Isolation (continued)

Will is isolated by his own choices

How does Hornby show this?

Will watches other people’s lives from the outside.

Evidence

Now, though, it was easy. There was almost too much to do. You didn’t have to have a life of your own any more; you could just peek over the fence at other people’s lives, as lived in newspapers and EastEnders and films and exquisitely sad jazz or tough rap songs.

Analysis

Will makes the choice of living his life vicariously, and is secretly frightened of being hurt or let down. He does not realise - but it becomes obvious to the reader - that because his childhood was lacking in love and affection, he has built a protective wall around himself in order to avoid further disappointment.

Will watches the fallout from Fiona’s suicide attempt

How does Hornby show this?

After Fiona tries to kill herself, Will goes to the hospital with Suzie and Marcus.

Evidence

… You had to live in your own bubble. You couldn’t force your way into someone else’s, because then it wouldn’t be a bubble any more. Will bought his clothes and his CDs and his cars and his Heal’s furniture and his drugs for himself, and himself alone;

… It had all been very interesting, but he wouldn’t want to do it every night.

Analysis

Will does not have much sympathy for Fiona. He considers that she has not done a good job of looking after herself because she needs other people to help her with Marcus and her problems. He congratulates himself on his self-sufficiency.

As he leaves the hospital he tells himself that he is grateful that he has no such problems, not realising that it is these everyday problems which make us part of the human race.

Will warns himself not to get involved with anybody

How does Hornby show this?

When Will has a drink with Fiona, she tells him that he has a responsibility to help Marcus, since he is now in his life, whether he likes it or not.

Evidence

… Why did these people want to make things so hard for themselves? It was easy, life, easy-peasy, a matter of simple arithmetic: loving people, and allowing yourself to be loved, was only worth the risk if the odds were in your favour, but they quite clearly weren’t […] it just wasn’t worth the risk

But I’m on my own. There’s just me. I’m not putting myself first, because there isn’t anybody else.

Analysis

Will is becoming more involved in Marcus and Fiona’s lives, and when he sees how messy it can become, his automatic reaction is to back out. He considers any relationship at all to be risky.

When Fiona tells him that he is being selfish and cannot see Marcus again unless he promises to help him, he does not understand why she is being so unreasonable.

Will is still tempted to remain isolated at the end of the novel

How does Hornby show this?

Will feels afraid when he is in a serious relationship with Rachel, and wonders whether it is worth the worry.

Evidence

Wanting Rachel so much still frightened Will. At any time, it seemed to him, she might decide that he was too much trouble […] She might die, suddenly, without warning […] He felt as if he were a chick whose egg had been cracked open […] All he knew was that there was no going back;

Analysis

Once Will is in an established relationship with Rachel, the woman of his dreams, he has to think seriously about what living among other people, rather than alone, means.

Will accepts that being involved with people is risky but rewarding

How does Hornby show this?

At the end of the novel, Will looks at Marcus and analyses how both of them have changed.

Evidence

[They] had had to lose things in order to gain other things. Will had lost his shell and his cool and his distance, and he felt scared and vulnerable, but he got to be with Rachel […] and Marcus had lost himself, and got to walk home from school with his shoes on.

Analysis

Will understands that as an adult, he should have realised that we all need to let go of our desire to be in control of our lives. He also sees that Marcus, as a child, needs support from the people around him, in order to let him find his own way in life.

Analysing the evidence

Question

How does Hornby explore the theme of isolation in About a Boy?

Nick Hornby looks at life through the eyes of Marcus and Will, in order to show the reader how we all need to accept others into our lives. Through Marcus, it is clear that a child can feel extremely isolated simply by not understanding what adults are experiencing, or by being unable to articulate their own worries. He is too young to know what depression is and nobody seems able to explain it to him. As he starts to meet other people in London, a small network develops and grows, until Marcus feels more secure and less terrified that he will have to cope on his own. Through Will, we learn that refusing to become involved with other people can be a natural response to having been hurt, but that it is worth taking the risk of being in any relationship because the interaction is what makes us human. We are social beings.