The term alienation has many discipline-specific uses, and Roberts (1987: 346) notes how even within the social sciences it “is used to refer both to a personal psychological state and to a type of social relationship”. Kalekin-Fishman (1996: 97) believes “The term alienation refers to objective conditions, to subjective feelings, and to orientations that discourage participation”, and remarks that, “In modern sociology [...] alienation is a term which refers to the distancing of people from experiencing a crystallized totality both in the social world and in the self” (Kalekin-Fishman, 1998: 6).
In sociology and critical social theory, alienation refers to an individual's estrangement from traditional community or others in general (social isolation), the dominant values of society (normlessness), or even themselves (self-estrangement), but in general the term implies a lack of identification between a person (or what he considers him/herself to be) and another entity. According to Kenneth Keniston, author of The Uncommitted: Alienated Youth in American Society, "Most usages of 'alienation' share the assumption that some relationship or connection that once existed, that is 'natural,' desirable, or good, has been lost." (Keniston, 1965: 452). It was first the writings of Karl Marx in the 19th century and later the works of particularly Melvin Seeman that popularized the concept in sociology, along with Emile Durkheim's anomie. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, it is particularly the works of Felix Geyer, Lauren Langman and Devorah Kalekin-Fishman that address the issue of alienation in the contemporary western world, while Burgert Senekal has studied its manifestation in literature with his literature-theoretical study, "Alienation in contemporary British Fiction" (Senekal, 2008:6). (From wikipedia.)
The frequent use of alienation as a centering theme is due to the fact that it is common to all humans. Alienation is a feeling of not belonging. This feeling can be physical, mental, religious, spiritual, psychological, political, social, or economic and often it tends to be a combination of more than one of these types. Alienation is a driving force that pushes the human conscience to extremes. Whether it is alienation from civilization or alienation from society, drastic changes consequently occur. States of alienation come to exist as the result of many situations. Characteristics of alienation that are common to many characters in literature will be examined in this symposium.
Clear instances of alienation can be seen in many of the works of literature. In Richard Wright’s Rite Of Passage a young boy’s struggle to deal with abandonment is followed. William Golding’s Lord Of The Flies illustrates alienation from civilization and the drastic changes that result. In Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome the alienation is both physical and emotional. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka tells a bizarre tale of a man who is disjoined from his family when he wakes up to find that he has been transformed into a giant insect