Study Guide

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Isolation

By Neil Gaiman

Isolation

I do not remember ever asking any of the other children in my class at school why they had not come to my party. I did not need to ask them. They were not my friends, after all. They were just the people I went to school with. I made friends slowly, when I made them. (1.9)

This is so sad. Can you imagine having no one show up to your birthday, and then shrugging it off because you had kinda expected it? It must be an incredibly lonely existence for the little boy.

I lay on the bed and lost myself in the stories. I liked that. Books were safer than other people anyway. (1.4)

It makes you wonder what other people have done to him, at the age of seven, to make him write them off entirely already. There's nothing like getting lost in a good book, but there's got to be some times when a good conversation is just as satisfying.

The kitten was affectionate and interested and a good companion for someone whose seventh birthday party had consisted of a table with iced biscuits and a blancmange and cake and fifteen empty folding chairs. (1.8)

Yes, a kitten is a good companion for someone who can't find a human one, but it sure can't serve as a replacement. Yeesh—poor kid.

I was sad: my bedroom had a tiny little yellow washbasin they had put in for me, just my size; the room was above the kitchen, and immediately up the stairs from the television room, so at night I could hear the comforting buzz of conversation coming from below, through my half-open door, and I did not feel alone. (2.3)

Being able to hear the conversation downstairs when you're trying to sleep can vacillate between comforting and extremely irritating. It's only comforting, though, for this kid who just needs the consolation of knowing that he's not alone, that while he's sleeping there's someone awake who cares about him.

I didn't want to talk about it to anybody. I had found a special place, and made a new friend, and lost my comic, and I was holding an old-fashioned silver sixpence tightly in my hand. (2.103)

Maybe one of the reasons the kid is so isolated is that when something good happens he doesn't want to share it with anyone. Most seven-year-olds would run home clutching that coin and burst into the kitchen to tell their mom about all the exciting things they've discovered that day. His instinct, however, is to keep it all to himself and revel in it.

I wanted to tell someone about the shilling, but I did not know who to tell. I knew enough about adults to know that if I did tell them what had happened, I would not be believed. Adults rarely seemed to believe me when I told the truth anyway. Why would they believe me about something so unlikely? (3.29)

This explains a lot about his reticence to share things with his parents. Why tell them anything if you always just get a suspicious side-eye reaction? However, we think waking up choking on a coin of mysterious origins seems pretty worth mentioning.

"I've been inside you," she said. "So a word to the wise. If you tell anybody anything, they won't believe you. And, because I've been inside you, I'll know. And I can make it so you never say anything I don't want you to say to anybody, not ever again." (6.70)

Isolation can be scary and debilitating. Ursula Monkton needs control over the boy because he's her ticket home, so in order to gain full autonomy she needs to use powers of manipulation. By preventing him from reaching out for help, she is using fear and isolation as tools for gaining domination.

Ursula Monkton was at the bedroom door. "We don't talk to him," she told my sister. "We won't talk to him again until he's allowed to rejoin the family." (8.10)

Yikes—she's been a boarder at their house for like, a day, and she's already got the power to tell people who is and who isn't a part of the family. That's trouble right there.

"What happened last night?" she asked. "I thought you were in trouble, but then Mummy and Daddy came back and you were just staying with your friends. Why would they say you were sleeping at your friends'? You don't have any friends." (10. 79)

Thanks for that, sis—it's bad enough that he doesn't have any friends; he doesn't need her to remind him of it all the time. At least in this case he does have the Hempstocks, and they're pretty special friends.

"You are hungry," said the voice in the night, and it was no longer Lettie's voice, not any longer. It might have been the voice inside my own head, but it was speaking aloud. "You are tired. Your family hates you. You have no friends. And Lettie Hempstock, I regret to tell you, is never coming back." (12.89)

Clever little shadow—the voice knows exactly how to hit him where it counts: his loneliness. If Lettie's really never coming back, he doesn't have any other friends, and his family is all bewitched by Ursula Monkton, then his case really is hopeless, and he might as well just leave the fairy circle to die.