alienation during the victorian era


Many characters during the Victorian to early Modern literature era were alienated. Causes of alienation during this time period included familial separation, social class or gender restrictions, and self-isolation from society. These characters may display the common causes of alienation, but ared still connected to their families and society. Some characters may alienate themselves, yet find that they can never truly separate from family and/or society. While on the surface many characters may seem to be alienated, it is clear that every character is not alienated and is connected through familial ties, love, or money. Characters were alienated during this time period due to four main causes: family, social class, gender, or self-isolation which leads to discovery of oneself. A character that appeared to be alienated because of family problems and social class restrictions included Jane Eyre, the protagonist in Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. She is alienated as she is a young orphan and taken in by extended family members.

Jane is mistreated by her cousins, especially John Reed as she continuously receives hits from him as he “bullied and punished” her and “every morsel of flesh in [her] bones shrank” when he came near her (Bronte 7). Mrs. Reed, her aunt, puts Jane in the red room as a punishment for hurting John and she becomes mentally scarred by this as she believes it is haunted by her dead uncle and is never fully healed by this. Jane is never able to experience a source of love and sense of belonging while staying with her relatives displaying her alienation in her childhood. Jane is sent away to a girls’ school, Lowood, where she is soon singled out by Mr. Brocklehurst for lying. She feels alone at boarding school with no source of comfort. Jane soon befriends another student, Helen Burns and finds comfort in her but she soon dies of tuberculosis. Jane is alone and alienated once again. Jane chooses to follow the occupation of a governess, but a governess did not have a definite position in society’s status structure and she was not able not fit in with her employer or the servants. Jane is also alienated as she falls in love with the wealthy man who owns Thornfield- Edward Rochester.

She cannot pursue him however, because of she is “poor, obscure, plain, and little” (Bronte 286). As a governess, Jane becomes the bottom of the totem pole in the wealthy world as the high members depict her as poor and unequal to a man like Rochester. Because of her low social status, Jane cannot find a source of love and acceptance. Another orphan who is alienated by a family that mistreats him and is low on the social ladder is Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. He enters the novel as an outsider to everyone surrounding him and is alienated as he is “possessed of nothing” and “not even given a last or family name” when brought home by Mr. Earnshaw (Melani). Mr. Earnshaw was the sole protector of Heathcliff and Hindley Earnshaw was “painfully jealous” of Heathcliff because he won over his father’s affections but as soon as Mr. Earnshaw passed away, Hindley was allowed to show “his old hatred of the boy” (Bronte 39, 44). Heathcliff is now alone without security in his own home. Heathcliff finds some comfort in Catherine Earnshaw, but soon loses her to Thrushcross Grange.

At Thrushcross Grange, Catherine meets Edgar Linton and replaces Heathcliff and she transforms into a proper lady, treating Heathcliff like a servant because of his low social class. This shows Heathcliff as being alienated not only through family but also through social class restrictions. Heathcliff is left alone with no source of acceptance because of familial separation and social class restrictions, alienated once again. Characters began to alienate themselves by exploring other ways of life rather than traditional values. Through his exploration of beauty and hedonism, Dorian Gray, in The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde alienates himself. Dorian is full of innocent potential and ruins this by beginning to alienate himself by building a wall of “beauty that does not die” with the influence of Lord Henry Wotton’s philosophy of life (Wilde 43). Dorian separates himself even more from society as commits himself to “eternal youth, infinite passion, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joys and wilder sins” (Wilde 77) after the death of his temporary love, Sibyl Vane. He follows a destructive path of selfishness and soon begins to have no consideration for others as he shows no remorse after Sibyl’s death.

Dorian is by himself without any help from other people because of his selfish ways. Dorian’s hedonistic views only allow him to seek the pleasures of an “exquisite life” (Wilde 100). This isolation of other views causes Dorian to continually sin because of the pleasure seeking throughout his life and will ultimately cause his death. Another self-isolation of life includes Stephen Dedalus, in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man who leads a story of alienating himself from early childhood to adulthood. From childhood, he is alienated from his large family as he is sent to a Jesuit boarding school where he has a hard time with other students as he “felt his body [too] small and weak amid the [other] players” (Joyce 8), and is very unhappy there. As an adult and the artist stage in his life, Stephen goes to study at university and feels alienated from Ireland. Stephen rejects Irish politics and nationalism that his classmates strongly believe in which display his choice to alienate himself from Ireland. He wants to leave Ireland to discover himself as an individual and what he wants to be in life and he knows that he must alienate himself from Ireland, Irish politics, Catholicism, and even his family.

Stephen displays the alienation as a reason to go explore life away from “my home, my fatherland, or my church” (Joyce 268). This isolation is self-inflicted and displays the alienated role he has to take in order to fulfill his artist dreams. By attempting to overcome gender inequality, Lily Briscoe, in To The Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf, is alienated. As Lily stays as a houseguest at the Ramsay’s summer home, she makes choices that separate her from other women during the 1920’s such as choosing to be an artist and not seeing the need to marry. She rejects the idea to marry even though Mrs. Ramsay, a strong believer in traditional values, believes William Bankes would be a suitable husband. Mrs. Ramsay knows “she would never marry” because she was “an independent little creature” (Woolf 17). Lily is the epitome of an independent, woman making her own choices with no responsibility for anyone else, even though it was frowned upon by those around her.

She begins to enable herself socially because of the decisions she makes, but does this alone. People doubt Lily’s abilities because she is a woman, including Mr. Ramsay who patronizes her and Mr. Tansley who believes that “women can’t paint, women can’t write” (Woolf 182). Lily is alienated in the way that no one seems to understand her as she paints what she sees and feels instead of explaining it in words, and as she faces adversity by herself, she uses it as motivation to help her finally complete her painting in a way that others can understand her. All these characters display the causes of alienation through each of their experiences but end up being connected again through familial ties, love, or money. As Jane Eyre

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