A comparison of the isolation of Bonnie Clutter, from Truman Capote’s "In Cold Blood", and Victor Frankenstein, from Mary Shelley’s "Frankenstein; or the modern prometheus"
The novels “In Cold Blood” and “Frankenstein” both depict the themes of isolation and alienation in distinct and contrasting ways. This is particularly noticeable in the characters of Bonnie Clutter from “In Cold Blood”(pages 26-28) and Victor Frankenstein from “Frankenstein”(pages 55-57)
Bonnie Clutter is the mother of the Clutter family children and wife to Herb Clutter. Suffering from misdiagnosed post-natal depression she spends most of her time locked in her room away from her family and house guests. Her illness is mentioned in the first line of the extract when it is noted that she “travelled to Wichita” for “treatment” and remained “two months”. This shows an alienation from her family not only physically but emotionally as they do not understand her condition enough to help her themselves. This confusion is carried on to Mrs Clutter’s doctor who does not correctly treat her condition for what it is. This misdiagnosis is representative of Mrs Clutter’s alienation from society as a whole since it is clear that she is misunderstood and thus separated from people.
Is also mentioned that Mrs Clutter is left “alone in the house” suggesting that she does not spend a great deal of time with her family. Furthermore, it exaggerates how different her lifestyle is to the rest of her family, in that they all have lives outside of the farm, whilst she is confined to the house and, primarily, her room. Again this emphasizes that she is ostracised from society.
The lack of interaction with her family is furthered by the fact that she “rarely abandons” her bed, suggesting that she spends the large majority of her time in her room, to the point that the cleaner finds it difficult to “change the linen twice a week”. The mention that she barely leaves the room even just twice a week is a truly shocking emphasis of how isolated Mrs Clutter is.
Her isolation is further extended by the proximity of her bedroom in regards to the rooms of the rest of her family. With her room being the “last at the end of a spacious hall” it is apparent that even when the family is all on the same floor of the house Mrs Clutter is still separated from them, not only by walls but by space. The extent of this spacial separation is clarified by the estimation that the hallway could “accommodate twenty guests” if used as sleeping quarters, which emphasizes how far apart she is from the rest of the household.
Mrs Clutter’s isolation is mostly a result of her illness, however there are aspects of it which rely on her own natural unwillingness to contribute to the family’s affairs and the running of the farm. It is her choice to hide away in her bedroom and “pretend not to hear” when people ask her opinion on maters when herb is not available to sort it out himself. On the other hand this could be seen as yet another side effect of her depression, proving that her isolation is entirely not of her own will.
Even at night, Bonnie sleeps alone, further alienating her from her husband. She believes that this is an “offence”, and she keeps all of her things in his room in order to make it appear less severe.
In terms of her isolation from society, it has become accepted by the rest of her community that she is not seen in social gatherings, emphasizing that she rarely interacts with people and that this behaviour has been consistent for a long time. So long in fact that people simply assume that she is “indisposed or away in Wichita”.
In the penultimate paragraph of this extract Bonnie cries to Mrs Kidwell that she is “missing out on everything” clearly depicting that she is unhappy in her situation and that she is not isolated by her own will to be so. Mrs Clutter’s isolation continues onto the final day of her life as she retreats to her room alone shortly before the family is murdered. That she dies alone echoes her life is an eerie and upsetting way.
Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein however chooses to isolate himself in order to work on his invention. Rather than feelings of loneliness making him unhappy in his alienation, Victor’s feelings “bore him onwards” to staying in seclusion and completing his creature. This is one of the pivotal differences between his isolation and that of Bonnie Clutter.
However, despite this difference both characters become ill in the isolation, Bonnie mentally and Victor physically. Victor’s ailments included his skin growing “pale with study” and his body becoming “emaciated with confinement”. The aforementioned confinement is particularly important in that it proves that he rarely leaves him workplace and thus has little or no interaction with society.
Two lines further down the extract, Victor mentions that the “secret” of his creation is one that he “alone possessed” demonstrating that he has no support form family or friends in his endeavours and suggesting that he does not trust them with the information of his work. This in itself is evidence of his wilful isolation from a family which he claims to love and miss.
It can be said that his isolation was not much unlike that of Mrs Clutter since both acknowledged that they missed special times in their lives. For victor this was the changing of the seasons, a whole summer, “a most beautiful season” passed without Victor being able to take pleasure in it. He noted that food and wine were in plentiful supply and yet he was “insensible” to their charms. However, he does not simply fail to pay attention to the seasons, but also “forgets” his friends and family “so many miles absent” and that he had “not seen for so long a time” emphasising how occupied he is with his work, in that he has no time to write a letter or even think about those he supposedly cares for.
In the final lines of the extract Victor mentions that “the fall of a leaf startled” him, which can be compared to Bonnie Clutter’s fragile state of mind and subsequent isolation. This fact could also be indicative of the time Victor has spent away from people, growing used to silence to such an extent that even subtle sounds are alien to him. It is on this same page that he admits to “shunning” his “fellow creatures”, clearly revealing that he does indeed not spend time in the company of other humans. The use of the term “I shunned” clearly demonstrates that Victor Frankenstein is alienated from society via his own choice and means, rather than being forced into it by forces beyond his control, as in the case of Bonnie Clutter.
The two books both portray alienation in similar and yet contrasting ways, with many of the same side effects of the condition being addressed such as the physical ill-health alongside the mental unease. However we must also be aware of the key differences between the cases of Victor Frankenstein and Bonnie Clutter and the ways and reasons in which they have removed themselves from wider society.