Eliza Liriano Post 2 – Isolation: A Product of Categorization in Nightwood

In Dijuna Barnes’s Nightwood, Barnes creates the character Robin to demonstrate how the failure to categorize an individual can lead to his or her isolation. Robin’s inability to comply with social expectations prevents her from identifying with a particular group. She cannot be considered an adult because she acts like a child and plays with dolls; yet, she cannot be classified as a child because she is older and has intimate relationships with her loved ones, Felix, Nora, and Jenny. During her relationship with Felix, Robin has a child. She cannot fit the role of a mother because she fails to care for her son and lives her life as though he does not exist.  Additionally, her relationships with both men and women showcase that she is not a heterosexual.  She is attracted to women but she is not a lesbian because her past relationship with Felix illustrates that she also has a sexual attraction to men; thus, she is a part of the “third sex” (Barnes 157). Barnes purposely does not label Robin as a mother, heterosexual, lesbian, etc. because she struggles to fit into any of these categories. Her incapacity to conform to social constructs and have a mature, long-lasting relationship with anyone causes her to be emotionally isolated from the people around her and prevents her from forming serious connections. As a result, she believes her only escape is running away from her roles, physically isolating herself from those she once cared for. In doing so, she attempts to find a safe haven, where she truly fits in, leading to her eventually assume the role of a dog and separate herself from the entire human race.

Robin acknowledges her differences and, without justification, runs away when she feels pressured to undertake a certain role.  In society, partners typically care for and remain faithful to their significant others. In Nightwood, this was not the case. Once Robin begins to the assume the role of Nora’s partner, she feels the desire to leave her. Emotionally, she is incapable of loving Nora unconditionally and putting Nora’s needs and wants before her own. In an attempt to escape the responsibility of being Nora’s partner, she has an affair with Jenny and leaves Nora. Robin physically isolates herself from Nora for she feels that she is not able to live up to society’s expectations and remain loyal because she is different from those around her. Furthermore, Robin’s inability to remain with Jenny shortly after leaving Nora emphasizes that Robin’s differences prevent Robin from establishing meaningful relationships with those she cares about. In Nora’s conversation with the doctor, he states, “Robin was outside of the ‘human type’—a wild thing caught in a woman’s skin, monstrously alone” (155). Although the doctor does not fully understand Robin, he does recognize that her failure to fit into a category is the reason why Robin finds discomfort within herself. Internally, Robin cannot let herself be loved by others, leading to her emotional and physical isolation. The ideals set forth by society limit Robin’s freedom and force her into a role she does not want to fulfill. Her differences lead her to reject these expectations she views as requirements and fuels her desire to find a place where can be accepted for the person she is.

Robin’s inability to be categorized leads to her isolation, which is a detriment to her character. Her failure to connect with others on an emotional level results in her physically isolating herself from the people she loved, leading to her finally assume the role of a dog in hopes of experiencing acceptance. Robin compromises her humanity to take on the role of an animal, demonstrating the extreme measure she has to resort to in order to find solace. Although the novel ends on a dramatic note, the author creates this scene to emphasize how categorization and one’s inability to submit to social constructs can lead to their isolation from those around them, and in this case, the entire human race. Barnes utilizes the character Robin to convey that people should not have to take drastic measures to be themselves, even if they do not exactly fit into a particular group.


Barnes, Dijuna. Nightwood. New York: New Directions Books, 1937. Print