In The Stranger by Albert Camus the protagonist, Meursault, lives a very solitary existence. Meursault seems to distance himself from his own emotions. In part one of Camus novel, Meursault is faced with the death of his mother. He does not feel sorrowful about his mother and demonstrates indifference towards what would seem to be an emotionally draining experience. At his mother’s funeral, he does not cry while others wallow in their sorrows before him. He sits alone, for he is alone. He alienates himself from the other characters because he does not feel the way they do. Meursault does not hide this from his companions. “A minute later she asked me if I loved her. I told her it didn't mean anything but that I didn't think so.” When Marie, Meursault’s lover, tries to express herself to him, he cannot comprehend the emotional implications she is trying to extend. His answer, though honest, is cold and detached. This idea that love doesn’t mean anything is later expressed once Meursault comes to the conclusion that human existence is meaningless. This is a popular existential belief. He pushes himself away from other people by not reacting to their emotions. However, unlike Gregor Samsa of The Metamorphosis, people surround Meursault. His friends care about him and tend to him. It is he who chooses to remain alone. Marie tries desperately to connect to this man, and yet is so far from his heart. His actions and his attitude reflect someone who wants to be left alone, secluded in his own thoughts and in his own daily routine.
The existential theme of seclusion is prominent in both The Metamorphosis and The Stranger. However, the protagonists react differently to their own isolation. Gregor demonstrates an attachment to his family. He is unaware of the alienation that has enwrapped his life. He isolates himself from his family but still worries and cares for them. Each day is routine for him and he is not spiteful of his transformation or the state of being he has become. He expresses concerns for his sister and her well being. He cared for his family as demonstrated in his financial support for them. Gregor wanted his family to be happy. He worked diligently to provide for them and to ensure that they had a decent life. Meursault, however, does not go out of his way to ensure the happiness of his companions. He come to terms that human existence is meaningless. He sends his poor mother to a home and does not visit her. He does not care about her well being, and after her death expresses to others that he did not feel badly about not visiting her in the wretched home where he forced her to go. When Marie goes out of her way to visit him in jail, Meursault still does not care. He feels no need to apologize to her and does not think that he owes her anything. One would think that her adulation would at least be acknowledged. Though Gregor may not care to be around his family he still demonstrates a sense of responsibility to take care of them. Meursault lacks all responsibility for himself and others.
The Stranger and The Metamorphosis demonstrate the act of seclusion between the two protagonists. Gregor Samsa isolated himself from his family and society by locking his doors to the outside world and creeping into dark corners where he could hide himself. Meursault disregards the emotions of the people in his life and does not care whether or not they are a part of his life. Gregor is alienated by his family, while Meursault chooses to be secluded from society. Though Gregor did demonstrate tentative longings to be alone (his subconscious act of locking his bedroom door while even at home), he still cared for the lives of his family. He made an effort to provide financially to them. Meursault secluded himself from those who tried to get close to him. He was a selfish character who could not even be bothered to care for the life of his own mother. The compassions of the two men, or lack there of, are what separate themselves for each other. Both Kafka and Camus demonstrate the existential idea that human beings have the capability to seclude themselves from society and the people around them.
Seclusion As An Existential Theme In Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis And Albert Camus The Stranger
IB World Lit 1
Kafka, Franz. “The Metamorphosis”. Dover Pubns; (June 1996).
Camus, Albert. “The Stranger”. Vintage Books; Reissue edition (March 1989)
Mirriam-Webster. “Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary”. Merriam-Webster, Inc.; 10th edition (1998)