In both Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk and The Outsider by Albert Camus, the protagonist explores the significance of their existence. The two characters determine that everyone is destined to the same fate. The narrator says “It’s easy to cry when you realize everyone you love will reject you or die”(Palahniuk, p8). Later on in the novel one understands why the narrator is unnamed, however for simplicity sake he is often referred to as Jack. Jack is right; we’re all privileged to the same ending. We all die, even better we all die alone. This is a philosophical outlook on life that is commonly referred to as “The Absurd.” Humanity’s efforts to find meaning in the universe are waste because such a thing will ultimately fail. The philosophy concludes that this search for a meaning of life is a search that is humanly impossible and therefore absurd. The originally materialistic narrator in Fight Club, who remains unnamed throughout the novel, as well as the seemingly irrational French man Mersault eventually believe whole heartily in the Absurd. Throughout both novels several examples of emerge which demonstrate their application of the Absurd. There are four commonalities in the books that offer the best illustration of this philosophy and how it applies to their lives; each commonality illustrates strange behaviour by the main characters. They challenge the reader to analyse whether or not their actions are appropriate or utterly ridiculous. Initially both protagonists are faced with a certain traumatic event; both react similarly to each other however their response is strikingly different than the average persons, they do not cry, they are not enraged because they live life completely in the present. Soon after, confronted with another odd situation, both Jack and Mersault do the strangest of things which infringe on the standard set of morals followed by most. But for a moment one wonders, why should they act any differently? Following these actions, the reader sees the most brutal consequence of their beliefs; the death and dismemberment of other characters making it clear that they do not care for the lives of others. Finally at the end of both novels, both protagonists have their epiphanies. They settle on an answer to a fundamental question, what is the significance of their life, and the lives of others? It is clear that this belief in the Absurd is what makes these novels so fascinating, it is what drove the plot, instigated character growth and lead them to an eventual peace.
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Jack and Mersault live life completely in the present. Their realization of life’s meaninglessness allows them to live free of remorse and guilt. They both accept their pasts and move on. Both men are confronted with an incident which would be detrimental to most. The men experience all things at face value, and so they are focused on the details of what is currently happening around them experiencing the even with a lack of forceful emotions. To most this looks like a distinct detachment from the traumatic event, and that the two men lack the understanding of basic human reaction.
Within the novel Fight Club, Jack is first stuck living a materialist lifestyle. A life of mediocrity, Jack works as a product recall specialist, lives alone with his IKEA furniture and a wardrobe that was becoming very respectable. Eventually he is drawn towards a puzzling man named Tyler Durden whom he met on one of his many business trips. When arriving home from that very trip, Jack is welcomed by all his belongings scattered on the street. There had been an explosion inside his apartment. With no home and having lost all his possessions, Jack says: “May I never be complete. May I never be content. May I never be perfect. Deliver me, Tyler, from being perfect and complete” (Palahniuk 31). Why did Jack appear completely void of emotion at a time like this? Imagine: you’ve lost almost everything you own, you’re left with just the clothes on your back after living your life owning everything you need. You feel sad, you feel crushed, and you are overcome with emotions. Jack feels nothing of that sort. “Oh, not my refrigerator”, this was the extent of his emotions felt towards the event (Palahniuk 30). Instead of becoming overwhelmed with the implications of this event, Jack looks over his items which have been scattered on the sidewalk. To Jack this explosion “had blasted [his] clever Njuranda coffee table in the shape of a lime green ying and an orange yang that fit together to make a circle”, and ruined his “Haparanda sofa group with the orange slip covers, designed by Erika Pekkari” (Palahniuk 28). These kinds of details often fall to the back of one’s mind when evaluating such disadvantageous occurrences. Yet Jack definitely does not waste his time pondering about the single fact that he has lost his belongings.
In the first sentence of The Outsider, Mersault is notified that his mother has died. He receives the news through a telegram. The telegram simply says that that there will be a funeral tomorrow. As heart breaking as this news should be, Mersault gets straight to the logistics of attending the funeral. His first thought is the distance to which he must travel to attend the funeral. Fifty miles, he decides he can “catch the two o’clock bus and get there in the afternoon” (Camus 9). He does end up catching the two o’clock bus and does in fact attend the funeral, yet expresses none of the emotions which are expected in such a circumstance. Mersault sees the funeral as it is and nothing more. He takes note of the small things that happen without adding an opinion about it. “When they sat down most of them looked at me and nodded awkwardly”. Mersault lets the reader know of all the details that do not escape him. He notices that they had “their lips all sucked into their toothless mouths” and that “they were all sitting opposite me round the caretaker” (Camus 15). Mersault is giving insight into how he feels about the funeral, although his mind is not busy mourning over the loss of his mother. Instead he makes remarks such as: “I was tired” and “I was hot under my dark clothes” (Camus 20). One should not be thinking about much besides the loss of a loved one at a funeral. Mersault is simply uninterested in dwelling on this fact.
