Theme Of Isolation And Discrimination In Forgiveness And Flowers For Algernon
Although everyone in society is equal, not all are being treated equally as society abuses minority groups because of their differences. Discrimination is the unequal treatment of humans with the same or equivalent value based on gender, race, sex, class, religion, and/or ethnicity which causes one to feel isolated. In Forgiveness written by Mark Sakamoto and Flowers For Algernon written by Daniel Keyes, this idea is shown through their main characters. Mark Sakamoto’s Forgiveness is the life story of his grandparents and how isolation from society is present in their lives during World War II. Daniel Keyes’ Flowers For Algernon is the story of a mentally retarded man who undergoes surgery which gives him very high intelligence hoping society will accept him because of his improved intellect. One can be isolated from family, friends, or society because of their differences between them and majority groups in society. Isolation leads individuals to feel defenseless and alone as they essentially feel that society can never accept them and feel lonely for the rest of their lives.
In Forgiveness, one of the major themes is isolation shown through his grandmother Mitsue. Sakamoto promotes the concept that isolation exists when one is not accepted by society. The Japanese population first isolate themselves soon after immigrating to British Columbia. Mark writes “It was so isolated from the broader Vancouver community that it may as well have been in Japan. . . the first-generation Japanese — the Issei — huddled together to shield themselves from their strange and generally hostile new surroundings (Sakamoto, 40)”. People of Japanese descent already felt isolated from everything soon after coming to Canada because of their race, appearance, language, etc. causing them to settle with others alike. Mark highlights the idea that the Japanese immigrants in Canada had stuck together because their differences with the “broader Vancouver community” would not allow them to recreate their lives in Japan. Additionally, the language barrier made it hard forJapanese immigrants to interact with the native population ultimately creating “Japtown”. Similarly, the Japanese were not accepted by the native population. Mark states “the media portrayed these eight thousand, and their Chinese counterparts, as the “Asian invasion” . . . national newspapers printed venom in black and white that aimed to strip Asian residents of their very humanity (Sakamoto, 41)” British Columbians were not welcoming of the Asian community as riots, mobs, and hate groups started to vandalize businesses while holding racist signs. The police did not help the Japanese from preventing further damages leaving the Japanese to defend their own neighbourhood. Finally, all of the Japanese population is physically isolated from the general population. As Mitsue and many other Japanese immigrants already felt out of place, the government and society wanted them gone. Pearl Harbor gave them the opportunity. Following the bombing, “a committee of three men was empowered to remove all individuals of Japanese origin, Canadian or not, from the hundred-mile coastal region” (95), many Japanese immigrants were deported to internment camps, away from everything which now physically isolated them from society. As shown, the deportation isolated the Japanese creating confusion because many did nothing wrong but come to Canada for a better life.
Sakamoto also indicates that society abuses and isolate racial minority groups creating fear. For instance, the hostile community would destroy Japanese owned businesses and companies would not provide them with services. Hate speech and smashed in windows would occur on a daily basis. The community used anything they could find such as rocks and bricks to throw at Japanese storefronts. The insurance companies started to cancel the policies of Japanese owners (Sakamoto, 87-88). The destruction and cancelation created fear in Japanese families because they could not pay for the damages causing them to close the business. Because of this, the Japanese feared for their lives as they could not afford food, clothes, shelter, or essential services without a source of income. Another example is when Mitsue is deported to Alberta to work as a slave. The Japanese feared for their lives because of the poor conditions they were put through. In Mitsue’s case, her family had limited access to food and clean water, diseases were everywhere, and working on the field was laborious. Death was near unavoidable as Mitsue even witnessed her mother-in law die because of the hard labour and hot weather of Alberta. Due to these conditions, many Japanese people feared for their lives not knowing if they would survive or not.
Identically, a major theme in Flowers For Algernon is isolation. Daniel Keyes also promotes the concept that one may experience isolation if they are not welcomed by society. The first example is shown when Charlie is rejected by his family members. Charlie, who grew up with a mental disability, is surrounded by negative family members such as his mother and sister who do not accept him for who he is. When Charlie states, “I see now that when Norma flowered in our garden I became a weed, allowed to exist only where I would not be seen, in corners and dark places” (Keyes, 107) he realizes that he is different from the family. Charlie recognizes that his family does not accept him which ultimately leads to the surgery. Another example is when Charlie isolates himself from the bakery. Charlie’s coworkers constantly make fun of him for not being able to complete simple tasks. His coworkers laugh at him for dropping a tray of rolls (Keyes, 4) but he does not understand that they are laughing at him not with him. Once Charlie understands this, he avoids his coworkers at the bakery. Finally, Charlie isolates himself after talking to Alice. Charlie undergoes an operation that increases his intelligence to hopefully fit in with society, but it is not what he expects. Charlies says “I am just as far away from Alice with an IQ of 185 as I was when I had an IQ of 70.” (Keyes, 80). Charlie is just as isolated with high intelligence as with low intelligence as people do not understand him. Charlie has been isolated ever since he was young and despite his effort, he will always be different than society.
The writer further points out that society abuses and isolates people with disabilities. In fact, society viewed and treated Charlie as less of a human being with nothing to provide for society. An instance of this theory is when Charlie is abused by his coworkers for being unable to do a simple task. Charlie says “Gimpy hollered at me because I droppd a tray full of rolles I was carrying over to the oven. They got derty and he had to wipe them off before he put them in to bake. Gimpy hollers at me all the time when I do something rong,” (Keyes, 4). His co-workers make fun of him for being unable to complete these simple tasks but once Charlie recognizes this, isolation occurs. Additionally, his own family abuses him for having a disability. His mother and sister talk down to him and physically abuse him to the point where they do not want him here. His mother can not stand him any longer, threatening to kill him saying “I don’t care. He goes out tonight. I can’t stand looking at him anymore” (Keyes, 117). His disability has caused major issues in his life ultimately being isolated by society.
In conclusion, Sakamoto’s Forgiveness and Keyes’ Flowers For Algernon both explore the theme of isolation and how it affects one’s life. Both main characters are not accepted by society because of their racial and intelligence differences. They are isolated from society which caused major issues in their lives. Despite the similarities between the novels, they also bear many differences respectively. Mitsue and the fellow Japanese population is not accepted by the British Columbia population because of their race. Charlie dealt with isolation his entire life because of his mental disability. Also, Charlie reacts to isolation differently than how Mitsue did. Charlie hates being different and ultimately receives surgery as an attempt to achieve social acceptance while Mitsue accepts that she is different and nothing can change who she is. Eventually, loneliness in the lives of Mitsue and Charlie created a tragic and demoralising situation.
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