Existentialism in Camus and Kafka

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Existentialism in Camus, ‘the Outsider' and Kafka's, ‘The Metamorphosis'

Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis and Albert Camus' The Outsider, both feature protagonists in situations out of which arise existentialist values. 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. In The Metamorphosis the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, realizes his existentialism towards the end of the novella. In contrast, Monsieur Meursault, the protagonist in The Outsider, knows of his existentialism, only realizing his life's lack of meaning moments after he is sentenced to death. Despite the somewhat absurd nature of The Metamorphosis, and the realistic nature of The Outsider, similar values are communicated to the reader. The easiest to pick out being that it is up to the individual to create his/her own life, and that the inhuman behaviour presented by both protagonists will eventually lead to very bad things; namely death in both novellas. These deaths are, however, very different, as are the methods through which Kafka and Camus have made each novel nothing but `a philosophy put into images'.

Meursault (the narrator) in The Stranger only sees and only wants to see the absolute truth in society. The reader's first encounter with him...

Mama 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.

...immediately gives an impression of a lack of emotion towards the demise of his mother. This lack of emotion highlights the existentialist ideal that we all die, so it doesn't matter what life we have while we are alive. We simply exist, as did Meursault. It becomes apparent, as the novella unfolds, that Meursault has acquired an animal like indifference towards society. His interactions with his neighbour Raymond are an example of his indifferences. It never dawns upon Meursault that society does not condone his interactions with the pimp, avoided by his community. Meursault simply acts to fill his time. Being a single man, he has a lot of time to fill, and finds the weekends passing particularly slowly. While the scene passes slowly before Meursault, Camus' text flows quickly. He uses short sharp sentences to convey an atmosphere devoid of emotion or feeling. This is especially effective between pages 21 and 24, at the end of chapter two, when Meursault is giving a descriptive narrative of the life outside his window on a typical Sunday. He ends the chapter saying `...one more Sunday was over... nothing had changed.'

Existentialism is present in nearly all of Meursault's interactions with society. One such piece of evidence supporting Meursault's existentialism is his interaction with Marie. His association is merely sexual and physical. Meursault uses Marie to help him pass his time: he spends an entire Saturday with her. When questioned about love and marriage, Meursault's replies show indifference through their nothingness. Meursault is existentialist to the extent that he couldn't care less about the path his life (or lack of one) takes. The reader is constantly bombarded with short phrases revealing ever more Meursault's worthless outlook on a worthless existence. Examples of this come in the form of Meursault confining himself to only one room in his apartment, his ignorance to social expectations, his mindless identification with old Salamano and his dog, and most importantly his disregard for human life and the consequences for the removal of it. As mentioned in the above definition of existentialism, it stresses the responsibility for ones own actions. When Meursault comes to trial for killing the Arab, he finally realises that he can't take the...
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