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The Theme of Alienation in Literature

This research examines the theme of personal alienation in Poe's "The Purloined Letter;" Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street"; and Conrad's Heart of Darkness. The research will set forth the literary and narrative context of the stories and then discuss ways in which each story constructs a portrait of a modern hero as antihero who remains permanently on the periphery of civilization, convention, and morality, sometimes functioning vis-à-vis conventional society as nonfunctional, thus positioning himself as recluse, stranger in a strange land, outsider, anti-authoritarian rebel--even an anarchist.

A self-conscious critic of his craft as a dramatist, Bertolt Brecht gives the name "A-effect" or alienation effect to the process whereby a scene or play may "allow the spectator to criticize [a situation] constructively from a social point of view" (Brecht 91). A similar approach to narrative fiction can be identified in the work of Poe, Melville, and Conrad, inasmuch as alienation is embedded into the narrative structure of their respective stories. Each is told by a first-person-peripheral narrator (Marlow in Heart of Darkness, Dupin's friend in "The Purloined Letter," the lawyer in "Bartleby, the Scrivener") whose focus is on the person who is the narrator's subject (Kurtz, Dupin, Bartleby). The device enables readers to "watch" how alienation becomes a major feature of character behavior and narrative action.

Conrad's Heart of Darkness presents a critical portrait of European colonialism in Africa through the eyes of one self-described alien searching for a man who turns out to be profoundly alienated from his society of origin. Social alienation of the central character is also a theme in Poe's "The Purloined Letter," and though the manifest mood of the story is less bleak than that of Conrad, it contains elements that suggest latent knowledge of evil and deliberate dissociation from the social mainstream....

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The Theme of Alienation in Literature. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 00:57, July 07, 2020, from