Both Jack and Mersault have similar experiences in the beginning of the novels. A tragic loss of a loved one and the loss of a majority of one’s belongings should invoke strong emotions in a person. Not for these two gentlemen, instead it’s revealed that they live their lives completely in the present. In their minds, the emotions of regular individuals are meaningless and therefore they would rather use their time to experience life through all of the sense. They both feel joy and frustration like every other human being. The difference is that their feelings are purely sensual.
Absurdism is very closely related to existentialism and nihilism, this branch of philosophy was extensively explored during the 19th century because of the disaster that the humanity had experienced (the brutalities of both World Wars). According to David E. Cooper, existentialist and absurdist ethics claims that: “(a) moral values are ‘created’ rather than ‘discovered’, (b) moral responsibility is more extensive than usually assumed, and (c) moral life should not be a matter of following rules” (Cooper 179). Inside these two novels, both main characters do apparently immoral things to seemingly innocent people, for little to no satisfaction. They often do these things because they realise that their actions are untimely rendered meaningless because of death.
According to Mersault in The Outsider, his new found friend and neighbour Raymond and his requests are a good enough reason to do some of the bizarre things. Several days after his mother’s funeral, Raymond confronts Mersault on his way upstairs. Raymond offers Wine and black pudding to Mersault in exchange for company. Realizing that joining Raymond would save him the task of cooking dinner, he accepts. This meal was not without a catch. Raymond had explained his current predicament with his mistress; he has a plan to teach this woman a lesson for being deceptive. However the first part of the plan involved writing a nasty letter that would lower her self esteem but Raymond felt that he could not fulfill this task and insisted that Mersault should help him out by writing the letter for him. Throughout Raymond’s explanation, Mersault was fully aware of how both Raymond and his mistress felt. Despite his knowledge on how the letter may affect the girl, he writes it. He “did [his] best to please Raymond because [he] had no reason to please him” (Camus 36). This example goes to show that he does not follow the regular set of rules that accompany morals because with his realization that his actions are meaningless in the future he has acquired a new freedom.
In the beginning of Jack and Tyler’s relationship right after Jack had lost his apartment and all of its contents, Tyler says, he could move in with him, but he would have to do him a favour. There, drunk in a bar Jack asks what this favour will be. Tyler replies “I want you to hit me as hard as you can” (Palahniuk 31). Apart from being the symbolic beginning of a fight club which the plot is centered on, this simple request will demonstrate how Jack acts knowing that his actions are indifferent to the world. Of course he hits him, why not? He rational is based on the fact that acting morally and doing what most would see as sensible is pointless. The words of Mersault from The Outsider could at this point fall straight from the mouth of Jack. “Everybody was privileged. There were only privileged people” (Camus 116). Mersault means that we are all facing the same privileged destiny, death, and that is was unavoidable. Jacks actions do not ultimately matter to anyone, so he does not follow the rules used by most of the population which make up the basics of morality.
The novels present two characters who act immorally they both decide to do things despite how immoral the things seem. Neither character is unintelligent, for they in fact do take note of the details which are their lives. By definition ‘act morally’ is ‘what you should’, however both protagonists come to the judgment that to follow these rules made up by society is pointless. In accepting the Absurd, the theme of authentic existence is common, both Mersault and Jack demonstrate that very authenticity by as one’s self which does not always follow the basic moral codes.
To accept the Absurd is to continue to live in spite of the fact that the search for a meaning of life is absurd. In accordance with a new level of freedom acquired from the acceptance that one is free from all duty, come the theme of authentic existence. “Authentic living involves being true to oneself in most situations and living in accordance with one’s values and beliefs” (Linley 386). Living true to oneself often accompanies the notion that one’s reason and rationale are correct. This might sound like the right ways to life one’s life; however in both novels both Jack and Mersault give examples of how their application to this philosophy works out. They both demonstrate a lack or care for other’s lives and as a result emerge as self-centered.
Despite the first two rules of fight club instigated by Tyler, new men are showing up each week to fight. One weekend Jack is taking part in one of his many fights within fight club, this time however, he does not stay in the realm of fighting. Once Jack has knocked out his newcomer opponent, he does not stop striking. After ruthlessly hammering his face with his bony knuckles, Jack continues with “the knotted tight butt of [his] fist after [his] knuckles were raw from [the newcomer’s] teeth stuck through his lips” (Palahniuk 88). Afterwards he discusses his thoughts with Tyler during breakfast the following morning. Jack admitted that his insomnia had returned and that he was “in a mood to destroy something beautiful” (Palahniuk 87). By dismembering the face of the ‘angel face’ newcomer, Jack remained authentic to himself in the situation. After the irritation with his insomnia has been flattened out, Jack calmly removed himself from the situation. Not a single feeling is expresses towards the physical and emotional damage caused to the newcomer.
