What is it about isolation? There is something both frightening and mystical about being alone. Being forced to be alone, the classic time-out, is used to punish everyone from children to condemned criminals. Seeking to be alone can be seen as either a cry for help or an enlightened search for truth, depending on who you are and what you are looking for. Either way, being alone is a universal experience, perhaps our most common bond, right up there with birth, death and falling in love.
Whether you find yourself alone by choice or against your will, being cut off from the rest of the world is never easy, and only in the most extreme or cruelest cases do individuals actually find themselves completely alone without any human contact at all. By now, for example, most of us have learned that Thoreau’s self-imposed isolation at Walden Pond was never really far from civilization. (In fact, he probably had some interesting neighbors really close by). His, was an intentional retreat against the burgeoning industrialized world, and as such, he lived and experienced his time at Walden through that prism, making certain to heighten his awareness of what was “happening” … around him and within him … but he wasn’t in any real danger.
Other times, loneliness and isolation become one of the obstacles, one of the dangers in our lives. Here are five books for high school students where loneliness or isolation act as one of the antagonists:
- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. One of the first books I remember reading where the protagonist finds himself alone for a long stretch, I had the illustrated classic edition of this novel. By today’s standards, this book’s portrayal of “the other” falls short, but it should be revisited and reread for the classic that it is. Part travelogue, part survival manual, Robinson Crusoe blended truth and fiction into interesting entertainment. You can find a no frills, free version of this novel at the good ol’ Gutenberg Project.
- Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. This short, but compelling book retells the story of Chris McCandless, a twenty-two year old from Wisconsin who decides to travel alone to Alaska instead of going off to college. By trying to retrace the final fatal decisions McCandless makes, Krakauer invites the readers into reflections about his own past, and the decisions he made. The novel was turned into a film in 2007, which only fueled the fascination people had with McCandless’ final journey. Writer Diana Saverin reports in The Chris McCandless Obsession Problem, how the bus has become a place of pilgrimage for some, continuing the cycle of searching for self out in the world.
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Another one of those “classics” that everyone is forced to read in high school, and fortunately, it is short enough to read in a sitting or two. Written in the middle of the twentieth century, this book reflects the pessimistic, zero sum attitude that still pervades the culture today, without the snark or ironic humor we have added to the recipe. The grim outlook that Golding had about human nature, though, has been proven wrong on more than one occasion, including this true-life account of six boys which you can read about here. IRL, the shipwrecked boys survived #aloneTogether for 15 months on a tiny uninhabited island. They took turns doing different jobs, including keeping their central campfire going. No matter what else happened, someone always kept the fire going.
- Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl. This true-life adventure story recounts explorer Heyerdahl’s 1947 voyage via raft across the Pacific Ocean. The journey was the author’s attempt to show that the Polynesian islands could have been colonized by ancient navigators, a theory widely dismissed at the time which has since become mainstream. Accompanied by five others, Heyerdahl successfully navigates the small, hand-made raft from Peru to the Polynesian Islands. Besides cataloging the struggles at sea, the book is a testament to one person’s obsession with an idea that everyone else calls “crazy”.
- Diary of Anne Frank. A classic for so many reasons and one of the first books that made me cry. I remember having to stop every few pages to stare at the black and white pictures included in my illustrated version, unable to believe that the little girl in the photos was dead. The young author of this work was writing to herself, keeping a journal of the world around her as it turned upside down, but she did it with such innocence and insight that it has endured. There have been film and stage adaptations made of the book, and finally, a graphic novel version is also available. I have not yet read this latest version of Anne Frank’s diary, but the reviews have applauded the graphic novel for sticking to the young author’s own words.
I hope you and your loved ones are safe during this pandemic. Remember that all things pass, even when we can’t quite see the end. In the meantime, pick up any of these books so that you can be reminded of how incredible the human spirit is. We have been through much worse, sometimes even throwing ourselves straight into the line of fire. What we leave with is usually another chapter testifying to our wit, our will and our wonderful ability to adapt.
Thank you for stopping by and I hope to see you soon.
Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2020. All rights reserved