Isolation and Discomfort: Trollope and McCandless
How is life changed between when you’re comfortable with a group of people and when you’re an outcast, isolated? What are the reasons we put ourselves in these uncomfortable situations? Frances Trollope fled to America for opportunity and discovery (duh) and she documented her experience in an uncomfortable place, inhabited by foreigners. Similarly, Chris McCandless (or Alexander Supertramp) took a getaway trip for opportunity and discovery (though these were more spiritually driven or aimed) and he too documented his experience, though he did not get isolation from society; he got isolation from everyone.
To begin, McCandless experienced his first sense of not belonging at home, with his family. He was fed up with the stress of his parents’ relationship, and so he thought isolation, being with nature was the place to be—home was foreign.
Trollope, in her work Domestic Manners of the Americans, writes in detail about the people of Mississippi. This is one of her first realizations that she is in a very foreign place. She writes about seeing their post-eating habits,
“and still the more frightful manner of cleaning the teeth afterwards with a pocket-knife, soon forced us to feel that we were not surrounded by the generals, colonels, and majors of the old world; and that the dinner-hour was to be anything rather than the hour of enjoyment.” (Trollope 1748)
Trollope here shows her comfort and memories of life back home in London, and gives the savage image of the foreign place she was in. She could be showing a slight regret for going to this place, but not full fear that she had crossed the Rubicon or anything. No, Trollope’s Rubicon moment came when she visited Cincinnati. She writes about the religious scene in America, writing how different women’s roles are in the churches there—they have more of an influence and are, in her mind, more religious than the men. (Trollope 1752) This is whe detail that shows her that something has changed. Eating habits can be taught, but religion and importance are intangible—can’t be taken away.
McCandless experiences a similar fear when he begins to get sick in Alaska, posting outside an abandoned school bus (where he had set up his bed) a note for anyone to see, “ATTENTION POSSIBLE VISITORS. S.O.S. I NEED YOUR HELP. I AM INJURED, NEAR DEATH, AND TOO WEAK TO HIKE OUT OF HERE. I AM ALL ALONE, THIS IS NO JOKE. IN THE NAME OF GOD, PLEASE REMAIN TO SAVE ME.”(Krakauer)*
McCandless, out for spiritual discovery, realizes how isolated he has become and needs people, a comfort. The savage place he is in is not solitude; it is loneliness. McCandless knows he has gone too far with his adventure and has reached the furthest point from where he used to be.
Both McCandless and Trollope experienced solitude in their own ways and stretched themselves in the names of discovery and exploration.
*Due to copyright laws, I could not post the photo of the note he left
Krakauer, Jon. “How Chris McCandless Died.” New York Times. 12 9 2013 : n. page. Web. 5 Dec. 2013. <http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/09/how-chris-mccandless-died.html>.
Trollope, Frances (1832). Domestic Manners of the Americans. In Damrosch, David , and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. The Longman Anthology Of British Literature, The Victorian Age. 4th Ed. . 2B. Pearson Education Inc, 2010. 1749-52. print.