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Absurdism In The Stranger And Metamorphosis English Literature Essay

The theme of absurdism used by Franz Kafka and Albert Camus does full justice to bring out the pathos in both ‘The Outsider’ and ‘The Metamorphosis’ by Albert Camus and Franz Kafka. They establish the unsettling existence of the both the protagonists. The present situation of the narrators brings to life incidents that justify their unpleasant situations and what they are going through in their respective lives. Where existentialism questions man’s existence in a particular social system; ‘absurdist’ investigates characters that are placed in society that is devoid of God and how syllogism and parody loom large over the entire situation. Hence The Outsider and Metamorphoses have existentialism and absurdism as the philosophical tools that take these stories ahead.

Camus concretizes an absurdly dramatic story of a man who has no emotions in him evidently in the opening lines “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know. I had a telegram from the home: ‘Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely.’ That doesn’t mean anything. It may have been yesterday”. He- does not even feel obliged to justify his reason behind such odd and discourteous avoiding of any emotional involvement. Speaking briefly with the director of the home, Mersault tells him that he did not feel any guilt at having sent his mother away. He even declines an invitation to view the body, but keeps vigil with it overnight, in accordance with the custom. When asked by the undertaker how old his mother was, he replies ‘Fairly’, for in truth he doesn’t know her exact age. His going for a swim with a woman of his acquaintance at an inopportune time proves once again futility of his life.

As an embodiment of absurdism, Mersault doesn’t see any need to fulfill or dispel the discomfort from the minds of the people as his nature was very offending to other people. He seemed completely inhuman, and never believed it was important to live up to the expectations of others and follow etiquette. According to me, every human being goes through the kind of unpleasant and embarrassing situations Mersault and Gregor face but it principally depends on how a writer decides to detail and sketch these characters.

There is a funeral procession, in the heat of the day, across the parched, sun-drenched landscape, and once again, Mersault is disturbed by the light, the sun, and the heat, and feels unable to concentrate. This uncanny effect to the point of blinding one’s vision evinces unjustifiable discomfort Mersault exudes towards the society.

The Outsider is set in Algiers, where our protagonist Mersault, who was a bachelor, is leading a life that questions his existence. He does not show any interest in his job and does not believe in socializing with other people around him. As the story goes ahead, the reader gets to see the quirkiness of Mersault towards the world with conflicting emotions that make him commit a deadly crime. This marked nature of Mersault is brought out in the narrative in many incidents in the book; one of them being in chapter four where he is not at all concerned about Raymond torturing his wife. He responds matter of factly“At about 3 in the morning there was a knock on my door and Raymond came in. I didn’t get up. I sat at the edge of my bed. He didn’t say anything for a minute and I asked him how it had gone. He told me that he had done what he wanted to do but she’d slapped him and so he’d beaten her up. I’d seen the rest. I told him I thought that this time she’d really been punished and he ought to be pleased”. Mersault’s brusque attitude towards other people around him reckons him as an outcast.

I feel that the writer’s philosophical stance is unique, as he puts immense emphasis on the belief of “absurdism” and we need to understand what absurdism is ? Absurdist fiction is the manifestation of certain beliefs that dominated the works of a number of playwrights during the middle of the 19th century. This form of fiction implies that in a world that is devoid of God, the existence of human being shall have no strong foundation, it would be meaningless. The absurd elements in such plays and fiction were the fact that man has been thrust into a world where he cannot survive on his own instincts but is maneuvered by a force invisible to him. He is caught up in paradoxical situations and finds no reprieve by communicating or logical action. His actions and dialogues turn out to be a mockery of his own existence.

The best part about the narrative is that it does not preach with a message but at the same time does tend to ask us some important questions about humans and their social existence. The narrative is kept simple but is compelling nevertheless. Therefore, the work is a reflection of Camus’s moral axiom.

Like Camus, Kafka too was existentialist and adapted to an absurdist way in carrying the narrative of his stories ahead as traces of his style are evident in his letter to Max Brod.

In Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, the absurdist and existentialist elements form the main parts of Kafka’s narrative. The story begins with the line "When Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams one morning; he found that he had been transformed in his bed into an enormous bug." After realizing that his life would never be the same again Gregor starts realizing certain truths about his existence which had not come to his realization before. He starts to reflect on his own being. Till the day before he had been a hardworking salesman who looked after his family but now he cannot continue the same life anymore. Now after Gregor’s transformation his parents and sister realize that they shall now have to look after Gregor and start making a living of their own. This leads Gregor into a state of depression which he can only observe but cannot do anything about it. His family is robbed of happiness and normalcy and though they are trying their best to cope with it, their disparity is clearly evident in these lines of the second chapter- “Now his sister working with her mother had to do the cooking too; of course that did not cause her much trouble since they hardly ate anything. Gregor was always hearing one of them pleading in vain with one of the others to eat and getting no answer except “thanks, I’ve had enough or something similar’. They all knew the unpleasantness they had to confront but none of them had an answer to it.

I think that both the stories are existentialist and absurd in their narratives, and they both create a long lasting impact on readers and create a serious sense of debate about human existence and the acceptance of social rules. The Outsider is a well juxtaposed prose of absurdism and existentialism. Mersault is a social outcast and his further actions only make him an object of ridicule in his own society. One cannot see any kind of redemption for Mersault in his predicament; he is doomed and destined for a fatal end. The parts of the story where Mersault is wallowing in self doubt are existentialist in theme and the parts where he is unsuccessfully trying to find out the answers that can legitimize his actions are absurdist. Kafka’s Metamorphoses sees Gregor going through an amalgamation of emotional, physical and mental dilemmas. His physical transformation into a vermin is the main culprit. This transformation creates an emotional and mental mayhem in him. It can be said about Gregor that he has the answers but is in search of the questions. So, the Metamorphoses begins in an existentialist way but ends with an absurdist plot.

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