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World Literature Essay

How the Physical Confinement of the Protagonists of the Stranger by Albert Camus and the Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka affects them on a psychological level

In the Albert Camus’s The Stranger and Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, the protagonists Meursault and Gregor Samsa feature contrasting personalities that can yet somehow be linked to one another. Over the course of the novels, both Meursault and Gregor face physical confinement and the outcome of this confinement on their personalities is sometimes similar yet sometimes extremely different. These effects on their psyche, to a large extent, are the reasons behind the endings of both books. An exploration of these psychological effects shall bring out important aspects of the characterisation of Meursault and Gregor and of the overall plots and philosophies behind the novels and prove that the key to escaping the confinement for both of them was acceptance of the futility of life and the inevitability of death. Accepting these facts would be considered foolish in the real world and the fact these two people accept these facts and the manner in which the people around them react displays, as the writers intended, how unprepared man is to face anything that upsets the balance and order he creates for himself.  

Social isolation is a key theme in both of these books. Meursault is, on a psychological level, isolated and detached from society which is made evident from the first line of the book by his lack of emotion when discussing his mother’s death. Although we are not initially informed of Gregor’s life before his metamorphosis and subsequent confinement, we slowly uncover details that reveal that he fits into the system and works hard as an average salesman only to support his family and make his sister happy while he is, on a social level, isolated from the world outside his household.

Meursault is usually an outsider to most deep emotions such as true happiness, love or sorrow. He is driven by desires for physical pleasures such as sex, smoking, lying in the sun and drinking coffee. It can be said that before his incarceration, Meursault simply “unthinkingly drifted from moment to moment, lacking the motivation or ability to examine his life as a narrative with a past, present, and future.” Gregor, before his metamorphosis, took into consideration the debts of his family and so gave up the same physical stimulants that fuel Meursault’s life and drove on with his “irritating work” which involved “constant travelling” and “irregular meals”. It was said that his family was happy as long as he brought in money to pay off their debts and that he saved up his money to send his sister to the conservatory. However, it is also said that his family were upset that he never went out of the house except to go to work.

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All of this shows that before their physical confinements Gregor and Meursault were contrasting in the manner in which they faced life, Gregor had people depending on him and worked to protect them while Meursault sent his mother, who depended on him, off to a home for the elderly. Gregor gave up the physical pleasures in life while Meursault actively resisted any course of action he could take that would deny him any of these pleasures.  Another notable contrast is how Meursault is isolated from society because it seems that he simply doesn’t know how to engage people in conversation ...

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