I have always wondered what the purpose of our life on this planet is. On one hand I feel, have we been sent to earth as trained robots to live a life that had been predestined by god or on the other hand, sent to achieve something in life; something of a higher calling. When I read the stranger and the metamorphosis, and after having analyzed the story, I realized that one of the most important concepts presented in the book was to do with the purpose of life. Of course they have been presented in different ways in each of the books, but this concept was with no doubt, present in both of them.
I therefore felt since I have always wanted to know more about the subject, as in discover how others felt about this concept, I figured I could gain more knowledge in the form of my World Literature Assignment. Therefore, for the sole purpose of getting to know more about life and the concept of it having a purpose, and also looking at it in a way as described in each of the books, I have written my World Literature Assignment for the reason mentioned above.
Writing has for a very long time been a way to convey a particular message to the general public, or an individual, or the entire population as a whole. The message might be political, or in the form of local and international news, or an idea that an author wants to express. As far as the expression of ideas are concerned, authors write stories or poems or even plays to present them. One of the ideas of great interest to me that 2 authors have tried to express in their works is the concept of existentialism. From the two pieces of work that I have analyzed, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and The Stranger by Albert Camus, I have come to observe that both authors, feature protagonists in such a way that arise existentialist values.
To understand the extent to which the authors express this concept, we must first begin by defining it. Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one’s acts. From the above definition, we learn that existentialism is a philosophy; a philosophy or a belief that an individual is free and unique in his actions. It also emphasizes the ideology of freedom of choice that people are free to do what they like. It also however stresses the fact that one must pay the consequences of his own actions. To sum this up, existentialism is a belief that an individual is free to do as he pleases and that the question of his existence is unquestionable. But, for every action he performs, he must be pay.
After having defined existentialism, we now know that this topic deals with the fact of life, and it having a purpose. After having related the two – existentialism and life, we need to understand how in each of the books, this concept has been presented so that we can deduce the similarity.
In The Stranger, the story begins with Meursault receiving news about his mother’s death. Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: “Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.” That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday. This is evidence of existentialist beliefs. We see Meursault expressing the fact that someday, we will all die. If not today, we will eventually tomorrow. It is just a matter of when and how. So our existence is just the physical presence of us – like it is for animals. From this point and throughout the entire story, we see Meursault living a care – free life where he cares the least about what’s happening around him. He does not question the current occurrence of events neither does he care about what is going to happen in the future, he just ‘does things’.
More evidence is seen through his interactions with his neighbor Raymond where it never occurs to Meursault that the society present around him did not express any feelings of indifferences towards his actions and interactions with him (Raymond). Further into the story, towards the end of chapter 2, we see short sentences used by the protagonist. This is done so as to avoid any conveyance of emotion towards his surroundings. At the same location where the previous quote was mentioned, we see further evidence of existentialism; `…one more Sunday was over… nothing had changed, we again see the fact that Meursault lived his life meaninglessly because according to him, time just went by, and all those events that took place that week weren’t something new or even special, or again even worth mentioning, that week was just like a passing cloud.
All this is clear evidence of the non-caring and meaningless life that he led, just like animals do, as mentioned earlier. All in all, Meursault was an existentialist and lived his entire life this way. However, amidst of all this indifference and existentialist behavior, we see a turning point; right when he shot the Arab after which he was incarcerated and sentenced to death. At this point he realizes that, despite his philosophy about life being meaningless, he still has to pay for his actions. But now he has difficulty in accepting these facts as this time, it meant death. But again, the important part is, he wants to change his ways from meaninglessness to usefulness, from existentialism to actually having a purpose in life, it’s too late however. But the initiative to change is there.
Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis is equally expressive towards this belief. The story is about a human transformed into a gigantic insect who eventually dies because of this great transformation. Gregor, before the transformation, is known to be a travelling salesman. He lives life meaningfully and earns for his family like an average adult would do. He was a dedicated man. Surely, on reading the story, one would definitely come to an understanding that Gregor was in fact the exact opposite of an existentialist. All this however changes after the ‘great transformation’.
After change with his physical self, things started changing with his family and society around him. They now begin to take him as a burden to them and worst of all, they forget he was like them once upon a time and literally start treating him like we would to a pest. Gregor now begins believing that he will ever live a normal life again. He thinks about how he is going to live his life as a transformed insect. He thinks about how he will earn a living, leave his room like a normal person and won’t scare anybody with his insect like nature. Because of this therefore, he starts loosing hope and ‘just lives life the way it was’. In other words, he had no aim in life anymore and also, he felt life was useless. He starts to forget his past normal life. He begins to cleanse his life of the purposefulness it contained and began living it aimlessly. This clearly, is an expression of existentialism and the nature that Gregor develops is existentialist and it greatly becomes a part of him till he dies.
We have now analyzed both situations in both the stories and have come an understanding how both the authors’ of The Stranger and The Metamorphosis present the concept of existentialism. In both the stories, the protagonists in some way live their lives with no meaning as an existentialist would do. It is greatly seen in the stranger where throughout Meursault’s life; there has never been a time when he actually felt purposeful. We see him ‘doing things’ that I must point out is very much similar to the life of animals that just eat, procreate and sleep. This was Meursault throughout his life.
We see the existentialist nature in Gregor too, but before his meaningless ways, Gregor was different. Before the metamorphosis, he was a responsible man who cared and loved his family and he proved it by earning on their behalf. Because of Gregor’s responsibility, his father took time off work and retired at some point in the story. After the metamorphosis however, he loses out on hope and meaning in life and lives it in such a way, that Meursault did and eventually, Gregor dies this way.
Having read and gone through both the stories, we conclude that both of them define the concept of existentialism where in each of the stories, the protagonists express the lack of concern for the importance of life. But we must understand, however, that the authors present it in different part of the protagonists’ lives. In The Stranger, we see it presented throughout Meursault’s life but desires change on being sentenced to death and in The Metamorphosis, we see Gregor living his life meaningfully, until his metamorphosis after which he loses out on all hopes of ever transforming back to a normal human being and accepts the existentialist way, and eventually dies because of it.