in Hernan Diaz’ In the Distance .
  •  Artificial isolation and voluntary seclusion in Against Nature .
  • Different layers of isolation in George Eliot’s Silas Marner .
  • Celebration of self-imposed solitude in Emily Dickinson’s works.
  • Buddhist aesthetics of solitude in Stephen Batchelor’s The Art of Solitude .
  • Loneliness of childhood in Charles Dickens’s works.
  • Moby-Dick : Loneliness in the struggle.
  • Medieval literature about loneliness and social isolation.

Now you know everything about the themes of isolation, loneliness, and alienation in fiction and can correctly identify and interpret them. What is your favorite literary work focusing on any of these themes? Tell us in the comments!

❓ Themes of Loneliness and Isolation FAQs

Isolation is a popular theme in poetry. The speakers in such poems often reflect on their separation from others or being away from their loved ones. Metaphorically, isolation may mean hiding unshared emotions. The magnitude of the feeling can vary from light blues to depression.

In his masterpiece Of Mice and Men , John Steinbeck presents loneliness in many tragic ways. The most alienated characters in the book are Candy, Crooks, and Curley’s wife. Most of them were eventually destroyed by the negative consequences of their loneliness.

The Catcher in the Rye uses many symbols as manifestations of Holden’s loneliness. One prominent example is an image of his dead brother Allie. He’s the person Holden wants to bond with but can’t because he is gone. Holden also perceives other people as phony or corny, thus separating himself from his peers.

Beloved is a work about the deeply entrenched trauma of slavery that finds its manifestation in later generations. Characters of Beloved prefer self-isolation and alienation from others to avoid emotional pain.

In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World , all people must conform to society’s rules to be accepted. Those who don’t fit in that established order and feel their individuality are erased from society.

  • What Is Solitude?: Psychology Today
  • Loneliness in Literature: Springer Link
  • What Literature and Language Tell Us about the History of Loneliness:
  • On Isolation and Literature: The Millions
  • 10 Books About Loneliness: Publishers Weekly
  • Alienation: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Isolation and Revenge: Where Victor Frankenstein Went Wrong: University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • On Isolation: Gale
  • Top 10 Books About Loneliness: The Guardian
  • Emily Dickinson and the Creative “Solitude of Space:” Psyche
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Loneliness Theme in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men

The American classic 'Of Mice and Men' by John Steinbeck poignantly captures the solitude and isolation experienced by individuals living in poverty, searching for a sense of purpose and companionship on their journey through life during The Great Depression of the 1930s.


The great classic American novel 'Of Mice and Men' by John Steinbeck is about two migrant workers, named George Milton and Lennie Small, who travel from place to place looking for work during the Great Depression in the 1930s. The novel explores many themes, but the most prominent is loneliness.

John Steinbeck, Author of Of Mice and Men

The first character to represent loneliness in the novel is George Milton. Although he is not alone, George is lonely because he is the only person who looks out for Lennie. He is Lennie's friend, caregiver, and protector, and he often feels burdened by this responsibility.

George cannot share his troubles with anyone else, emphasising his loneliness. He tells Slim,

"I ain't got no people. I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone. That ain't no good. They don't have no fun. After a long time, they get mean. They get wantin' to fight all the time."

This quote shows that George is aware of the consequences of being alone for too long and fears that he will become like those men.

Lennie Small is another character who is lonely in the novel. He is often left out of conversations and excluded from activities because of his mental disability. He is not aware of his isolation, but he feels it. For example, he tells George,

"I don't want no trouble. I jus' want to tend the rabbits. An' live off the fatta the lan'."

This quote shows that Lennie desires companionship and a sense of purpose but does not know how to attain it.

Crooks, the African American stable hand, is perhaps the loneliest character in the novel. He is isolated from the other workers because of his race and has no one to talk to. His loneliness is highlighted by the fact that he lives in a separate room from the other workers. When Lennie enters his room, Crooks tells him,

"A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody. Don't make no difference who the guy is, long's he's with you. I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick."

