Raise Serious Questions About Social Conventions English Literature Essay

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Albert Camus's The Outsider and Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis both considered to be literary masterpieces challenge the doctrines associated with man's existence in a particular society who decides these social norms. This essay discusses about the characters Mersault and Gregor who are in stark contrast to the conventions of the society. Their behavior is conflicting to the image of a normal man and shows that they do not follow the social conventions. The Outsider narrates the tale of a man who lives his life on his own whims and fancies and is detached from normal society, the consequences of which is incarceration that Camus portrays as ludicrous. In The Metamorphosis, the protagonist Gregor Samsa finds himself transformed into a vermin, thus metamorphosing his life eternally and how it influences him to acquire a fresh perspective of his family and social beliefs contrary to what he adhered to earlier.

Gregor and Mersault find it difficult to come to terms with these beliefs and life becomes miserable for Mersault after his mother dies and Gregor, after he is unexpectedly physically transformed into a vermin. On the one hand, the death of his mother does not concern Mersault and he does not show any signs of mourning. He is least interested in attending his mother's funeral and wishes that he was at his home in bed. When Mary Cardona asks Mersault to marry her, he does not show any interest in marriage simply because he does not believe in social commitment. Like him, his friend Raymond does not have any respect for women either; another thing they had in common were their cold and detached personalities.

In other words, Gregor and Mersault do not share similar personalities but their predicament is the same. They find themselves caught in situations where they respond in a way which portrays their mental instability. Though Gregor is mentally sane, after his physical transformation he notices a radical change in his family's attitude towards him while Mersault who is physically capable is internally disturbed and alienated. He is incapable of reacting to social norms; he is an escapist and cannot relate to these norms. He has spiritually estranged himself from the society he lives in and does not belong to it. It has to be noted here that Gregor isn't insensible to the situations like Mersault but diminished to an irretrievable state.

They are men who only live for themselves. After Mersault commits a murder and is imprisoned, he gets several chances to change his life and restore some sense of balance in it, but change is something that Mersault hated. The indifferent attitude in "Immediately after my arrest I was questioned several times. But it was only a matter of finding out that I was which didn't take long. The first time at the police station nobody seemed interested in my case. A week later though, the examining magistrate eyed me with curiosity. But to start with he simply asked me my name and address, my occupation and my date and place of birth. Then he wanted to know if I'd chosen a lawyer. I confessed that I hadn't and inquired as to whether it was absolutely necessary to have one."(Lines 1-10-Chapter 2 is well reflected in these lines.

A self centred and emotionless character like Mersault did not believe in a life based on societal norms. When tried to be taught sobriety he misunderstands everyone. Likewise, Gregor is also a detached person, before being transformed into a vermin he did not have many friends and had always been a loner by nature. Gregor's whole life turns upside down after transforming into an insect. Before this physical transformation he worked as a salesman who looked after his family and their needs to the best of his ability, but he felt lonely as he felt that his life revolved only around the fact that he was the sole breadwinner of his family. His family does not outright reject Gregor after he turns into an insect but gradually they disapprove of his existence and start maintaining a distance from him.

Wilhelm Emrich observes in his critical essay -"he believed he had to provide his family with a pleasant, contented, secure life by sacrificing himself, by selling himself to his business. The reciprocal relationships are based upon secret calculations and compromises, the consequences which are no longer suspected by anyone."

Kafka portrays Gregor who does not want to lead his life based on a certain set of social norms but he does not have any other choice, his changing into a vermin maybe a result of this deep rooted dissatisfaction.

From a psychological point of view, both Mersault and Gregor feel neglected at an emotional level and this greatly impacts their existence in their respective societies. They tend to coil up into their own selves and refuse to open up. They feel emotionally banished by the society. There is an emotional vacuum in both of them which cannot be fulfilled by conventional social norms. They both feel betrayed by the society. Mersault is of delinquent nature and is not capable of displaying emotions like love, happiness and care; he can be coined as the perfect sociopath. On the other hand, Gregor's physical transformation has alienated him from his own self and his family. Initially, his family does look after him but gradually they get fed up and feel embarrassed by Gregor's weird physical appearance. The burning question here would be what role the society has to play with the state of mind that Mersault and Gregor have? They both fail to connect with their fellow human beings at a very basic and fundamental level. Gregor is an alien among his own people and Mersault is a social outcast. The mental state of Mersault and Gregor (after his being transformed into a vermin) is that of rebellion; they are seeking an individual identity of their own and are finding the society around them and its mechanism clichéd and one sided. Hence their mind revolts against this existence and they decide to go against it. Had Gregor not been transformed into an insect he would never have seen the true colours of his family and the society he lived in. Mersault has already given up hope on his social existence. He feels that he does not belong to this world and his state of mind does not give him any hope. He is too despondent of his own life that is the reason that he does not even raise any objection to his death sentence. Gregor also dies a pitiful death; he dies an insect's death because he was no longer of any use to his family, he was an encumbrance to them and he was at the end of his tether living on their pity.


Camus and Kafka depict their characters who are estranged from the normal society. Gregor is physically abnormal and Mersault is mentally deficient. When one reads The Outsider and The Metamorphosis one is struck by this element of "alienation" and it becomes the leitmotif for the writers. Camus and Kafka, both are existentialist writers and through the delineation of their characters they ask serious questions to the architects of 'society'. Does the society always have to have an upper hand in deciding how our social conduct should be? Do all social conventions mean to be for the benefit of the human race or are they forced onto us without our consenting to it?

Outsider is a classic dreamlike fable of how our life would be affected if we had to defy our social existence and turn blind to it. ENCAPSULATE WHAT METAMORPHOSIS MEANS TO YOU. Will we be allowed to make our own rules or can we live our lives on our own terms and conditions? Both Kafka and Camus force their readers to think about life and human existence from a different point of view and not succumb to social conventions that are forced upon us generation after generation.


Outsider is a classic dreamlike fable of how our life would be affected if we had to turn blind to and defy our social existence. Metamorphoses means "the physical changes occurring in an animal or human being;" this change can be natural and it can also be engineered with the help of some form of occult science."QUOTATION MARK WRONGLY PLACED For me metamorphosis does not have to be a physical process alone, it can be at a mental and spiritual level also. While we are growing up, we are metamorphosing, physically and mentally; from childhood to adolescence and then from adolescence to adulthood. Metamorphoses is a never ending process because if we refuse to grow we shall never be able to change, it is important that we do not stick onto our old beliefs, we must learn to inculcate new ideas too, but this is not always an easy proposition. Will we be allowed to make our own rules or can we live our lives on our own terms and conditions? Both Kafka and Camus force their readers to think about life and human existence from a different point of view and not succumb to social conventions that are forced upon us generation after generation.

Your evaluation about both the works ought to be balanced.