Solitude Teaches Community

Whenever a major character is "alone," by which I mean separated from his or her natural community, the reader is being taught something about community: generally that it is good to be part of a community since communities take care of their members, but often reject outsiders. Although some education is being offered to the reader, that doesn't necessarily mean that the character in question understands or follows the advice. Sometimes the reader is educated by the character's setting a bad example. Although the novels used here are all science fiction, this law should apply to general literature as well, since the isolation of the character automatically reflects on community by a lack thereof and the characters' response to that lack.

"Frankenstein" offers two isolated characters in a nested narrative, enabling the reader to learn a lot about community. The innermost character, the monster, is as isolated as possible, having no natural community and no other community which will accept him. Although the monster was created as a grown creature, not having the chance to learn about community from parents, he still had a desire for community. Once he stumbled across a village, which "engaged [his] admiration," but he had scarcely entered when "the whole village was roused," and some villagers attacked him until he fled. The monster then found a new resting place, behind the hut of an impoverished family. He observed the family, and by his instinct for community he began to revere "the silver hair and benevolent countenance of the aged cottager." When the cottagers were sad, he was sad. When they were happy, he was happy. Finally, he felt so much a part of their family, that he entered and introduced himself to the blind father, but when the children returned they drove him off once more. Not only does this show a great urge for companionship, it also shows that communities can be very mean to outsiders. The monster would have been an upstanding member of any community, but no community would accept him because of his appearance.

Victor had the opposite experience with community. He was a natural member of his family, who loved him greatly. But Victor didn't appreciate what he had, and preferred to be alone. He wanted no one to be near him while he worked on creating the monster, although his father, cousin, and friend all continuously tried to include him in their lives. By Victor's example, the reader may learn that communities will frequently go to great lengths for other members of their community, even ones who don't appreciate them, because they care for them.

In "A Descent into the Maelstršm," the narrator and his brother were alone on a boat which got sucked into a giant whirlpool. Alone and in great danger, these two demonstrate what can happen when a community is stressed. The narrator's brother thought the narrator had the better position in the boat, so he forced the narrator out and took his place. The narrator had "never felt a deeper grief" than when his brother did this. The narrator demonstrated what should happen in good community, however, by trying to save his brother when he found how to save himself, although the brother had done much to damage their community. The narrator still acted as though their community existed, which was clearly portrayed as the better action.

The narrator of Wells' "The Time Machine" was also isolated. He took his time machine far into the future, and "felt naked in a strange world" when he first emerged, but at the sight of his first Eloi he "suddenly regained confidence." Although the narrator was surrounded by friendly people, he was still alone in that there was no one to whom he could really relate. The narrator tried to enter the Eloi community, but couldn't because it was too strange for him. Although this community bore no ill will toward the outsider, he still couldn't join it.

In "Star Maker" the narrator began in his natural community, left it for a temporary, unnatural community, and then returned. While away, he learned about community, for at the beginning he had been driven to the hill by horror at "the world's delirium," and saw bitterness invading his family community not only from the world, but also from within their "own magic circle." Then his mind was taken on a strange journey, where he entered community with many other minds. They all enjoyed it for awhile, but eventually began longing for their natural communities. Thus when he returned, instead of remembering the bitterness, the narrator was swept by "a surge of joy" at seeing his window, and he was at peace to be back in his community again, despite his earlier apprehensions.

These examples use lone characters to teach about communities. They show that some communities are exclusive of outsiders, as in "Frankenstein," not being understanding. Others welcome outsiders, as shown in "The Time Machine," although the narrator couldn't really join the Eloi community. They also show that communities take care of their own, and from "Star Maker," although there is sometimes trouble, it is still better to remain in community than to leave, as the monster was forced to do in "Frankenstein," and Victor willing chose to do.