This quote demonstrates that Crooks understands the impact of loneliness on a person's mental health and is desperate for companionship.

Curley's wife is also a character who is lonely in the novel. She is the only woman on the ranch, and the men often ignore her. She is so desperate for attention that she tries to flirt with them, but this only leads to her being labelled a troublemaker. Finally, she tells Lennie,

"I get awful lonely,"

which shows that she craves companionship but does not know how to attain it.

Of Mice and Men: John Steinbeck,Movie Scene

Throughout the novel, Steinbeck presents the theme of loneliness through the characters' actions, thoughts, and experiences. He uses different characters to convey this message and show the impact of loneliness on a person's mental health.

George's fear of becoming like the lonely men he has seen on ranches emphasises the harmful effects of isolation. Lennie's desire for companionship and a sense of purpose demonstrates the importance of social interaction. Crooks's insight into the impact of loneliness on a person's mental health highlights the desperation that can arise from isolation. Finally, Curley's wife's attempt to flirt with the men shows the extreme lengths a person will go to combat loneliness.

In conclusion, John Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men powerfully explores the themes of loneliness. Through the various characters and their experiences, Steinbeck demonstrates the negative impact of isolation on mental health and the desperation that can arise from it. Each character's struggles with loneliness help to create a poignant and relatable portrayal of the human condition. In addition, the setting of the novel during the Great Depression, a time of economic and social upheaval, serves to emphasise the characters' struggles with loneliness as they try to navigate the difficulties of their lives.

Steinbeck's message is clear: humans need companionship to thrive. The novel highlights the importance of social interaction and the consequences of isolation. The fact that none of the characters achieves true friendship and happiness by the end of the novel is a sad reminder of the harsh realities of life. 'Of Mice and Men' is a heartbreaking and powerful portrayal of the struggles of those living on society's margins and the vital importance of human connection.

Revision Quiz

A brief revision quiz covering "Of Mice and Men" and loneliness. To answer the questions correctly, hover over each option and click to select it. After you finish, click 'Submit' to check your score and see the correct answers and explanations. Most questions will include an explanation with the answer. Please read the explanations accompanying the answers to your questions. Doing so will give you a better overall understanding of the topic. All the best!

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Theme of Loneliness of Mice and Men

This essay will analyze the theme of loneliness in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” It will discuss how the novel portrays the experiences of isolation and longing among characters in the Great Depression era, and how this theme is integral to understanding their motivations and interactions. At PapersOwl, you’ll also come across free essay samples that pertain to Loneliness.

How it works

In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck uses the very interesting and unique setting of Soledad, California. Soledad is Spanish for the word “loneliness” which is one of the major themes throughout the novel. He uses loneliness as a way to teach the readers how meaningful human interaction is and how much it can affect a person’s life. Most cases of loneliness in today’s society lead to death, resentment, and fear which is very similar to the cases in the novel.

Most of the readers, after hearing about the book, would probably think that Lennie would be the loneliest character in the novel due to his mental disability, however, that is not the case. The loneliest characters in any story are the ones who have physical flaws, like Crooks and Candy, people who experience a great loss, like George and Candy, or the ones who the reader deems desperate, and constantly reaching for attention or help, like Curley’s wife.

The physical flaws of a person can really make them feel isolated or even make them resent themselves. Crooks is an African-American stable hand for the farm that Lennie and George run away to. Because of his race, he is shunned by everyone around him which makes him feel very isolated. When Steinbeck is describing the life that Crooks lives, he states “A guy needs somebody-to be near him…a guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody” (Steinbeck 72) which shows how isolated he really is and how he’s desperately searching to have a life where he feels loved by someone.

The reader sees his isolation again when Lennies decides to talk to him in his room to which he responds with, “You go on, get outta my room. I ain’t wanted in the bunk house, and you ain’t wanted in my room” (Steinbeck 68). Candy is another character that struggles with loneliness due to his physical appearance. People on the farm see him as an old man with a missing hand that restricts him from doing as much as they want him to.

