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The Madness of Isolation

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Isolation can drive anyone into madness or insanity through events that occur in the past or present. The person's environment can also impact their mental health and well-being.

"The Lamp at Noon" by Sinclair Ross and "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty both demonstrates how isolation can lead to the loss of an individual's sanity but display different atmosphere. Ross' character Ellen experiences the loss of her sanity as a result of loneliness and seclusion in her home in the Canadian prairies. Without her Husband's love and care she feels her sanity slowly slip away. We see this demonstrated in the following quote: "She looked forward to no future. She had no faith or dream with which to make the dust and poverty less real. He understood suddenly." The quote also shows that by the time Ellen's husband Paul realized what had happened to his wife, Ellen had already lost hope of recovering her sanity.

In Welty story the character Phoenix, an elderly woman who has already experienced many obstacles in her life, she travels along a rough and hard road which symbolizes into insanity. Throughout the story Phoenix experiences visions of both people and objects and interacts with the as if they were real, symbolizing a decline in her mental health. We see this in the following quote: "when a boy brought her a plate with a slice of marble-cake on it she spoke to him "That would be acceptable," she said. But when she went to take it there was just her own hand in the air." (Welty LWP 244) We see this again in the following quote: "I in the thorny bush" she said. "Thorns you doing your appointed work..."" (Welty LWP 243) In both quotes the thorn symbolizes the pain and agony the elder woman is feeling. It is as if the thorns are tearing at her sense of knowledge or sanity and when the thorns tear at her clothes this symbolizes the ripping of her sanity.

The atmosphere in these stories also helps demonstrate how isolation can lead to one becoming mentally unstable. "A Worn Path" displays a different atmosphere then that described in "The Lamp at Noon". While "The Lamp at Noon" has a sad and lonely atmosphere, the atmosphere in "A Worn Path" holds a calm eerie quiet. The following quote reflects the dreadful setting which creates a hopeless and isolated atmosphere, reinforcing to the theme that isolation can lead to madness: "Demented wind fed keening past the house: a wail through the eaves that died every minute or two. Three days now with respite it had held. The dust was thickening to an impenetrable fog." (Ross LWP 230). The imagery from the dust that has thickened creates a feeling of isolation in a world of emptiness.

The words used to describe the wind portray a broken world in which Ellen lives whether it is physically or mentally. The words in the following quote



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