Please explain the theme of alienation

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Alienation in literature can be in the form of physical aloneness and separteness from others, or it can be the psychological isolation of a character.  Since "meaning depends upon sharing," as the great Polish-born British writer, Joseph Conrad, once wrote, characters who have no one with whom to share their joys or sorrows are often tragically alienated.  In John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men, for instance, the character Crooks works during the day and reads at night.  Isolated from the other ranch workers because of his race, Crooks tells the child-like Lennie that being alone makes a man crazy, for if he sees something

"...he don't know whether it's right or not.  He can't turn to some other guy and ast him if he sees it too.  He can't tell.  He got nothing to measure by."

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter,  Hester Prynne is certainly alienated from the community by her having been an adultress.  Even though she sews beautifully for people, she is never allowed to be part of their social circle.  Her beloved Reverend Mister Dimmesdale, on the other hand, is an integral part of the community, but he is terribly isolated psychologically because of his secret sin which he must hide from others.  Because he must dissemble to his congregation, Dimmesdale's terrible psychological and spiritual alienation becomes more than he can bear until the day that he reveals the A written upon his chest.  Always the alienated-- the disfranchised, the alone --seek someone to share with, someone to make them a home, someone to give meaning to their lives.

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