Study Guide

The Invention of Hugo Cabret Isolation

By Brian Selznick

Isolation

Most of all, Hugo would do his best to remain invisible. (1.5.56)

After Uncle Claude disappears on him, Hugo has no choice but to remain in the train station and try not to get caught. It’s not a fun life for a kid who should probably be out playing and running (not to mention learning his times tables).

“I can’t…” said Hugo.

“You must,” said Etienne smiling. (1.8.43-44)

Hugo is so trapped in the train station (like a little sewer rat, except nicer and smarter) that he’s hesitant to leave for anything. He has exiled himself within the walls of the train station out of fear for his safety. He doesn’t want to go to the movies with Etienne and Isabelle, but when pressured, he decides to go along with it, showing he just might have an edge on Papa Georges in a bravery competition.

He knew he shouldn’t have gone to the movies. He never should have left the station. (1.9.37)

Hugo is terrified when he comes back and sees the Station Inspector. It’s a serious game of cat and mouse for Hugo, even when the Station Inspector isn’t aware of his existence. He’s constantly on guard about being caught. So even in his home, he's isolated.

“What is this place?” she said. “Who are you?” (1.12.12)

Isabelle is pretty shocked by Hugo’s living arrangement. And no wonder! He lives by himself in a hidden-away apartment in the train station. It’s like he’s created his own little hermit cave.

“I…I want to be by myself when I turn it.” (1.12.34)

Hugo is so used to doing things his own way that even when he’s using Isabelle’s key (which he stole from her!) he insists on being alone for the big reveal. Isabelle stands her ground, though, and stays, which just might be a sign of their growing bond.

Hugo was still nervous about leaving the station. But he took a deep breath and headed downstairs to the vast subway system that snaked beneath the city like hidden rivers. (2.4.10)

Even using the subway station (which is in the train station) makes Hugo nervous because he feels like he’s not supposed to leave. But he does, because he wants to find out the truth about Papa Georges. He has to be brave and break his own rules a little bit.

I shut the door on my past…. I burned my old sets and costumes. I was forced to sell my movies to a company that melted them down and turned them into shoe heels. (2.8.16)

Papa Georges really is hard on himself. After his business tanks, he pretty much makes himself go into a self-imposed exile. He turns his back on the film industry and goes into his claustrophobic lifestyle of selling toys at a booth and coming home every day.

Hugo sat there like an animal, wet and shivering in the corner of his cage. (2.10.4)

Poor Hugo is literally imprisoned in the train station when the Station Inspector catches up to him and reprimands him for stealing milk. This just might be his loneliest moment. But luckily, his least lonely moment is just around the corner.

In the darkness of a new cinema that opened in a nearby neighborhood, Hugo was able to travel backward through time and see dinosaurs and pirates and cowboys […] (2.11.2)

But Hugo is trapped no more! Not only does he have the freedom to do what he wants, but through the magic of film, he’s able to let his mind and imagination roam where it wants.

“Then you know Prometheus was rescued in the end. His chains were broken, and he was finally set free.” (2.11.19)

In the end, everyone’s free from their past lives and living a much more exciting, magical, and loving existence. To be free, it turns out, means having a family.