A common theme among many literary works set during the depression era is alienation. In these works of fiction characters often become isolated which cause them to be alienated by society as well as their family. In the short stories such as “To Set Our House in Order” by Margret Laurence and “The Lamp at Noon” by Sinclair Ross, we see characters that face these conditions. As a result the authors address the theme of alienation in similar ways, yet develop it in their own unique methods.
In “To Set Our House in Order” Margaret Laurence, it conveys the message that alienation is self-inflicted on the character “Grandmother MacLeod” as a result of a tragic event. In this case alienation is used as a coping mechanism for the Grandmother who lost her son Roderick in the battle of Somme. In the story she tells Vanessa, “When your Uncle Roderick got killed, I thought I would die. But I didn’t die” (Laurence 94). This shows how she now avoids affection and emotion in fear of becoming vulnerable. In consequence the Grandmother is in a state of emotional withdrawal which is shown where it states, “For she did not believe in the existence of fear, or if she did she never let on” (93). By doing so she decides she is better off trying to feel no emotion which supports the fact her alienation is self-inflicted.
Similarly, Sinclair Ross depicts the theme of alienation through the character named Ellen, in the story “The Lamp at Noon”. We learn that the alienation in this story is also self-inflicted but to a different extent. One major difference is that in this case that she has become alienated from society due to geographical isolation. We learn that Ellen once came from a rich family and it seems as if the shift from city to rural life hit Ellen particularly hard as she clearly appears to be frustrated with her life on the farm. This is shown where it says “It was the face of a woman that had aged without maturing, that had loved the little vanities in life, and lost them wistfully” (Ross 231). It becomes clear that she has alienated herself in deciding marry Paul and follow this lifestyle.
Although the authors address the theme of alienation in similar ways, the way the theme is developed in each story is distinct. In the story “To Set Our House in Order”, Sinclair Ross uses two different approaches to establish this theme. The first being the use of imagery and the second depicting the effect of alienation on the other characters. Throughout the story it is possible to find many instances where imagery is used to help characterize Grandmother MacLeod. She is described as “steel-spined despite her apparent fragility” (Laurence 93) with “a voice as pointed and precise as her silver nail-scissors” (99). Overall these images are both associated with metal which suggests that the Grandmother is a hardened individual. Another important image is “the pendant on which a fullblown ivory rose was stiffly carved” (95). The fact that it is carved from ivory,...