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Discuss the irrationality of human existence within the The Outsider by Albert Camus and A Dolls House by Henrik Ibsen.

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Introduction

Discuss the irrationality of human existence within the 'The Outsider' by Albert Camus and 'A Doll's House' by Henrik Ibsen. 'The Outsider' reflects Camus' philosophical theory, referred to as the theory of the absurd, that there is no rational meaning in human existence. He believes that humanity is unable to accept this truth and so search for meaning where, in actual fact, none exists. This idea is explored implicitly through the character of Meursault, the narrator and protagonist of the novel. Moreover, aspects of Camus' theory can be identified within Ibsen's play, 'A Doll's House'. The play illustrates humanity's search for meaning of which Camus suggests, although Ibsen's intention was merely to portray the oppression of nineteenth century marriages. In the novel 'The Outsider', the protagonist, Meursault, is depicted as a man who does not possess any rational meaning in his thoughts or actions. When put in "a room with several other prisoners, most of them Arabs"1 and is asked what he had done unlawful, Meursault simply replies that he "killed an Arab"1. Then, he carries on recounting other aspects of the occasion such as his sleeping mat and how he "could just see the sea"2 through the tiny window. This scene demonstrates how Meursault is not concerned with judgment as he does not ponder over what should or should not be said in order to conform to the accepted morals of society. ...read more.

Middle

This is a representation of what Camus mentions in his theory as Nora searches for a rational meaning in order to conform to the social and moral standards set by society. Initially, Nora is conveyed as a complete adherent to the conventions of society. She did not question nineteenth century marriage norms and accepted her status as a wife and mother. Her husband, Torvald, addressed her as a "little sky-lark"5, a "little squirrel"6 as well as a "little singing bird"7. The recurrence of the word 'little' suggests Nora's insignificance and expresses Torvald's condescending attitude towards her. Further, these pet names signify her as purely a plaything. Nora is also symbolized as a plaything by the Christmas tree mentioned at the beginning of the play. She is comparable to a Christmas tree as it possesses a physical beauty about it and can also evoke feelings of warmth as a mother does. However, both the tree and Nora seem to be simple household decorations to Torvald as opposed to anything with genuine worth. As the play progresses, Nora finds herself being more and more oppressed by her marriage and decides to leave behind her family in search of an identity independent from her own as a wife and mother. Her rebellion against her family, and especially her husband, is foreshadowed at the very start of the play as she "takes a bag of macaroons out of her pocket and eats one or two"5 against her husband's favor. ...read more.

Conclusion

This detachment is significant as it verifies Meursault's status as an outsider to humanity. He does not do as the majority of people would: form opinions. An illustration of this is when Meursault observes the "peculiar little woman"10 dining at C�leste's. He notices all the physical details such as how she "took out a blue pencil"11 to write with and the "magazine which gave the radio programmes for the week"11. He notices these details of color and subject without thinking any deeper about them and, within moments, he forgets about her. This is ironic as she is very similar to Meursault himself yet he regards her as 'peculiar'. Both Camus and Ibsen also explore how appearances can disguise reality. Ibsen displays this through Nora's drastic change in character from a seemingly unintelligent and simpleminded woman to someone of strong will and independence, whilst Camus shows that Meursault's appearance as a menacing person is all along masked by society's perception of him as an 'outsider'. In conclusion, both protagonists accept their reality and experience what freedom is to them. For Meursault, he accepts the reality that he is truly an 'outsider' to society whereas for Nora, she accepts the reality that she is not fitted as a wife or mother. For that reason, she decides leave, against the conventions of her time, in order to pursue her own aspirations. However, if Camus' philosophy were to be applied to Ibsen's play, then Nora's search for meaning would ultimately be a failure as no meaning would exist in the first place. ...read more.

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