I for Isobel demonstrates that in order to survive, we need a rich imaginary world

April 3, 2019 by Essay Writer

Isobel’s wildly vivid imagination serves as a powerful survival tool throughout a traumatic childhood and subsequent tumultuous transition into adulthood, providing escapism from an agonizing and often humiliating reality, and comfort that she cannot receive from anyone or anything else. Her love for and reliance on fantasy is manifest in many forms- her insatiable appetite for reading, the imaginary characters and worlds that she invents, and the everyday wanderings of her mind, colouring a reality rendered only in shades of grey, and empowering Isobel, giving her the resilience to persevere through travail. However, while escaping into her many imaginary worlds is powerful as an interim distraction from the agonizing realities of life, it is not a method that can sustain a fulfilling existence in the long term. Escaping from problems does not solve them; distraction can only ever be transient, and her uncontrollable imagination gradually becomes a menace, irritating Isobel rather than assisting her as it used to. Ultimately, Isobel is not truly able to survive in the world, to surge through life rather than drift, and to live with the confidence to be herself until she confronts the past and conquers the demons of memory rather than suppressing them, reaching an acceptance of herself that allows her to be strong and free. The real world for Isobel is a dark and turbulent place laden with the heavy fog of emotional unrest, insecurity, loneliness and an acute sense of being inadequate, or inherently incomplete. Struggling amid the chaotic “currents and undertows…mysterious evil passions, rage and envy…(and) most of all an unconquerable sadness,” Isobel frequently feels powerless, floundering through the overwhelmingly chaotic dynamics of the world, succumbing to “inertia” rather than striding forward in her own direction. She is convinced of her faults, acutely aware of being “born bad” and “accept(s) herself as a hopeless born liar,” often feeling weighed down by the resigned idea that she is ultimately unable to control her behavior, but merely serves as a puppet for the “idiot in the attic,” the “spiteful little bastard” who “play(s) its games with the real world…behind Isobel’s back.” This sense of being a contemptible, inherently flawed person causes intense insecurity, causing Isobel to panic incessantly that she is “wounding people without being aware of it,” always pausing to question, “could she have offended him?” Similarly, her timidity and apprehension lead her to assume that others are constantly thinking poorly of her, and she anxiously questions everything she does, feeling ashamed- “was that the wrong way of reading then?” She feels defeated, as if there is no way to ensure her safety and security. Even as a child she acknowledges, “you couldn’t make yourself safe,” and this idea remains entrenched within her into early adulthood, as she reflects, “no sooner had you built your little raft and felt secure than it came to pieces under you.” This inherent perpetual sense of being unsafe, and of being a failure, isolates Isobel from those around her- “you build a wall around yourself and too late find yourself walled in,” creating an impenetrable distance between herself and her peers, as evident as she sees Trevor “from the other side of the river,” powerless to break down the barrier of her own insecurity. Ultimately, she feels incomplete, filled with “anguish, with longing and a sense of exile”- a painful, exhausting existence that would surely destroy her spirit entirely had she no release from such agonies.However, Isobel is able to escape from the excruciating pressures of everyday life through reading. As a child, she uses her books as a shield from her mother’s cruelty, discovering early on that “birthdays, injustices, parents all vanished…(they) didn’t matter so much if life had these enchanting surprises that were free to everyone,” and finding profound relief from the callousness of her surroundings. Isobel’s love of reading remains with her into adulthood, offering comfort and a feeling of being “really at home” with her books, preferring the company of these fictional characters to the insensitive and unreachable people around her. Her ability to become entirely consumed in a book, feeling that “it’s not like reading…it’s like living it,” and “whenever she wasn’t reading, no matter what was happening in the outside world…(being) conscious of being in exile from (the story),” is testament to the intensity of her imagination and her capacity to live her stories, forgetting (temporarily) the harshness of reality. In addition to reading, Isobel extends the idea of fantasy and storytelling into the creation of her own imaginary characters, finding both comfort and excitement in her thrilling new worlds, and guidance in the more spiritual mentor-type figures that she fabricates in her mind. Isobel’s childhood fantasies of Gerald, Antonia and the traveling theatre provide a thrilling world of drama and romance that fulfills Isobel’s need for excitement, intensity and freedom, a sensation that is distinctly missing from her life. Filled with cozy, comforting images of family closeness and togetherness, “the campfire at night…Antonia in slacks and sweater singing old folk songs…Gerald putting out his arm to bring Robert close to him, Robert snuggling up,” these imaginary stories impart on Isobel a sensation of love, comfort and tenderness- the antithesis of the cold family dynamics offered to her by the real world. As a young adult, these