A Theme Of Social Isolation In Wuthering Heights By Emily Bronte And Sleep By Haruki Murakami
The role of isolation in one’s life may derive from their own personal thoughts or the people they associate with. Most importantly, it can be caused by the people that claim to genuinely love and care for them. The concept of isolation is generally an action that an individual may impose on themselves, while the main source is coming from the acts of their loved ones. Throughout the novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, and the short story Sleep by Haruki Murakami, isolation and solitude are prevalent themes that are asserted in both storylines.
In Wuthering Heights, isolation is emphasized on multiple occasions. During the beginning of the novel, the reader is first introduced to the character, Heathcliff. His backstory showed that he had been taken in at a young age by a family of high social class. As he got older, he was slowly isolated from others because of the emotional abuse he received from Hindley. He clearly envied Heathcliff, which is why Hindley treated him as if he had no value in life. The day that Catherine arrived from her retreat, Hindley stated, “Heathcliff, you may come and wish Miss Catherine welcome, like the other servants”. This was a way for him to deteriorate Heathcliff’s self-worth by speaking in a way that puts him down and makes him feel equivalent to those in the lower class. Since Mr. Earnshaw adopted Heathcliff as a child, Hindley had always intended to make Heathcliff feel isolated from everyone else. Especially after the passing of Earnshaw, Hindley asserted his jealousy even more by segregating Heathcliff from the high social class. Although he was the one imposing the emotional abuse on Heathcliff, Hindley had also experienced the feeling of isolation at one point. As Catherine and Heathcliff began to form a strong bond with Mr. Earnshaw, Hindley noticed that he was no longer prioritized and did not receive as much attention. Once Earnshaw’s focus shifted more towards Heathcliff, he slowly started to disregard his biological son. Hindley quickly took notice of that and felt as though he was being neglected by his own family. Later on, he was forced to carry another burden which was the death of his wife, Frances. This pushed him to face another form of social isolation, but this time it was caused by the loss of his wife rather than the emotional abandonment from his father. In the novel, the author mentioned, “For himself, he grew desperate… he neither wept, nor prayed; he cursed and defied… and gave himself up to reckless dissipation”. This exemplifies how devastated Hindley was after the death of his wife, so much that he was isolated in such a way that made him feel lost. He refused to be around others who offered their presence just to keep him company. Hindley resorted to excessive amounts of alcohol to numb all the pain he had been struggling with, which ultimately led to his death. After isolating Heathcliff when he was still growing up, he himself ended up going through the same thing from his own tragic experiences later on in life. Hindley was forced into isolation which he had not been fully aware of, which is similar to what the narrator went through in the short story, Sleep.
In Sleep, by Haruki Murakami, oblivious self-isolation is a dominant theme that is played out through the narrator. She had not been able to sleep for seventeen days consecutively, which is a secret that she had been keeping from her husband. She states, “I haven’t mentioned it to them… I know it wouldn’t do any good… this is something I have to deal with myself”. This gives the reader a better understanding of her perspective, but also makes it clear that the narrator does not realize she is going through something significant. Rather than sharing this concern with her family, she completely isolates herself because she believes that she is able to figure it out by herself. This form of solitude may also be built up even further after the narrator sees that both her husband and son do not notice or acknowledge her lack of sleep. The narrator explains, “Neither my husband nor my son has noticed that I’m not sleeping… our life flows on unchanged”. The people that live with her and are around on a daily basis do not feel that anything is out of the ordinary or even observe her unusual actions. This could be the main reason why she is unaware that she had been isolating herself, because those who love her are not bringing anything to her attention. The narrator falls deeper into social isolation as she continues to not speak on this issue with her family.