Candy also struggles with loneliness due to his great loss that he experienced. Towards the beginning of the story the readers learns about Candy’s beloved dog that is old and sick. In that same chapter, a man names Carlson shoots the dog because he is useless and couldn’t do anything to benefit the farm.

When this happens, Candy has no one else in his life and it sends him searching for something to latch on to to help him forget about his loneliness and to fill that empty feeling. Steinbeck writes about Candy’s loneliness when he states, “I ought to of shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog” (Steinbeck 61). He ends up latching on to George and Lennie’s dream of moving away to a farm. George creates this dream, so that he and Lennie can escape their restricted lives due to Lennie’s disability. George spends his entire life taking care of Lennie because of his mental disability, even though he jokes about wanting him to go away.

His disability gets so bad towards the end of the story, that it ends up causing Lennie to kill Curley’s wife and his puppy. Because of these horrific events, George feels the need to kill Lennie in a peaceful way before the people on the farm wanted to hang him and make him suffer through an awful death. Steinbeck ends the story with George shooting Lennie never showing just how lonely George will be because he had just shot his best and only friend. The reader can only assume just how lonely he would be by putting themselves in his shoes.

Unlike George, Curley’s wife attempted to rectify her loneliness but did not succeed. Curley constantly degrades her and cheapens her in the view of other men. He restricts her from talking to any other men on the farm which makes her feel very isolated and trapped since she is the only woman on the farm. Curley also doesn’t pay much attention to his wife which makes her seek constant attention from everyone around her.

When he sees that she is seeking for attention and she is trying to talk to the other men on the farm, he goes behind her back and threatens every man on the farm that he will fight them if they try to talk to her. Curley’s wife states, “What’s the matter with me? Ain’t I got a right to talk to nobody?” (Steinbeck 85) when she is trying to figure out why, when she tries to talk to these men, they just avoid her at any cost. Because she constantly reaches out to other men on the farm, she is known as a flirt and a troubled influence.

All Curley’s wife is trying to do is escape her haunting reality of constant misery and isolation and just find someone to talk to and to love her. These supposed “flirtatious” actions that come from her seeking attention and an escape from her isolation result in her lowering herself to getting close to Lennie. In the end, Curley’s wife suffers a horrific death due to Lennie seeing her loneliness, but due to his disability, he grows too close to her and eventually won’t let her go until she dies.

While Curley’s wife’s loneliness makes her seem very desperate and isolated, she also lets her loneliness dictate her actions. She acts like a flirt, and is known on the farm as the woman who sleeps around and is easy. Many characters that experience great loneliness execute many uncontrollable actions. They let their emotions dictate how they operate and this creates many conflicts throughout their life in the story. Lennie has a mental disability that makes him act like a young child. When he senses if anyone around him is lonely, he latches onto them until he thinks they feel better.

The reader sees this when he latches onto Curley’s wife until he ends up holding her so tight that she ceases breathing. Crooks also uses his loneliness as a defense mechanism by treating people badly so that he can’t be let down. Steinbeck writes, “He kept his distance and demanded that other people kept theirs” (Steinbeck 67) to show how Crooks pushes people away so that they can’t let him down first. Another character that uses loneliness as a defense mechanism to dictate their actions is Candy. Candy desperately holds onto his dog, even though he is sickly, so that he can avoid loneliness.

Loneliness is something that can greatly affect a person’s life whether it’s because of how other people treat them, a great loss, or how they look. While there are many characters in the novel that are very lonely, George states that “God a’mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy” (Steinbeck 12) which shows how desperate he is to be lonely. George is constantly overwhelmed with Lennie’s friendship throughout the book to the point where he seeks for loneliness unlike every other character in the novel. Anyone can be lonely whether they are surrounded by people, like George is, or if they’re isolated due to their supposed flaws. Every person in our world is always seeking for something more in their life because of their constant feeling of emptiness, that is seen in everyone.


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The Theme of Loneliness in Life in Literature Research Paper

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Belongingness is necessary to avoid loneliness, being alone despite being surrounded, loneliness is a product of our own design, works cited.

