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Existentialist Values: Portrayed in Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" and Camus' "The Stranger"

Updated on December 12, 2010

Existentialist Values: Portrayed in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Camus’ The Stranger

Existentialist Values: Portrayed in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Camus’ The Stranger

Kafka’s novel The Metamorphosis and Camus’ The Stranger are similar in the way that both portray a clear view of existentialism by demonstrating the following rules: no control, loneliness, abandonment and responsibilities. They both feature situations out of which come to light existentialist values. In The Metamorphosis the protagonist Gregor Samsa realizes his existentialism at the end of the story, when the time of his death arrives. In contrast in The Stranger the protagonist Monsieur Meursault knows of his existentialism only realizing that his life lacks meaning moments before he is sentenced to death. The gradual movement of existentialism in The Metamorphosis runs throughout Gregor’s transformation until his death, expressing that man is only useful in a material context. As a difference from the Stranger, The Metamorphosis is narrated from a third point of view while The Stranger is narrated from a first person point of view. In both works of literature similar values are offered to the reader: it is up to the individual to create his or her life, and that the actions presented by both protagonists will ultimately lead to death.

To begin with, the protagonist of The Stranger Monsieur Meursault immediately gives a strong impression of the lack of sorrow for the death of his mother, “MOTHER died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.(1) this lack of emotion features the existentialist idea that we all die, so it is not important what life we have while we are alive. We simply exist. The reader encounters that Mersault has developed an indifferent attitude towards society. His interactions with his neighbor Raymond are a clear example of this. Meursault doesn’t care interacting with a pimp avoided by society. “When I made no comment, he asked me if I’d like us to be pals. I replied that I had no objection, and that appeared to satisfy him” (36) Meursault simply acts to fill his time not caring whether he is doing the right thing according to society’s standards, which is a strong rule of existentialism.

Adjacent to insensitivity, Camus conveys scenes that portray lack of emotion and feeling that support the idea that Meursault simply acts to spend his time. “I remembered it was a Sunday, and that put me off; I’ve never cared for Sundays. So I had turned my head and lazily sniffed the smell of brine that Marie’s head had left on the pillow. I slept until ten. After that I stayed in bed until noon, smoking cigarettes. I decided not to lunch at Celeste’s restaurant as I usually did; they’d be sure to pester me with questions, and I disliked being questioned. So I fried some eggs and ate them off the pan. I did without bread as there wasn’t any left, and I couldn’t be bothered going down to buy it” (25) This is a clear example of Meursault’s existentialist attitude, of not bothering to live life like a normal person would, with acquaintance to society’s standards, but rather with the absolute free will to decide the way he wants to live his life. Existentialism is present in almost all of Meursault’s interactions with society.

With the object in mind, one piece of evidence supporting Mersault’s existentialism is his interaction with Marie. His association is mostly sexual and physical. Mersault uses Marie to help him fill his time. When he is questioned about marriage he shows indifference and only nothingness comes out of him. “Marie came that evening and asked me if I’d marry her. I said I didn’t mind; if she was keen on it, we’d get married. Then she asked me again if I loved her. I replied, much as before, that her question meant nothing or next to nothing- but I supposed I didn’t” (52) This portrays Meursault’s lack of any signs of human sense supporting his existentialist attitude, using the people that surrounds him only to pass his time. The book is filled with facts that reveal Meursault’s worthless outlook and worthless existence, an example of this is the fact of him having only one room in his apartment, his philistinism of society expectations, his senseless identification with old Salamano and his dog, and most important the importance he gives to human life and the removal of it.

In comparison, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is equally philosophical to The Stanger it strongly emphasizes on existentialism. The protagonist Gregor Samsa is a sales man who strongly dislikes his job; he strongly desires to remove all the social burdens that afflict him. His desire is illustrated by his transformation into a “monstrous vermin” His transformation represents a way to escape from his human burdens, but that transformation also dehumanizes him and takes all the meaning and control of his life away. In this way he experiences the existentialism that goes along with him throughout the story until the time of his death.

“Gregor now hardly ate anything anymore. Only when he accidentally

Passed the food laid out for him would he take a bite into his mouth just

For fun, hold it in for hours, and then mostly spit it out again” (45)

He becomes totally uninvolved to the point of having totally no interaction with anyone inside or outside of the family. Gregor is totally abandoned by his family, does not eat and eventually dies. Gregor Samsa allowed himself to die upon realizing that he was free from society’s burdens. From Kafka’s point of view “A first sign of the beginning of understanding is the wish to die” Gregor was correct in allowing himself to die to liberate from society’s burdens, and not fight for his survival.

In conclusion, The Metamorphosis highlights that one must interact with society in order to have a meaning in life, while portraying hopelessness in a life controlled by the standards of society. In the same manner The Stranger conveys ideas that not following society’s standards will only hurt oneself, rejecting in some way the philosophy of existentialism. The main difference between the two protagonists is that one is a monster and the other is a human being, but undergoing different situations, which bring to light existentialist values. An example of their difference is their relation with their mothers, Gregor strongly desires to communicate and interact with his mother, while Meursault simply desires to get rid of her and avoid her funeral. In contrast when Camus uses meaningful statements to show existentialism, Kafka has filled The Metamorphosis with colorful descriptions of the existentialist philosophy. The two stories give a clear outline of existentialism, offering in both cases the negative attributes of existentialism that eventually will lead to death.

Word Count: 1,080

Works Cited

Camus, Albert. The Stranger. Translated. Stuart Gilbert. New York: Vintage Books, 1954.

Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. Translated. Stanley Corngold. New York: Bantam Books, 1986.

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    • profile image

      Pussy destroyer 

      4 years ago

      Absolutely boring

      Use different sentence structure and stop being redundant

    • robert curreli profile image

      robert curreli 

      6 years ago from Nutley, NJ

      Nice job!

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