Staying awake after the terrifying nightmare she had one night eventually led her to pick up a book, Anna Karenina. As she became invested into the reading, she thinks to herself, “I had become accustomed in this way to a life without books…where had the old me gone, the one who used to read a book as if possessed by it?”. She started to recognize the minor changes in her life that once made her feel fulfilled and independent. This goes on to represent her emotions and how she has been isolated since becoming a housewife. She felt as though she had no longer been able to enjoy her own hobbies because she focused all her concentration into her family. The narrator starts to open up more as she reminisces on her past life based off of the small details she took note of, especially after seeing the chocolate flakes scattered onto the novel she was reading. She reveals, “I hadn’t touched chocolate since my marriage. My husband doesn’t like me to eat sweets… We don’t usually keep that kind of thing around the house”. The narrator is realizing how much she isolated herself from things that genuinely made her happy ever since she got married. She was incognizant of the fact that she had been isolated because she got used to the concept of marriage and the standards placed on her by her husband. Social or self-isolation affects every person diversely in the way they observe and act on it.
Both stories provided an insight on what social isolation may do to someone and how it contributes to a decline in one’s mental health. In reality, there are also many other health risks associated with isolation or self-neglect. A web article, Social Disconnectedness, Perceived Isolation, and Health among Older Adults further explains this by confirming, ‘A large body of psychological research has demonstrated a robust association between loneliness and worse health, including cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and depression” (Cornwell and Waite). Someone who disconnects themselves from others and avoids any form of contact may suffer physical health problems that derive from the impact on their mental health. It may also significantly increase the risk of early mortality which is only the worst of the many leading health indicators. The commonalities in Wuthering Heights and Sleep justifies this because every character that experienced solitude later neglected themselves, which ended up causing them to face even more encumbering issues. Mental health is exemplified in Wuthering Heights mainly through Heathcliff. He had faced isolation during his childhood; therefore, the disassociation had a major effect on his mental health and caused him to grow up with hatred and lack of sympathy towards others.
Deteriorating physical health is also affiliated with isolation which can be seen after Hindley dilapidated himself following the loss of his wife. His actions that were effectuated by social isolation later led to his death. In the short story Sleep, the narrator was neglected because she kept all of her problems and emotions to herself, in which she unwillingly isolated herself from those around her. In an article titled, The Surprising Effects of Loneliness on Health, the author reports, “Among older people who reported they felt left out, isolated or lacked companionship, the ability to perform daily activities declined and deaths increased over a six-year study period”. This relates to the narrator in Sleep because she did not have any emotional support since her struggles were going unnoticed, therefore she began to dread her daily life in marriage while feeling held back from being independent. The lack of social interaction and expressing emotions can lead to permanent damage on anyone’s health and wellbeing. This makes isolation a very toxic environment that an individual could unknowingly force themselves into.
Social isolation has the potential to decimate one’s physical and mental health, as shown through Heathcliff’s disassociation from the people he is surrounded with in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, and through the narrator of Sleep by Haruki Murakami with her refusal to share her struggle to sleep with those closest to her. These are just small examples that we can apply to the grand scheme of the realities most people face in terms of experiencing isolation throughout one’s lifetime. The characters in both storylines are those most can relate to as they allow readers to open the door to have a conversation on how disassociation and isolation can severely affect mental health, leading to depression, and eventually culminating to physical deterioration. These stories remain timeless due to the fact that the themes surrounding mental health will never fade away throughout time because it is the reality and this topic will continue to be relevant.
- Brody, Jane E. “The Surprising Effects of Loneliness on Health.” The New York Times, 11 Dec.
- 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/11/well/mind/how-loneliness-affects-our-health.html 24 Nov. 2019.
- Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Bedford/St. Martins, 2003.
- Cornwell, Erin York, and Linda J Waite. “Social Disconnectedness, Perceived Isolation, and
- Health among Older Adults.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2009, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2756979/ 25 Nov. 2019.
- Murakami, Haruki. The Elephant Vanishes. Oakhill, 2008.
- Novotney, Amy. “Social Isolation: It Could Kill You.” Monitor on Psychology, American
- Psychological Association, May 2019, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/05/ce-corner-isolation 9 Dec. 2019.
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