When I look at stories like “The Immortals”, “Evermore”, “The Prospect from the Silver Hills”, “A Family Super” and “Intimacy”, one common theme I noticed from all the stories is the concept of being alone and how it affects how people view themselves, their lives and the place they are in. It is the view of this paper that loneliness in life comes about not through outside circumstances; rather, it is a result of a personal choice.

In the case of the story, “The Immortals”, we see how the isolation of a group of survivors has changed their view of reality to the point that they believe that they are actually immortal. In fact, I read that the narrator of the story believed that he has been an observer of mankind from the very start and will continue to observe the world when mankind is no longer around. However it is hinted in one section that this is far from the truth when the narrator states:

“ Sometimes I have this weird idea that I am just a second rate New Zealand schoolmaster who never did anything or went anywhere and is now noisily dying of solar radiation along with everyone else.”

From this statement, it can be thought that the narrator could simply be making stuff up due to his/her loneliness. For instance, towards the end of the story it is shown that the narrator is part of a population in New Zealand that has been poisoned by water from a well. Evidence of this apparent loneliness can be seen in his/her views of the world around him/her as humanity slowly evolves and develops, yet, these views are strangely lacking in relation to feelings of association, friendship or even feelings of “belongingness” (Koger 126). What exists is instead an outside view of humanity that examines it from the perspective of someone that is outside of its norms, limitations and boundaries as opposed to someone that has examined human nature by being human themselves (Koger 126).

It seems as if despite the experiences of the narrator, there is no one that he is able to relate to, no one that he can talk to as an equal, and the end result is that he merely observes since that is all he can do (Lipsky 60). Evidence of this can be seen in the fact that the narrator does not seem to establish any form of long term relationships with the people he interacts with, he just drifts based on what interests him at that particular moment in time.

From this story, it is hinted that loneliness is often caused not by being alone, rather, it is often the case that it manifests simply because someone does not feel like they belong to the group that they find themselves in or that they cannot relate to anyone that they talk to (Lipsky 60).

One example of this can be seen in the case of the story “Evermore” where the main character of the story is sad about the death of her brother and the fact that many people have forgotten the sacrifices of the past. This can be seen in the following quote where the main character is sad over the arc of triumph in France and how it symbolizes the triumph of death rather than the triumph of humanity over death:

“An arch of triumph, yes, but of what kind, she wondered: the triumph over death, or the triumph of death.” (Evermore 78)

Yet, such actions are merely an excuse since the main reason behind her sadness is the fact that there is no one that can relate with her since not only has her brother died but many of the people that she knew have passed away due to old age (Hoffert 98).

In the story, “Intimacy” by Hanif Kureishi, we see that the main character is sad about his relationship and how in the end he leaves his wife for his mistress (Chalupský 61-62). What is interesting about this story is how it shows the concept of being alone despite being surrounded by people that you know. This can clearly be seen in the way in which the main character shows his dislike at being unable to find a sense of fulfillment when interacting with his wife yet finds what he seeks in the arms of another woman (Chalupský 61-62).

From this viewpoint, it can be seen that loneliness is not the absence of people; rather, it is the absence of relations. Relations in this case can include a variety of possible reasons such as the ability to understand the needs and wants of the other person, the ability to show care and compassion for the person that you are with, the desire to make them happy as well as the capacity to understand them and who they are (Chalupský 64). From this viewpoint, relations refer to the connection that one feels when they are with another person and does not necessarily include connections such as family, friendships or knowing someone. For instance, the author states in the book:

“Love cannot be measured by its duration….” (Chalupský 63)

This is a good statement to use when it comes to examining loneliness since it shows that just because you are with a person for an extended period of time does not mean that you are deeply in love with them. A man could be married to a woman and not actually love her, nor have any deep affection for her. Examples of this can be seen in various examples in the Middle East where arranged marriages used to be a normal custom between families in order to establish proper business relations. In most cases, the bride and the groom could have never met until the very day of the wedding and most likely have no affection whatsoever for each other.

