“The Man Who Lived Alone”

Among children’s books that I have enjoyed is Donald Hall’s The Man Who Lived Alone. The most appealing feature of Hall’s book is probably the woodcuts, which lend a simple ruggedness and sentiment to the pages to complement the story. The story offers a stylized rationale for the eremitism of the protagonist: the abused youth who ran away, traveled widely, worked in various jobs and settled in a cottage near his beloved cousin, her husband, and little daughter to become a hermit. The hermit tends a few animals and can “do just about everything” tactile and handy. He has his benign idiosyncrasies, of course, and is not anti-social insofar as he works a couple of weeks a year to pay taxes, will help anyone with house or other repairs, and loves to sit and reminisce with his cousin’s now-grown daughter and her children and husband. I also like his copious beard, his owl visitor, his collection of newspapers, and his meals.

Life phases

A question that often arises is why hermits and solitaries seem invariably to be older people. One explanation is that most people busy themselves with family, work, and social activities throughout most of their lives and discover their propensity for solitude only later. Another possibility is that the social role of hermit or solitary is not approved of by society except within strict religious contexts and barely even then. But still another possibility is found in psychological archetypes, where the hermit and solitary — like the “abba” and “amma” of the desert, the hermit of the tarot, or the crone of Jean Shinoda Bolen’s books — is associated with a reservoir of experience and wisdom, with a sense of no longer being dependent upon how society judges them. The growth of self-perception can lead in different directions, but one of them is solitude for better discovering one’s self. And this phase usually takes a number of years.