As social animals, we’re destined to interact with other human beings. That’s humanity’s intrinsic nature, after all: we must socialize to be part of something. Otherwise, society itself would obviously come apart and an essential part of what makes us humans would go extinct.
But as social our nature is, there are certain people who are incapable to adapt to social standards and who simply can’t easily interact with others. In some cases, this may not be mere biology: some people simply deal with their circumstances by building barriers. A wall, if you will.
That’s the premise behind Pink Floyd’s conceptual album, The Wall (1979), which talks about an individual who decided to hide behind the wall he built by the abandonment of his father, the overbearing nature of his mother, the dark state of society, human nature, fame, and war. That’s clearly not a hopeful situation for a hurt psyche like his. Roger Waters turned solitude, loneliness, and emotional collapse into a powerful—and beautiful—opera with The Wall and its fictional character, Pink Floyd.
After the feature film inspired by the conceptual album, it became clear that its songs jointly compose a rather complex story that intersects with many dramatic points, starting with the character’s childhood. His infancy faces his father’s absence (one of the casualties of war) and his mother’s overprotection, who tries to shield Pink from all the dangers of life by any means necessary. That gives him the very first bricks to build his inner wall.
From the first tracks you can tell the anxiety and loneliness that this boy faces, and whose very essence soon becomes embedded into his heart. This boy has no idea that, from that moment on, he’s doomed to wander in search of love and understanding while, at the same time, he’ll run away from all forms of explicit human emotion. That’s the kind of paradoxical nature many disturbed characters nurture from their early years. The song titled “Mother” is the culmination of this first phase in the story.
Having grown with mommy issues, Pink seeks warmth and the very reflection of his wall in the women that surround him. This wall, which his own mother projected onto him as a kid, makes him feel safe from danger and fear. Obviously, his search for a substitute mother and a wife fails. He doesn’t find that dysfunctional connection, and she ends up cheating on him as soon as she feels the existential void in Pink’s heart. The bricks that he’s piled up around him prevent any real bonding with another human being—even with those substitute father figures he’s been careful to collect.
His social and emotional isolation becomes complete when all his feelings reach rock bottom. Pink Floyd’s The Wall, much like Michel Houellebecq’s Whatever, Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea, or Alber Camus’ The Stranger, perfectly exemplifies the social ailments of its time. This is why the album is so relevant in music history—it manages to transcend mundane artistic manifestations and touch upon profound themes that will be studied for years to come.
The climax, in both the album and its film, comes about when the character reaches his crisis—the moment in which his wall becomes so tall and so strong that, even if he wanted, he could no longer get out. The loneliness we feel as children can truly build barriers that eventually no one will be able to cross.
Translated by Oliver G. Alvar
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