Taking such an example into consideration, it can be seen that the main character in “Intimacy” is also feeling the same lack of connection wherein he is married to his wife simply to maintain the relationship and not because he loves her (Chalupský 61). Based on this, it can be stated that people feel lonely when they lack the capacity to connect with other people and feel isolated because they feel the need to stick to social norms (i.e. staying married) despite the fact that such a relationship merely makes them more miserable in the end. Evidence of this can be seen in the follow quote which showcases the inherent problems found in a relationship where there is a lack of connection:

“Both he and mother were frustrated, neither being able to find a way to get what they wanted, whatever that was. Nevertheless they were loyal and faithful to one another. Disloyal and unfaithful to themselves.”

While it may be true that people fall in love, they tend to fall out of love as well. It comes to a point that there is nothing new in a relationship where everything that is done is nothing more than a series of repeated events that are meant to conform to an established routine yet, deep down inside, people want something more (Katona 1). People want to feel special, to feel loved and to have some sort of connection with someone that shares their feelings and enhances it in their own way.

The problem when it comes to long term relationships as shown in the story is that love tends to disappear due to a lack of effort on the part of both parties. The end result is that the married couple just stays together for the sake of staying together without any true love between them (Katona 1). It would be the same as being alone since love is usually what holds a couple together, when it is gone all that is left is a sense of responsibility towards having the relationship. This can clearly be seen in the novel “Intimacy” where one of the major reasons why the main character has difficulty leaving his wife is due to his sense of responsibility towards her.

In the story “The Prospect from the Silver Hill” the very beginning of the story shows the very essence of loneliness when it states:

“The company agent – friendless, single, far from home – passed most days alone in a cabin at Ibela-hoy, the Hill Without a Hat.” (Crace 33)

It is immediately obvious to all the readers from the very first passage that the main character in the story is definitely lonely since he is friendless, single and far from the familiar groups of individuals from his home region. Yet, after going over the entire story, it seems to become a metaphor for the main character where his search for the value in the rocks he collects is almost the same with his own life that is relatively hard, cold, lifeless and lacking any company whatsoever. Thus, the search for value in rocks seems to be a metaphor for that person’s search for value in their own life where every rock can be considered an event that occurred (Ernst 1).

The lifelessness, the lack of feeling, the cold chill that descends on his fingers as he picks up a rock after a rock is similar to what a person who has lived a life with no companionship would do as they remember how they have lived (Ernst 1).

Through this story, we see how people who suffer from loneliness attempt to evaluate or even justify their choices in life by trying to find some hope, some meaning or even a shred of value in what they have done. This story is similar to cases where people are sad over the lack of company in their lives, how they have no one to be with, talk to, or share their lives with. However, in the end, they fail to realize that the source of their loneliness is their own selves.

Just as the choice of the main character was to be a company agent that evaluated stones ceaselessly, people tend to create for themselves personalities that are bare and lacking. They tend to imagine that companionship will come to them if they just sit there and wait, that merely spending the time living and waiting will bring the love they desire.

In the end, such actions are useless since companionship is only given when you seek it and become open towards potential possibilities. To put yourself out there, to interact with people, to make yourself vulnerable by exposing more of your true self is the only way people tend to open up and join you in your life. It is not enough that you act like the agent in the story, making for himself a delusion of a family and companionship; rather, it is important to understand the necessity of being open to new situations, new people and new events.

As seen in the story “The Family Supper”, people such as the man who committed suicide in the story, get so caught up in their work that when a potential alternative for liveliness and happiness is presented to them, they tend to be hesitant, even scared of change and do all that they can to avoid what could potentially be exactly what they truly wanted out of life (Ishiguro 136).

“ My father lowered his eyes and nodded. For some moments he seemed deep in thought. ‘Watanabe was very devoted to his work,’ he said at last. ‘The collapse of the firm was a great blow to him. I fear it must have weakened his judgement.”

For example, despite the fact that the company miners were able to find silver, the agent attempted to hide the fact, since he foresaw the potential influx of activity into the general area that finding silver and other precious ores would bring.

