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Different social groups are represented as outsiders

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1629 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The term “outsiders” can be applied to the feeling of being alienated or different from the majority of people around you, be it because of your race, colour, gender, or social class. Novels such as Sam Selvon’s “The Lonely Londoners” and Alan Sillitoes “The Lonliness of The Long Distance Runner” both represent characters as “outsiders” within their writing. However, the outsider is represented in a different way in both texts, in Sam Selvon’s representation the character is an outsider because of race, whereas, Alan Sillitoe’s protagonist is an outsider because of class. The representations have a conflicting issue in the sense that race is a reason beyond human control therefore the person cannot escape the alienation. On the other hand, the protagonist in “The Lonliness of The Long Distance Runner”, appears to feel like an outsider because of his own integrity and values on social class, he could perhaps overcome the issue if he wasn’t so against the so called “system”.

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The 1950’s was a time which witnessed many changes to British culture, especially where immigration and class was concerned. This decade saw through a change in classes and established a whole new class where people were now recognised as the middle class. Although seemingly a good movement the introduction also had negative effects on people of the working class, in the sense that they felt they were losing their identity. Alan Sillitoes’s “The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner” tells the story of a boy living as part of the working class, Smith feels as though he is an “outsider” because he is part of a class which is now a minority. Once the middle class formed there was much confusion with the working class, it meant that people of the working class felt they had to fight to keep hold of their identity; this battle is mirrored by Sillitoe’s protagonist in “The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner”. Moreover during the 1950’s a lot of migrants travelled to Britain to make new lives, Sam Selvon’s “The Lonely Londoners” registers the movement of West Indian immigrants, it is a novel mainly focused on immigrants of the working class. The novel follows their situation after arriving in London and the journey they have to begin. Selvon uses the character of Moses as his protagonist; Moses is an immigrant living in London who is working in a factory. Moses feels like an “outsider” because of his race and colour, such prejudice is ongoing throughout the novel. Although very different both novels show members of different social groups being represented as “outsiders”, whether it is a feeling conjured up by the society and attitudes of the people around them, or, one’s own feelings towards the culture in which they live.

Moses is the central character of Selvon’s “The Lonely Londoners”, initially he narrates in a person’s point of view, the narrative point of view is therefore shared by Moses and the narrator. Upon entering London migrants were given jobs that didn’t match their potentials, and made to pay extortionate prices for tenancy in below average conditions. Selvon introduces this issue when Moses tells a reporter “We can’t get no place to live, and we only getting the worst jobs it have” [pp.8], this instantly outlines the race and colour prejudices of the time, and portrays Moses’ as being an outsider. In comparison the central character and protagonist of Sillitoe’s “The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner” tells the story in his own point of view, because of this he is an un-reliable narrator. Smith is part of the lower class and he portrays a strong dislike towards the middle class, asserting that the two classes will never “see eye to eye” [pp.7]. At this time, when the middle class was forming, a lot of conflict and confusion between the classes was immerging. This was because it now meant that the working class were anxious and concerned with what the change meant for them. We are introduced to this conflict when Smith says “It’s a good life, I’m saying to myself, if you don’t give in to coppers and Borstal-bosses and the rest of them bastard-faced In-laws.” [pp.11]. Smith’s uses the term “In-laws” [pp.11] to describe members of the middle class, his underlying meaning being that they are law abiders. At this point we see Smith being represented as an outsider, in the sense that he will never give up his own integrity, he does not want to accept the values of the other classes therefore he will always feel alienated from them. Moses in “The Lonely Londoners” conjures up sympathy from the reader; he is an outsider because of his race. We can’t help but feel sorry for him and hope that he will finally be given the life he deserves and had hoped for. On the other hand, Smith isn’t likeable therefore we do not feel any kind of sympathy towards him. Smith appears to alienate himself from society rather than be alienated by the society he lives in, like Moses is.

Furthermore Selvon’s “The Lonely Londoners” represents the characters feeling of being “outsiders” evidently throughout conversation. On Galahad’s lines “Look at you, you so black and innocent, and this time so you causing misery all over the world!” [pp.77] it is at this point in the novel where we are hit by the extent of the alienation felt by the characters. The suggestion that black is causing misery, not just to the people originally from London but also to the people of this race exemplifies the extent to which the characters truly are “outsiders”, they are alienated by society enough to make them feel miserable about their own colour. Galahad also goes on to say “why the hell you can’t change colour?” [pp.77] this statement allows us to realise that Galahad and the migrants merely want to be accepted into the society, however they can’t because of the prejudices surrounding them. Selvon’s characters are seen as helpless in moving out of being “outsiders”. In “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” Smith talks of how he is honest and “it’s true because I know what honest means according to me…” [pp.14], here we realise that honesty to Smith means being honest to himself, and his own beliefs. In the emergence of the middle class, ex members of the working class were moving into jobs working for authorities, particularly the police service. Smith is so passionate about his feeling towards the upper class; therefore he views anyone that works for them as betraying the class they once belonged too. Smith will not obey the borstal officers because by doing so he feels like he will be accepting their values. Smith’s reason for being represented as an outsider appears, to some extent, as though being an outsider is his own choice, he will never accept the middle class, and therefore he will always be an outsider. This idea is made even more apparent when he is offered the chance to win the race and “take up running in a sort of professional way…” [pp.35] Smith imagines that he could “run for money” ‘[pp.35] but none the less chooses to lose the race anyway just to defy the governor. Here Smith had an opportunity to change his reason for being an outsider, however, him turning it down only exemplifies that his alienation is largely his own choice. The difference between the representations of “outsiders” becomes strongly evident at this stage, in the sense that the migrants of “The Lonely Londoners” cannot do anything to move away from the title of being “outsiders. However Smith appears to label himself an outsider with his own beliefs, if he just obeyed the authority he may have a better end. Moreover he was faced with an opportunity to which could ultimately have changed his social situation, the fact that he turned it down suggests he doesn’t want to change.

Both “The Lonely Londoner’s” and “The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner” represent members of different social groups as “outsiders”. Selvon’s characters are “outsiders” because of their race, whereas Sillitoe’s Smith is an outsider because of his social class. Both issues are problems which were at their height in the 1950’s and are still evident today. Selvon’s migrants appear stuck in their alienation, in the sense that they cannot change their race. The representation of being “outsiders” here is portrayed as out of the characters control; as long as they live in a racist society they will always be deemed “outsiders”. However Smith is represented as an outsider because of his social class, it appears throughout the novel that Smith chooses to be an outsider because he doesn’t want to accept the values of the upper classes, and, when faced with a chance to move away from being an outsider he rebels. “The Lonely Londoners” represents characters that are “outsiders” because of their race, it is society’s prejudices that causes their alienation, on the other hand, Smith in “The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner” is represented as an outsider because he himself rejects the society in which he lives.

Word count: 1522


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