The Art of Isolationism
The lone lady above the rest, in her tower, only sees shadows, but never sees reality. In Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott”, a theme that embowered the Lady of Shalott may represent an artist who is high above normal life. She is an imprisoned woman who acts as a symbol for the isolation experienced by the artist. The Lady of Shalott creates her own loneliness and imprisonment, which results in her being unable to deal with the outside world. Her perspective is corrupted when she looks and interacts with the real world, which is shown through the use of imagery, contrasting sound devices, and shifting moods.
Lord Tennyson uses devices such as imagery to portray the Lady of Shalott as an artist who loses her abilities once she interacts with the normal world. He illustrates the seclusion by stating, “Four Grey walls, and four grey towers overlook a space of flowers” (lines 15-16). This shows that the Lady is significantly removed from the world in which she lives in, both geographically and emotionally. The cold, unambiguous imagery of the tower stands in stark contrast to the rich, organic descriptions of the world around it. This conveys that she represents an artists that only observes life from a far, and is shown through the use of imagery by Tennyson to show how she is so disconnected from the world and is only observing, never interacting. Tennyson conveys this message through the quote, “There the river eddy whirls, and there the surly village-churls, and the red cloaks of market girls, pass onward from Shalott,” (lines 51-54) by displaying that she just observes life as it happens. She is merely someone who watches from above but may never interrelate with it, as an artist may paint or capture a moment by observing, but once tampered with it, becomes corrupted and not itself; thus showing that artist would destroy themselves by doing so. Lastly, through his use of repetition and imagery in “She left the web, she left the loom...she looked down to Camelot. Out flew the web and floated wide; the mirror cracked from side to side’ ‘The curse is come upon me’”, Tennyson showed that when the Lady stopped her work to intermingle with society, her web was destroyed (lines 109-115). This scene outlines an angle of artist isolationism by describing the tension between artistic dedication and social responsibility. The mirror represents the purity of her vision; through it all, it was perfect, but when she had looked out directly, her world had become damaged and the curse fell upon her, ending her life as a result. The Lady’s loss of focus on her craft leads to her loss of perspective, and eventually causes the loss of her work entirely. Therefore, she is cursed for seeking recognition from the outside world.
Tennyson also uses the device of contrasting sound devices to emphasize the theme and to be able to convey it clearly. He indicates, “There she weaves by night and day a magic web with colours gay,” (lines 37-38) to show that she is an artist who is devoted to her work and spends every bit of her time weaving in solitude. She is a representation of an artist who’s forbidden from the humanity. Tennyson also displays through the quote, “And moving through a mirror clear that hangs before her all the year, Shadows of the world appear there she sees the highway near…”, that the Lady is so disconnected from the world, that her perception of the world, the only one she’ll ever see, isn’t even seen directly. (lines 46-49).
Lastly he exhibits this theme by using the device of shifting moods. The quote, “To weave the mirror’s magic sights, for often through the silent nights,” shows how the Lady of Shalott has a perception of the world, but not a real view of the view because of the style of her life (lines 46-50). As an artist, drawings are based off of perceptions and not reality, just how one sees it. Tennyson exemplifies the shifting moods by stating, “Heard a carol, mournful holy chanted loudly, chanted lowly, till her blood was frozen slowly, and her eyes were darkened wholly,” (lines 145-148) to make the theme