Miriam Toews' Novel A Complicated Kindness

Lessons learned from Isolation in A Complicated Kindness and The Catcher in the Rye Love, sex and drugs; the few things that affect teenagers as they transition to adults. When becoming an adult there is a realization that one can no longer depend on their parents and there are overwhelming responsibilities such as going to school and getting the job. Teenagers are notorious for believing that it is themselves versus the world. The stress of becoming an adult is overpowering, and people cope differently with the change.

Some teenagers rebel against their family and friends.

This causes them to grow distant from the people they are close with. As a result some teenagers gradually isolate themselves, they confine in their isolation as it is their comfort zone. People can also isolate themselves because they cannot relate to others; this causes them to be excluded. In the novel A Complicated Kindness, the main character Nomi Nickel feels isolated as she does not agree with her community’s rules.

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To cope with her isolation she decides to rebel against her humble upbringings. Similarly, the character Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye faces isolation, to cope he begins to fail most of his classes. Although Nomi Nickel from Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness, and Holden Caulfield from J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye rebel to compensate for their isolation , both ultimately realize valuable lessons.

Nomi Nickel realizes that she is accepts her Mennonite community, whereas Holden Caulfield realizes that people have to change in order to develop character.

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The characters Nomi Nickel and Holden Caulfield lose loved ones; in order to cope with their grief they seclude themselves from their surroundings. Nomi is abandoned by her sister Tash Nickel and her mother Trudie Nickel. Trudie and Tash were excommunicated from the town, it causes their departure from East Village. Trudie and Tash were considered defiant to the conservative Mennonite community.

The feeling of exclusion caused emotional distress on Trudie and Tash, they did not have any option but to leave. Margaret Boe Birns argues “By excluding those who come into conflict with the community, shunning can destroy the relationship between neighbours and, as in the case of the Nickel family, cruelly divide family members.” This is true in Nomi’s case because the dividing has separated her family, the family members are in a predicament on whether to choose each other or their religion. The church’s shunning is highly responsible for separating her family as some of her family members were no longer welcomed in the community. Since Nomi lost her mother and sister she is isolated. She furthers this isolation by not having a relationship with her father, Ray Nickel.

Nomi has waited three years for her family to rejoin, “If we could get out of this town things might be better but we aren’t we are waiting for Trudie and Tash to come back” (Toews 4). Nomi is disheartened that her family is broken up, but she remains in the town in case her mother and sister come back. Although things may be better elsewhere Nomi and Ray stay in the town in hopes that their family will no longer divided. Ultimately, until a possible reunion Nomi goes against her community’s rules and teachings as it is the driving force of her family splitting.

She isolates herself from the community as she feels loyal to her mother and sister when doing so. Similarly, Holden suffers the loss of his brother Allie who died of cancer this causes Holden to alienate himself. Holden is isolated because the only person he can relate to is his brother who is dead. Holden’s last remark “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody” (Salinger 214), shows that Holden does not want the chance of losing a loved one again.

As Holden transitions to an adult he feels that he is abandoning his brother, because Allie died young. Holden acts in an immature way by trying to stay a child, he isolates himself from his age group because he believes that he is better than his peers. Moreover, Holden is completely alone as he is sent to boarding school on his own. Lisa Privitera writes about Holden “he tells the world that he made connections and feels the intensity of the emotions these connections bring up for him and that blissful ignorance might have been the better choice”.

It is apparent that Holden does not want to get hurt by forming new friendships. Although he may not get hurt the small chance of him being mistreated completely turns him off from forming new relationships. Allie’s death has lead Holden to believe that Holden will lose anyone that was once close to him. Holden is successful in isolating himself because he cannot open himself to others. In both novels the situations are parallel as the characters lose loved ones. In both novels the main characters are resentful towards the community in which they live in. This compels them to go against the norms and to further their isolation. Nomi lives in a strict Mennonite community that is secluded from the rest of the world, and the community disapproves of secular ways.

The community has ridiculous rules which are difficult to comply with when living in a western society. This makes it difficult for Nomi to obey the rules, as a result she does not follow the town’s teachings. When Mr. Quiring asked Nomi what she was doing with her life she responded, “I ended up saying stupid stuff like I just want to be myself, I just want to do things without wondering if there a sin or not. I want to be free” (Toews 48). It is evident that Nomi wants to enjoy herself. Her Mennonite religion has prevented Nomi from being free, as everyone is in a constant struggle to determine if their actions are religiously correct. Nomi, ultimately goes against her community and engages in outrageous behaviours such as doing drugs, partying and having sex with her boyfriend.

Margaret Boe Birns states about Nomi, “She struggles against all things Mennonite. She makes a major departure from the ways of her community when she acquires birth control pills in preparation for her first sexual experience with her boyfriend Travis”. When Nomi engages in sex, she goes against the Mennonite teachings this is scandalous as her uncle “The Mouth” is the leader of the church. Nomi goes to the extent of burning a sign put up by The Mouth.

This ultimately causes Nomi’s excommunication. Nomi rebels against her towns rules and isolates herself, to prove that she is better than what her town have people made to be. Moreover, Holden faces similar challenges to Nomi, as he is resentful towards his school’s community and feels that everyone is phony as he does not fit anywhere. This drives Holden to go to New York before he is to return home from his private school. Like Nomi, Holden partakes in risqué behaviour.