From the company agent’s perspective, despite the fact that having more interactions with people was exactly what he wanted; his delusion of the rocks being his family had supplanted his desire to interact with people to the extent that he acted irrationally in order to preserve “his world”. The same can be said in cases where loners and shut-ins (ex: the person who committed suicide in the last supper) tend to isolate themselves from everyone that they encounter despite people trying to reach out to them.

The fact is that just like the company agent and the person who committed suicide, loneliness and isolation are all they know and all to what they are used. If you attempt to bring a person out of their comfort zone, it is usually followed by considerable resistance and even violence (Lewis 1-2). Loneliness in such cases becomes an ever present feeling that they simply cannot live without and it becomes a part of them despite the fact that being lonely is something that they do not truly want.

Based on what has been presented in this paper, it can be seen that loneliness in life comes about not through outside circumstances; rather, it is a result of a personal choice. The main characters in the stories simply got so wrapped up in their isolation that they neglected to put themselves out there in order to experience the full level of possible experiences they could receive by interacting with people. They stayed in their sadness to such an extent that sadness was the only thing they knew. Yet, the saddest part is that the despair that ruled their lives was a product of a personal choice that they failed to see.

Chalupský, Petr. “Prick Lit Or Naked Hope? Self-Exposure In Hanif Kureishi’s Intimacy.” Brno Studies In English 37.2 (2011): 61-78. Print

Crace, Jim. “The Prospect from the Silver Hills.” The Art of the Story . Ed. Daniel Halpern. New York City: Penguin Group, 1999. 33-41. Print.

Ernst, Stephanie A. “Jim Crace.” Guide To Literary Masters & Their Works (2007): 1. Print

Hoffert, Barbarqa. “Book Reviews: Fiction.” Library Journal 121.5 (1996): 98. Print

Katona, Cynthia Lee. “Intimacy.” Magill’s Book Reviews (2000): 1. Print

Koger, Grove. “Einstein’s Monsters (Book).” Library Journal 112.10 (1987): 126. Print

Lewis, Leon. “A Family Supper.” Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition (2004): 1-3. Print

Lipsky, David. “Martin’s Monster.” National Review 39.22 (1987): 60-61. Print

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The Well of Loneliness Themes

By radclyffe hall.

These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community. We are thankful for their contributions and encourage you to make your own.

Written by Polly Barbour


The main theme of the novel is homosexuality, chiefly, how it is viewed by polite society, and the way in which the lives of the main characters are affected by their sexual orientation.

Stephen is a homosexual woman, who was given a boy's name because her parents were expecting to have a boy. For most of her adolescence she knows that she has crushes on women, but she does not know that this is a feeling that has a name. She also feels that she wants to be a boy rather than a girl. As she gets older, she realizes that she is falling in love with a woman and that this love is as strong and real as the love between her mother and her father. She still does not know that this has a name until she goes into her father's study after his death and reads his research notes and some of the books on his private bookshelf. She learns that she is an invert - the polite name for homosexual.

Homosexuality in the upper classes was not something that was easily accepted, and so Stephen's mother sees her as an aberration. She is not supportive at all of her sexuality. This is also an experience shared by Mary, who feels alienated by polite society in Paris when she is living with Stephen.

Gender Identity

Without mentioning it as a subject, another of the themes of the book is gender identity; from the moment her life begins Stephen feels that she was born the wrong gender, and the name her parents give her seems to support this theory. She is not even shaped like a female child, with narrow hips and an androgynous figure as she enters puberty. She does not identify as a woman; she wants to live as a man, to cut her hair short, to wear men's clothes. Although it is not addressed specifically, the theme of gender identity is present throughout the novel because it informs the person that Stephen is and the relationships that she has.

A Judgemental Society

Polite society does not accept homosexual women or men. There is even a name given to homosexuals by psychologists that polite society finds more palatable; "inverts" are those who have a genetic make up different to the rest of their gender and so feel attracted to the same sex. Stephen has the support of her father, but not of her mother, who views her as something abnormal. This opinion is shared by her neighbor Angela's husband when he finds out that Stephen has been sending love letters to his wife.

