Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Amy Witting, I for Isobel (1987)

Amy Witting’s semi-autobiographical novel, I for Isobel (1989), tells the uplifting survival story of how a young woman, Isobel, overcomes the legacy of the psychological child abuse inflicted principally by her mother.  In this regard, the novel is profoundly influenced by Freudian psychanalysis in its appreciation of the significance that early childhood experiences can have on character development and on future behaviour.  In addition, the novel also reflects Freudian psychoanalytical principles in its depiction of Isobel’s cure as being achieved when she gains an awareness of the cause of her problem so she can dismiss it, forgive herself, and rebuild her life in positive terms. 

Entailed in the psychological focus of the novel is the principal character’s quest for identity, which is pursued in feminist terms.  Isobel does not define her identity, or potential sources of happiness, in terms of relationships with men but rather in establishing her autonomy and independence as a woman who can define her existence according to her own terms.  This includes her embracing of literature and the bohemian university scene, which culminates in her eventual recognition of her vocation as a writer.  In this sense, the novel can be seen as the story of the emergence of a writer who overcomes her hardships until she ultimately recognises and embraces her gift.  While pursuing this theme, the novel celebrates the joy and fulfilment that can result from an appreciation of classic or quality literature. 

The novel is also critical of the pressures to conform exerted by mainstream society on sensitive individuals as well as on those who are in the progressive social fringe, which is defined in terms of an appreciation of alternative philosophies like Marxism or the Buddhist religion.  In this sense, the novel is sympathetic towards the ideology and values of the New Left and counter-culture that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s and rose to dominate Australian intellectual life at the time the author wrote, a time when this ideology could be referred to as that of the politically correct Left.  

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.)  Subject: I for Isobel meaning, I for Isobel themes, I for Isobel analysis, I for Isobel notes