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Absurdism in The Stranger and No Exit Essay


Society strives for conformity. In "The Stranger" by Albert Camus and "No Exit" by Jean-Paul Sartre society rejects the protagonists because they have beliefs that conflict with those that are accepted by society. Meursault in The Stranger is the victim of a society which rejects and persecutes him because of his absurdist view of the world. The three protagonists in "No Exit," Garcin, Inez, and Estelle are also the victim of social injustice, but their punishment is not as evident because they are "both the victims and the executioners".

In both of these stories, society acts in a way as to perform "social annihilation" upon the characters. This helps highlight the theme of absurdism.

The Stranger is a story about a man named Meursault who kills a total stranger for no reason other than that the sun was in his eyes. From the moment he was arrested, Meursault refused to defend himself. He is brought to trial, convicted, and sentenced to die. He refuses religion and never chooses to lie about what happened, although he knows that it would save him. The truth forces Meursault to rethink his outlook on life. He concludes that life is absurd.

In order to understand Meursault's thinking, one must first understand the concept of absurdism. Absurdism is a form of existentialism. It is the belief that the world is absurd and that trying to use reason to define it is useless. Through this belief, Meursault concludes that life is without meaning, death is inevitable, and therefore it pointless to waste energy trying to stay alive. "I have lived my life thus and did x," says Meursault at his trial, "but if I had done y or z instead, it wouldn't have mattered." Meursault is content in believing that none of his actions matter and that he was going to die anyway. The murder is dismissed by Meursault to be just one more, "absurd happening in an absurd world". Meursault demonstrates a total detachment from the crime, for the same absurdist reason.

Society, in the form of the court system, performs a great injustice by killing Meursault. Most of their evidence was that he has no religion and did not mourn his mother's death. Since Meursault believes the world is absurd, it is no surprise that he is not shocked by death. Though it is true that he is not upset about his mother's death, it is irrelevant to whether he is guilty or not. The state, by arguing that Meursault's crime is worse because of his worldview, is practicing a form of social annihilation.

"No Exit" is very different in subject matter and plot from The Stranger. It concerns three people and their experience in hell together. Each of the three characters is in love with someone in the room. However, none of the feelings are consensual. As the title implies, there is no exit from the room, and all the members are forced to deal with their feelings on a very personal level.

Through the play, the author demonstrates how everyone must be constantly trying to improve himself. Each of the characters refuses to adapt to the situation, and therefore it becomes hell for them. They try to stop speaking to each other, but it is futile. They were put together to torture each other.

Each of the characters in "No Exit" did some things in their life that societydid not approve of. Garcin is shown to be a rebel against his government, who escaped from prison camp, then was tracked down and shot like a coward. He also admitted to have gotten drunk and beaten his wife on a regular basis. Estelle was an adulteress in her past life. When she had a baby from this relationship, she killed it to make sure her husband didn't find out. Finally, Inez was lesbian who drove her lover's husband to suicide so she could have her. These acts force the protagonists to become strangers in their societies, and therefore are punished in the afterlife.

The social injustice in "No Exit" is committed by the person who chose to group the three protagonists together. When Inez enters the room, Garcin says, "Who do you suppose I am?"(8), and Inez responds, "Why, the torturer of course."(8). While Garcin protests, we feel that Inez, almost instinctively, has hit the nail on the head. She knows from the beginning that the time spent in the room will cause her great suffering far worse than any physical torture. This turns out to be because all three must suffer forever with strong unrequited feelings for another, and those same feelings will keep them from leaving. The nature of this injustice is profoundly different from that in The Stranger because instead of being outright aggressive persecution, the injustice in "No Exit" is deliberately designed, yet hidden from view. Only Inez instinctively knew what was going on from the beginning. She, like Meursault, was able to accept the situation she was in, because she knows that it wont change and she knows that being in denial about it like Estelle and Garcin wont help either. This is also why many believe that both Inez and Meursault are the existential characters in both pieces.

Each of the protagonists commits a social injustice against the others by trying to objectify themselves and by questioning their actions when they were alive. Due to the fact that there are no mirrors, each forces the others to act as one, forcing them to reflect back not only physical information, but in the case of Garcin, information about character.

In both works, society enters a stable situation, and through its practices of social persecution and forced conformity, shatters that stability. In each, the protagonists commit crimes, but in each case, the punishment assigned is far more severe than one might think is deserved. Finally, both authors project through their characters a strong belief in absurdism.

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