Similarly, in Paris, Mary feels lonely because she is alienated from the polite society in which she was raised. She is rejected because she lives with another woman something that they will not accept.

As part of the title of the book, loneliness is also one of its themes. Both Stephen and Mary experience incredible loneliness. Although they come together and momentarily seem to have a respite from it, eventually loneliness finds them again. Mary becomes lonely when Stephen begins working on her writing again. Stephen knows that she she cannot give Mary what she needs to make her truly happy and so engineers a situation in which she drives Mary into her best friend Martin's loving arms, but in doing so becomes lonely again herself, a feeling she has experienced since childhood.

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The Well of Loneliness Questions and Answers

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Study Guide for The Well of Loneliness

The Well of Loneliness study guide contains a biography of Radclyffe Hall, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.

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Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Fiction — The Theme of Loneliness in “Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield


The Theme of Loneliness in "Miss Brill" by Katherine Mansfield

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Words: 1130 |

Published: Feb 12, 2019

Words: 1130 | Pages: 2 | 6 min read

Table of contents

Miss brill's life as a depiction of the key theme, when the main part of the story begins, works cited.

  • Barnard, P. (1989). Katherine Mansfield. Routledge.
  • Böllinger, L. (2015). The Aestheticization of Discomfort and Empathy in Katherine Mansfield's “Miss Brill.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, 17(2).
  • Brooks, P. (1984). Reading for the plot: Design and intention in narrative. Harvard University Press.
  • Eysteinsson, Á. (2013). The concept of modernism. In The concept of modernism (pp. 11-40). Routledge.
  • Goldman, A. (1982). Katherine Mansfield and the Origins of Modernist Fiction. Cornell University Press.
  • Lawrence, D. H. (1921). Women in Love. T. Seltzer.
  • Mansfield, K. (1997). The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield. Wordsworth Editions.
  • Martin, W. R. (1977). “A Journey into Pure Being”: The Visual Arts in “Miss Brill.” Journal of Modern Literature, 6(1), 47-57.
  • Reeder, L. A. (1974). Katherine Mansfield's Miss Brill. The Explicator, 33(1), 28-30.
  • Tóibín, C. (2009). The Empty Spaces in Miss Brill. The London Review of Books, 31(3), 17-18.

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Guest Essay

How Joining a Scottish Softball Team Cured My American Loneliness

theme loneliness essay

By Ken Ilgunas

Mr. Ilgunas is the author of “Walden on Wheels” and “Trespassing Across America.” Based in Scotland, he is a captain of the Edinburgh Ogres and Haar Hitters.

Like many Americans, I spent my youth playing sports — baseball, ice hockey, football. But the demands of work and concerns about injury without adequate insurance led me to abandon my childhood passions.

I came out of sports retirement when I turned 35. After moving from the United States to Scotland, I joined the Haar Hitters , one of 10 teams in Edinburgh’s coed slow-pitch softball league. (In Scotland, “haar” refers to the fog rolling in from the North Sea.)

The Haar Hitters were mostly Brits who’d never held a softball and a few American expats past their heyday. We were a so-so team stuck in the weaker of two league divisions.

What started as a weekly diversion would become my gateway to building intergenerational friendships, getting fit and familiarizing myself with my new country. Even while living in Scotland, I learned useful lessons for my home country, too.

America is a country of sports lovers who don’t play sports. Yet adult recreation leagues can be an inexpensive solution to so many of the things that worry us: that we don’t have friends, that we’re out of shape and that we’re losing our vigor. According to a 2015 poll , while 73 percent of Americans played sports as kids, only 25 percent continue to do so as adults.

When the pandemic struck, half our players quit and the captain resigned. Another teammate and I took over and I soon realized that we had a golden opportunity to reinvent the team. When pandemic restrictions lifted, everyone in our city wanted to interact again. We had more recruits at our practices than we could take on.

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