ideas similarly culminate in the fabrication of Joseph, the “loved, respected authority,” a guiding father-figure to whom Isobel reflects and prays at night, finding comfort and support in this imaginary mentor that she cannot find elsewhere.Isobel’s imagination finds itself spiraling throughout her daily thoughts, wandering into everyday occurrences as escapism from any discomfort and embarrassment. At work, she tells herself “I am not here. I am in Czechoslovakia” to transcend the humiliation of being disparaged and reprimanded by Mr Richard, and she spends her dreary mornings wondering extensively about and creating a detailed image of Mr Vorocic, a glass manufacturer whose German letter Isobel is supposed to be translating. This preoccupation with the romance and poetry of life and her ability to fabricate rich stories from a bland business document distract her from the mundanity of her job, allowing the writer within her stimulation amid a lackluster, unfulfilling environment. Her vivid imagination also provides her with comic relief from misery or fear, allowing her to find amusement amid a “horror dream,” such as waking up at Michael’s house and pretending that she is in a train compartment having an exciting adventure rather than being naked and vulnerable in a strange man’s bathroom. As Isobel reflects, “there was a mind for you, darting about on its own adventures, giving the owner a fright of a lifetime”- her imagination is almost beyond her control, surprising her with its intensity. Essentially, Isobel’s ability to co-exist in the real world and her many imaginary worlds allows her vital release from the agonies constantly threatening to engulf her, temporarily allowing distraction from the shadows that might otherwise consume her entirely.Yet although escapism is effective as an interim distraction, it is merely that- a distraction from, as distinct from a solution to, her problems. As her troubles continue to accumulate and intensify, festering beneath a struggling cover of suppression, the positive power of her imagination reciprocally falters, gradually culminating in the menacing “word factory” constantly nagging at Isobel, incessantly frustrating her with its uncontrollable “groaning, grinding and defining.” Isobel describes this overworking imagination as “words we have plenty of, nasty little buzzing insects that they are. Awake two minutes and the word factory is at it already”- the term “insects”, a recurring motif throughout the novel, immortalizing ideas of sin, flaw, and contemptible characteristics not unlike the “mysterious evil passions” of “rage and envy”, creating a vivid impression of a relentlessly irritating force, one that Isobel constantly tries to silence, reprimanding herself, “listen you don’t have to paint his portrait,” or “it’s a stain coloured stain and shut up.” Above all else, it is perhaps the futility of her imagination and compulsive need to describe, to use language to create images of everything she sees, that frustrates Isobel- these ideas are “to be handed in nowhere at the end of the day,” thoughts, images and words merely “running like mice on a treadmill,” perpetually, repetitively and utterly serving no purpose. Her imagination is no longer simply something that she treasures- it has developed into something unmanageable, irrepressible, exacerbating her frustration with the world rather than providing release from it. Isobel soon realizes that in order to survive she must actively challenge the past rather than simply suppressing it- she must face her problems, surrendering to the “door held straining against memories” and taming the “dogs of the past always yapping at her ankles” before she is able to move on from them. Eventually, Isobel decides to visit her childhood home, bravely confronting her painful memories and laying some ghosts to rest. In doing this, Isobel develops a “new tolerance” for her childhood self, learning that she should not regard herself with such harsh contempt, commanding “Isobel Callaghan, pick on somebody your own size.” She realizes at long last that her childhood trauma was not her fault, but rather that she had been horrendously mistreated by her parents, “two murderers” who destroyed her sense of self-worth. As she rages “bastards, bastards, bastards! Spiteful, tormenting bastards!” she is finally able to achieve some closure over her past, an understanding of what has happened to her, thus finally liberating her sense of self. With this new freedom from the tight, restricting cordons of the past, Isobel is free to finally discover her purpose in life, to understand and accept who she really is. Recognizing at last that “there’s a writer in there…a naked infant greased and trussed in the baking dish with an apple jammed in its mouth,” she is able to release the “poor little bugger,” liberating herself just in time before the baking dish, struggling baby and all, is plunged into the burning oven. This realization is empowering, enlivening. Isobel gains a definite sense of self as she understands finally, “I am a writer, I am a writer,” a revelation that she declares is “the happiest moment of (her) life.” Isobel “knew she could choose to be a writer,” firmly and powerfully demonstrating her ability to take control of her existence, to survive in the world and be her own person. Thus while her imagination assists her along the way to revelation, it is her own active discovery and acceptance of herself that ultimately allows Isobel to endure her struggles, and to emerge from them as a stronger, more independent individual.  

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