Mersault also presents an example of how he lives accepting the Absurd. Mersault, Raymond, and Raymond’s friend have an awkward confrontation with the Arabs who dislike Raymond. After the fact, Mersault wonders the same area alone. The raging heat of the sun had caused Mersault much discomfort and therefore he strolled towards the nearest shaded area which was the riverside. Unfortunately, one of the Arabs who he knew was potentially dangerous was there sitting in the shade. Mersault describes his severe discomfort, the same intense heat that he had experience at his mother’s funeral had returned at his very moment. All the veins in his forehead were “throbbing at once beneath the skin” (Camus 59). At this point all Mersault wants is the shade in which the Arab stands. Gun drawn, Mersault approaches the Arab in preparation for self-defence. At that point “All [he] could feel was the cymbals the sun was clashing against my forehead” (Camus 60). The Arab pulls out his knife and lunges for him. Mersault shoots the man and is finally rewarded with his shade. He acted to fulfill his desire for shade but at the same time he knew by doing this he would have to kill another man to get it. Remaining authentic to himself and abiding by his logic he chose to approach the Arab instead of finding other shade.
By living true to themselves, Mersault and Jack appear to have acted eccentrically however to them it was the right decision. To them, it was better to abandon the rules that society shapes and take complete control on their lives, this way their action and their existence remained authentic. Acting true to themselves, they move past their seemingly brutal actions and thoughts onto the next thing on their mind. In Jack’s case he goes on to explain to Tyler that he not only wanted to destroy something beautiful but that he wanted to “everything beautiful [he’d] never have” (Palahniuk, 88). For Mersault, he realizes that has acquired a certain fate by shooting the man, Mersault fire four more rounds into the body purely in disappointment. They both belittle the thoughts and feelings of others to nothing because of their philosophy on life.
In the last moments of both novels, both protagonists realize that in fact they do accept and embrace the Absurd. The characters themselves do not know what they really believe in until the end, but the reader knows. In the beginning the reader picks up that these two men are strange to say the least. Then, as the novels progress, their behaviour begins to reflect the philosophy of Absurdism exclusively. The acknowledgement of their beliefs pours out at a weird yet wonderful time in their life.
Mersault is arrested, incarcerated, and placed on trial for his murderous act. The jury is convinced that Mersault is a soulless monster because of the lack of emotion he showed at his mother’s funeral. It seems as though his murder is not what is ultimately judged in court, his seeming lack of remorse or guilt is what the judge and jury assess to decide his fate. Ultimately Mersault is condemned to death by decapitation. In prison awaiting his execution he meets a chaplain. The Chaplain attempt to turn Mersault towards faith in his hours before death, but is ultimately shot down my Mersault. As the time passes Mersault grows tired of listening to the Chaplain. “Then, for some reason, something explored inside of [him]” (Camus 115). At the top of his voice Mersault tells him every reason why he was wrong about religion. Mersault brings tears to the eyes of the Chaplain because he insists that he has no time for God, and that one should. When he finds composure he finally comes to realize how he feels about the world. He says:
“It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe” (Camus 117).
With this he finally recognizes the absurdity of the universe and humanities indifference to it. He becomes aware of the Absurd; he becomes aware that he has to create his own meaning in his life. Mersault is finally able to experience a subjective and intense “meaning” in the form of a peace brought about by this surrender to the benign indifference of the world.Â
When Jack finally figures out that Tyler is not a separate person but rather a separate personality, His mind spins out of control and he eventually ends up symbolically shooting himself not to kill himself but to kill Tyler. Jack ends up in a psychiatricÂ hospital where he utters his final conclusion on the meaning of his life. Jack says:
“I look at God behind his desk, taking notes on a pad, but God’s got this all wrong.
We are not special.
We are not crap or trash either. We just are.
We just are, and what happens just happens.
And God says, ‘No, that’s not right.’
Yeah. Well. Whatever. You can’t teach God anything” (Palahniuk 154).
Just like Mersault, Jack also comes to the conclusion. He remarks that to consider God as real, and a “leap of faith” to believe that there is meaning beyond what a human can rationalize or prove as real, is ridiculous because you cannot question it or obtain a deeper understanding that what’s written in religious books. Just as Mersault does, Jack grasps the concept that life’s meaning is only to exist.
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These narratives give meaningful insight into the meaninglessness that is “The Absurd.” Both novels comprise of character self discovery. I have addressed four specific types of experiences which apply to both novels that Due to its non-conformist nature, many readers struggle with Absurdism when they are first exposed to it. Indeed, it would be accurate to describe absurdism and absurdist fiction as an “acquired taste”. Conversely, this genre is a favourite among scholars because it lends itself so well to interpretation, discussion, and debate. Similarly, the “moral” of the story is generally not explicit, and the characters are often ambiguous in nature. Restate thesis.
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