Essential Self Vs. Social Self
Throughout the novels, Hedda Gabler, by Henrik Ibsen, and The Stranger, by Albert Camus, the protagonists are faced with many internal struggles. Although they are not similar characters by any means they share one distinct quality. Both Hedda in Hedda Gabler and Meursualt in The Stranger struggle with is their social self, and their essential self. The social self is the part of a person that is able to connects with demands of their community, their family, their friends, and their society. The essential self is defined as a persons true self, who that person really is through their own thoughts, desires, needs, and feelings. In both of the works, struggles are presented between the protagonists social self and their essential self that they deal with throughout the story. Both question their social selves and rely mostly on their essential selves.
Hedda Gabler is a perfect example of someone who struggles greatly with the internal conflict between her essential and her social self. The cultural ramifications are an important part of this novel. The cultural ramifications are the Hedda is expected to be the sophisticated house wife that stays home and tends to her family, while this is exact opposite of who Hedda really is. Hedda has always been her. She is very unique in her thinking and very different from those other proper, bourgeois women that surround her. In a converstion with Thea, Hedda states, I want the power to shape a mans destiny (Ibsen 37). Heddas place in society is evident from the very beginning of the play Hedda Gabler. Miss Tesman, talking about Hedda, says, General Gablers daughter. What a life she had in the generals day! (11). Although she was brought up as a Generals daughter, which in the days this play is set, means a very high social rank, She is now married to George Tesman. She is stuck being married to George because her father left her with no significant financial resources. She confides in Judge Brack later in the play expressing her feelings of the life she is now living, Yes. Thats it exactly. This this poverty that Ive come into. Thats what makes my life so miserable. So totallyabsurd. Yes. For thats what it is (58). This bourgeoisie society in which Hedda now finds herself does not suite her needs at all. She struggles with satisfying her ambitions and not being able to be who she feels is necessary, because of the small role that society allows her to play and the role that society expects from her. As the play begins to unfold, we realize that Hedda is finaly going to come to terms with her internal struggle that she is facing. She no longer can conform to her social self and what people want from her. Hedda is not able to overcome the lack of power she feels from being a woman in a bourgeoisies society and she chooses the worst form of self destruction, suicide. The play ends after Tesman exclaims, Shot herself! In the temple! and Brack responds, Godpeoplepeople dont do things like that (126). Hedda could no longer take the stress of struggling between who she really is and who she is expected to be, so she turns to suicide to rid herself of the problem. She is relying solely on her essential self, and at this point is not at all concerned with her social self.
Meursault, in The Stranger, does deal with this struggle between his social self and his essential self like Hedda does but it is not quite the same. Meursalt relies solely on his essential self because he does not have a social self. He does not conform at all to society which was not a bad thing, but at some points throughout the book, this posed as a disadvantage for him. The book begins with the tragic death of Meursaults mother, although to him, it does not appear to be so tragic. In his conversation with the Arab nurse at the old peoples home where his mother died, The Arab asks if Meursault wants him to unscrew the casket so he can see his mother. He responds, No. he was quiet and I was embarrassed because I felt I shouldnt have said that. (Camus 6). He doesnt mourn at all over the death of his mother although he knows that the normal person would. Him relying solely on his essential self, does wind him up in jail and eventually killed. The incident was when Meursualt killed the Arab. He was not thinking about the trouble he could be in with the law, or what others would think about him, he was just concerned with this thoughts about all of it. He discusses the murder very nonchalantly saying, I knew that I had shattered the harmony of the day, the exceptional silence of beach where I had been happy. Then I fired four more times at the motionless body where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace (59). It is obvious throughout The Stranger that Meursault is unaware of his social self. It seems as if he does not have one, because he is so committed to his social self, whether this social self of his is beneficiary or not.
Although Heddas situations in Hedda Gabler are very different from that of Meursaults in The Stranger, the same idea of the essential self versus that of the social self exist in both of the works. Hedda Gabler has a very strong essential self but has to conform to her bourgeoisies society for most of the play, until the very end when she is able to expose her social self by suicide. But Meursaults was different in that he did not conform at all. He only had his essential self and that is what he lived his life by. It would be very interesting to see if these two were to switch personas. If so, would Hedda have ever married George Tesman? And would Meursault ever have killed the Arab?