As Holden attempts to relate to someone he ends up associating with the wrong crowd. In one instance Holden calls for a prostitute to come to his room. Instead of engaging in sex, Holden opts for a conversation it is obvious that Holden is in need of a companion. He is unable to create successful relationships because he believes he cannot relate to anyone. Lingdi Chen writes, “Alienation is both the source of Holden’s strength and the source of his problem…his loneliness propels him into his date with Sally Hayes, but his need for isolation causes him to insult her and drive her away.” Holden does not realize that because he isolates himself from his surroundings it gets him into trouble, he begins to drink underage as an attempt to meet new people.

Holden is bitter because he cannot relate to anyone and to compensate he acts morally wrong. When Holden is walking alone at night he thinks to himself, “New York`s terrible when somebody laughs on the street very late at night. You can hear it for miles. It makes you feel so lonesome and depressed. I kept wishing I could go home and shoot the bull with for a while with old people” (Salinger 113). This quote shows in its entirety how lonely Holden is, he lies to himself that New York is quite, as it is known as the city that never sleeps.

He does this to make himself feel better that he has no one. In both books the characters end up isolating themselves as they do not agree with the circumstances they are in. Although the Nomi and Holden are at a constant struggle with their isolation, it has made them realize valuable lessons about themselves. Nomi comes to realization that she accepts her Mennonite community. When The Mouth informs Ray that his daughter has been excommunicated he says “It has been determined, said the mouth. What has? Asked my dad. Nomi’s excommunication, said the mouth… Based on what criteria… lack of attendance… setting fires” (Toews 235).

Ray is obviously disheartened that Nomi got excommunicated, but surprisingly Nomi does not leave East Village. Although she has been longing to move out, once she gets the opportunity she does not. Her constant need to be isolated from her town makes her appreciative of her town, but when she is given the opportunity to leave she realizes that she accepts her roots. After Nomi has sex with her boyfriend Travis he abandons her, Nomi’s father Ray also leaves her as he cannot bear to ignore his daughter who is excommunicated. Even though Nomi losses people who are remotely valuable in her life, she decides to stay in East Village. Since, Nomi is isolated she is able to look at the children, notice the beauty in the simple things and she has a reason to stay.

Margaret Boe Birns writes “…Nomi hopes her family will one day reunite on earth. There is also a tactic hope that somehow her Mennonite community will find a way to look on the Nickel family with sympathy and understanding”. It is clearly apparent that because Nomi was isolated she is able to be more hopeful of her surroundings. She is no longer resentful of her community, as she believes that one day the Mennonites will approve of her family. This hope provides comfort to Nomi, as she remains alone in the East Village.

Like Nomi, Holden learns an important lesson. Holden discovers that maturing is part of life, and he is unable to stop people from growing up. Lingdi Chen argues “Holden tells the symbolic meaning of the museum’s displays: they appeal to him because they are frozen and unchanging. He also mentions that he is troubled by the fact that he has changed every time when he returns to them”. Holden believes that humans should also mimic the museum displays, and to be true to oneself, one must never change. Holden’s way of thinking enables himself from making friends, as he does not want a relationship with someone who changes.

Holden fails to realize that people are always changing as they need to mature and develop character. He would rather save children and prevent them from entering the adult world, so they can maintain their innocence. It is until Holden is with his sister Phoebe, that he makes a realization about human nature. Holden thinks to himself after seeing Phoebe on a carousel trying to catch a ring, “The things with kids is, if they want to grab the gold ring you have to let them do it and not say anything” (Salinger 221).

When Holden allows Phoebe to grab the ring he realizes that people have to learn lessons for themselves, and he cannot protect people from making mistakes, he realizes that these lessons make people grow. Even though there is a possibility that Phoebe may fall catching the ring it allows her to learn and make better judgements. Holden firmly believed that people are phony for changing themselves, but that is because he did not consider that people have to mature. Since Holden was isolated and confined in his sister for comfort, he realized that he cannot prevent people from growing up and people need new journeys. Both, Nomi and Holden learned and grew for the better from their isolation.

Nomi Nickel has grown appreciative of her Mennonite community, and Holden has realized that to grow people have to change and make mistakes. They both make these realizations as a result of their isolation. Although, people may need their personal space to think, completely isolating oneself may not be a clever idea. Isolation can cause for problems such as depression, it is better to be open minded to others and the surroundings as new valuable lessons can be learned.

Works Cited

  1. Birns, Margaret Boe. “A Complicated Kindness.” Advanced Placement Source. EBSCO, 2007. Web. 31 May 2013.
  2. Lingdi Chen. “An Analysis of the Adolescent Problems in The Catcher in the Rye.” Asian Social Science. N.p., May 2009. Web. 31 May 2013.
  3. Privitera, Lisa. “Holden’s Irony in Salinger’s THE CATCHER IN THE RYE.” Academic Search Alumni Edition. EBSCO, 2008. Web. 31 May 2013.
  4. Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951. Print.
  5. Toews, Miriam. A Complicated Kindness: A Novel. New York: Counterpoint, 2004. Print.

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Miriam Toews' Novel A Complicated Kindness. (2016, May 16). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/miriam-toews-novel-a-complicated-kindness-essay

Miriam Toews' Novel A Complicated Kindness

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