Conversely, Meursault does not go out of his way to ensure other’s happiness thus, Camus communicates that as individuals; our reasoning can be ultimately solipsistic and does not need to conform to society. Society‘s expectations cause humans to behave the way they do. The character of Meursault provides an alternative and makes us question our own motives. In contrast, Gregor desperately tries to keep his family happy by supporting them with financial means prior to his transformation. A Marxist interpretation suggests that as a human being, we need a purpose in life and individual ‘happiness’ is often found through utility. Gregor’s family rewards his usefulness through love and affection and these feelings put him into a “state of vacant and peaceful contemplation” Before he dies however, he has lost his ability to work and support the family, his parents abandon him. The family’s reaction to his transformation questions our assumptions of familial loyalty. Further evidence is found in the beginning as Grete ostensibly makes an effort to care for Gregor by bringing him food that he likes but her actions seem to be driven by family duty rather than a true human bond, as she “sweeps together with a broom” the food he has not touched and “hastily dropped everything” This clearly shows that she is disgusted by Gregor’s vermin state. It requires the defamiliarisation of Gregor for the reader to be made aware that even family relationships are often founded on selfish need rather than love. Although Gregor desperately tries to communicate with his family revealing that all humans need to be able to communicate, to be understood and to be loved. Kafka uses Gregor‘s absurd situation to emphasise this. Gregor symbolizes the lonely, the unloved, the overworked and the misunderstood in society. The treatment of his family towards his transformation reflects how the society treats people that are not useful to themselves. Ultimately, his constant struggle to communicate with his family represents human struggle for acceptance. Even in his utterly altered state, this is Gregor’s ultimate desire and is more important than understanding his ‘nature’ as vermin. Kafka seems to be asserting that this is equally true of human nature. We are unable to understand ourselves so seek validation from others.
This further explores the fact that selfish need is innate to humans. The evidence can be seen through both protagonists of the novels, Meursault and Gregor. In The Outsider, Meursault’s lover, Marie often tries to extend her love and affection towards him but Meursault continues to alienate himself and defamiliarise the reader because he has no conventional ‘feelings’ except those that appeal to his senses such as sexual contact. Through defamiliarisation Camus asserts the hidden truths that humans are often much more driven by empirical sensation rather than abstract emotions. Even when marriage is discussed, Meursault shows no sign of interest and emotions as he told her that “it (love) didn’t mean anything” His insensitivity reflects on that fact that he perceives the abstract ideas of love and marriage absurd. His answer is brutally honest but it is cold and cruel as under normal circumstances humans tend to say things to please others. The absence of metaphors significantly portray that in reality our intentions or ideas are direct but society use metaphors to exaggerate them. This is why Meursault is condemned by the society as at the trial he is “accuse (ed) … of burying his (Meursault) like a heartless criminal” Meursault is being accused of his crime on an account of his unconventional response when burying his mother. This reflects that any individual that does not conform to the expectations of the majority or possess any ideas that threaten the society will be condemned.
The nursing home that Meursault’s mother lives in also reveals more truths about humans. Meursault mother is old and the sight of her is rather depressing to him so he chooses not to “give up my (Meursault’s) Sunday” to go visit her. This is shocking but honest. Likewise, when Gregor is transformed in to a bug his family desperately tries to keep it a secret by firing all the maids and giving him a “strong push from behind” hence hiding the reality of the situation. This mirrors how human society as a whole treats the terminally ill, the insane and old in homes, hiding them away and ultimately hiding the reality of life. Once again the defamiliarisation effect serves to shock the reader into a realization of dark hidden truths.
The absurd causes of both of the protagonists’ death and their reactions towards death ironically mirror the human condition Before Meursault is executed he “realized that I’d (Meursault) been happy and that I (Meursault) was still happy” even though he is going to be executed. This shows that he accepts death and does not hope for anything else but to “wish” for “ a crowd of spectators at my (his) execution” to greet him with “cries of hatred” Camus uses Meursault’s calmness arguably an absurd reaction to death to show that life is synonymous with death and that humans should not fear it. However, this is paradoxically impossible as humans living in society develop a code of mores and fear of death is a reality but one that is hidden from. In addition, Camus demonstrates that one must live and make meaning of life alone without the belief that god determines or control us. Only man is responsible for his life. Meursault’s death further parallels the death of Jesus as both of them are executed for maintaining their belief. Once more Meursault’s death and Jesus’ death are evidences of individuals that did not conform to social norms at the same time question social normality. Camus’s use of defamiliarsation again forces us to confront the reality of death and the ultimate absurdity of life.
Similarly, Gregor’s spirit of life diminishes as he feels that he has no more incentive to continue living. His only purpose prior to his transformation was to keep his family happy, fulfills his sister’s dream of being a violinist as he confesses “If I didn’t hold myself back because of my parents, I would have quit long time ago” Inevitably as humans, we all believe that we need a purpose in life. Throughout The Metamorphosis, Kafka uses Gregor’s solitary confinement to display that society shows no true altruistic feelings for the individual. Gregor’s father who “urged him back, uttering hisses like a savage” and his mother who “seemed totally lost to the world” when they saw Gregor as a bug. Metaphorically, he was a bug before being one literally.
Essentially, uncomfortable hidden truths of the human conditions are revealed to us through both of the novels, especially by defamiliarising the reader. Both Camus and Kafka successfully communicate to the reader different aspects of the human condition especially the absurdity of existence in the face of death. Furthermore, how all individuals suffer in the struggle to compromise differentiate between human nature and social expectations. Inevitably, as human beings living in society we cannot escape hence we are trapped by all aspects of life and existence. Habit and routine desensitize us to fundamental truths; defamiliarisation awakens us to knowledge we secretly already know.
The Metamorphosis and other stories by Franz Kafka (translated by Stanley Appelbaum) published by Dover Publications 1996
The Outsider by Albert Camus (translated from the French by Joseph Laredo) published by Penguin Books 2002.
The Outsider P.9
The Metamorphosis P.11
The Metamorphosis P.11
The Metamorphosis P.49
The Metamorphosis P.27
The Outsider P.93
The Outsider P.11
The Metamorphosis P.24
The Outside P.117
The Metamorphosis P.12
The Metamorphosis P.23
The Metamorphosis P.22