Discuss the concept of isolation by using three characters from Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! What are the positive and negative effects of isolation? Consider how the characters survive the...

Discuss the concept of isolation by using three characters from Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! What are the positive and negative effects of isolation? Consider how the characters survive the narrative, or how they disappear from the narrative. What does that suggest about isolation?

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marizi | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Isolation is a form of separation or withheld from something.  There are different forms of isolation portrayed in Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!   They are exhibited by the main three characters namely:

 1. Ava -youngest member of Bigtree family, 13 years old

She is isolated from the outside world. She prefers to stay in their home within the alligator-infested Everglades swamp.  She is not exposed from the flaws of the human nature. As a positive effect, she is very friendly and has optimistic outlook in life even after her mother’s death (ovarian cancer).

On the negative effect, she is unaware for the intentions of the people around her. First is with his father (referred to as Chief Bigtree) who she taught went to mainland to look for investors but in fact works as an emcee for a casino’s beauty pageant. The next one is the Bird Man who took advantage of her naivety and end up raping her.  He is typical double-faced man who shows kindness and acts a supporting acquaintance at front but in fact has hidden immoral motive all along. Bird Man is a wolf in a sheep’s clothing.

Her ignorance prevents her from noticing the tale-tell signs of Bird’s man bad intent during the journey to look for Ossie such as: being selective in answering Ava’s bombarding questions, preventing her having chance to converse with other people (park service official(s) like Whip Jeters, hunters, and people from the radio station) and even the unawareness for possible violent act of rape when she is being undressed. At end, she end up being rescued by par service official and reunited with her family. Though as consequence of the dreadful event, she has as trouble sleeping that can be interpret of inner turmoil.

2.  Osceola or Ossie (nickname) – middle sibling of the Bigtree family, 16 years old

She have recluse herself from the reality after their mother’s death.  Upon reading the book: The Spiritualist’s Telegraph, it triggers her concoction of spiritual world where she started going into trances, séance, converse with ghost using Quija board and later on started dating a ghost named Louis.  The positive effect is that instead of wallowing upon their mother’s death, it diverge her interest to keep on living along with her fabricated experiences.

On the negative effect, she cut off ties with real world. There are times she goes on her own night activities without telling her family. This has become a cause of worry from her siblings who watched out for her from a distance. There came a time she left home by being delusional of eloping with her boyfriend ghost.  Because of this, Ava end-up being acquainted with the Bird Man as aforementioned above. In the end, she was sent to a psychiatrist to cure her mental illness (hearing voices inside her head).

3. Kiwi – eldest of the Bigtree family, 17 year old

He is isolated from how the actual business world works despite being a bookworm. Full of dreams and hope in saving the alligator amusement park, he went to mainland to find a job and plans going to college to study. The negative effect on this is that he came unprepared and end up landing a job as a janitor in the competitor’s park (the World of Drakness). He was ridiculed by his coworkers and boss. Another negative consequence is that he forsakes his responsibility of protecting his younger sister’s from harm’s way.

As for positive effect, he is fearless in challenging obstacles in life in order to improve one’s potential and destiny. With help of his friend Vijay, he was promoted to be a lifeguard and later on become a licensed pilot. He keeps looking for way to be able to rise up and provide a decent living for his family despite of being unskilled. As positive consequence or learning how to fly a plane, he was able to rescue her missing sister Ossie in time before he suspected of her try to hang herself using the noose attached on the nearby tree. This is only by chance when he was out for his first flight over the Everglades.

The narrative of character’s events goes back on forth. It narrates what happenings in the life of each sibling in their daily lives simultaneously. This helps to follow how the events unfold that somehow interconnected in the end of the story.  It shows how each sibling’s decisions in life have affected one’s another way of living despite being isolated with their own world: Ava swamp’s life; Ossie’s spiritual realm, and Kiwi’s corporate world.

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