Posted at 11.23.2018
In the complex world of modern relationships, alienation occurs when empathy and caring are replaced by self interest, distancing, and misunderstanding. The inabilities to adapt to the needs of intolerance for differences, and the unwillingness to start to see the world from somebody else's viewpoint are among the reason why for modern alienation. The authors of "My Singular Irene" and "AN EXTREMELY Old Man With Enormous Wings" use this theme as a springboard for stories of magical realism. The characters of Irene and the Very Old Man are alienated in various ways--Irene via an inhibited marriage, the Old Man because he's an unexplained oddity in a global that requires traditional answers--yet both characters triumph over their dilemma through fantasy--specifically, the technique of flight. The fantasy of flying allows the characters to transcend restraints and free themselves to their own individuality. Misunderstood and antagonized to the idea of alienation for their variations from the mainstream, Irene and the Old Man opt to escape through the fantastic--their freedom and self-dignity being more important than anything else, demonstrating that freedom awaits those liberate themselves.
Irene ("My Singular Irene") is alienated because she is in a male-dominated marriage, living with somebody who expects her to comply with a middle class role and adhere to his rules (which include no unauthorized socializing)--all in trade for a good but unhappy lifestyle. Within the opinion of her husband, the narrator, Irene should be thankful for "the comfort of her house, "(8) which he reminds us requires "walk(ing) a clear and straight path"(8). Having worked hard because of their lifestyle, he is pleased with the image they have given him: "an honorable citizen. " But Irene's husband seems to be more concerned about status in life than having an equitable marriage, with mutual respect and empathy. He's not a monster, but he treats his wife just like a secondary person, rather than a partner. With her marriage such as a prison. Irene needs something more--social images and materialism are just not enough. The house he has provided her with has been more of a jail more than home, sweet, home. Indeed, for all his attraction to her, we realize his attention may be superficial. He also puts her down, discussing her as whimsical, stupid, and an idiot sometimes. She actually is pushed into becoming more of your stereotype than a individual with needs.
Because of his sexist attitude towards ladies in general, Irene's husband acts like the master of the home, and not simply because he is the breadwinner. His air of rational superiority and intolerance for negotiation further alienates him from Irene. For her, life should be spontaneous, impulsive, at risk; for him, life must be carefully planned. The problem is, Irene's husband wants to lay out the law, suppress her individuality and social needs: "I was not going to permit my wife to perform around as if she had nobody to protect her"(9). Sure, it seems like he wants to ensure her safety, but she wants to achieve that for herself. She doesn't invariably desire to be safe: she wants to grow! Her husband's plan was to keep power unequal and segregated, an old-fashioned marriage. All she has to do is be "prepared to choose me to the end of the world"(9)--but this kind of relationship is too repressive. A butterfly needing to emerge from its cocoon, Irene has little use for a traditional, conventional marriage. The more he tries to restrain Irene, the greater she spins away, distancing herself from his concern with women who "invent things" and "plot"(10). To her, the trip to the country can be an escape, an opportunity to unravel the bonds of inhibited marriage. She can dispose of the rules and liberate herself. Symbolically, she throws away her clothes. He thinks she is going crazy. This is emancipating to her; to her husband, it is overtly sensual, another sexist view of her as a woman. Irene strips away everything, running towards the freedom of nature, like she was stepping back into a Garden of Eden, while he dismisses her as "stupid"(10). Naked, she starts to emerge from the cocoon of her previous lifestyle and project into the butterfly of her new life. She doesn't need the protection of her husband anymore. She is metamorphosing in to the independent creature she wants to be. Befuddled, her husband is fixed how bizarre the complete scene is, this rising up of invading insects against him--but even compared to that she actually is indifferent. Instead, her mind is targeted on going via a primal transformation, opening up a historical bond between her and nature. To her husband, the butterflies are "seducers"(12), but to Irene these are like " an old friend" (12). As she transcends from reality to fantasy in the ultimate scene in a ritualistic bonding with nature, she sheds your skin of married life, transforming into a butterfly--her potential realized, capable of flight through fantasy, gone from her husband's life forever.
"The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is a new story of alienation. THE Old Man is a fantasy creature who finds himself lost on the planet, a visitor from someplace else whose new home is a village full of the curious, uneducated, and the religious. He's an oddity: a human-like creature with wings, nearly man, not quite supernatural. More freak of nature than act of God, he alienates because he doesn't quite fit in: he is neither the perfect of the angel nor the proof a demon. He reminds us of the physically deformed, yet he is a complete mystery: no-one knows his identity nor purpose. Speculation about his meaning runs wild but his captors accept just treating him just like a circus side show while the Very Old Man just languishes amidst their discrimination. Ironically, even though this winged creature is disgusting to some, their human reaction to him is equally disgusting, such as a mirror of vices and values, as well as being the author's commentary on how we inhumanely react to what is innocently alien and non-conforming. A few of these villagers want to kill the Old Man outright; others want to generate income from him. Few notice that he's sensitive, can feel pain (just like them), cry; his physical and supernatural differences alienate him from the outside world. Disgusting the exterior world along with his appearance, challenging it to look beyond what they see, all the very Old Man can do is be patient--wait until his wings are strong enough to give him freedom and make him " an imaginary dot coming of the sea"(40). He cannot get respect on this Earth: let him defy it.
Alienation and the triumph over alienation will be the themes of "My Singular Irene" and "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. " The stories speak of characters who are either repressed or lost and suffer alienation because they are misunderstood and/or nonconformist. Irene has waited in her unelaborated marriage until she has the opportunity to free herself. THE Old Man waits patiently in his captivity until he is also strong enough to free himself. Both use the technique of flight, cloaked in magical realism, to achieve their purpose. Fantasy is their liberation, the supernatural their path to freedom from alienation. To become truly broken off their prison, they need to be free of the sources of alienation: discrimination, stereotyping, and misunderstanding. Escape doesn't solve the deeper problem, but it celebrates the energy of the individual.