In The Outsider by Albert Camus and The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, both authors utilize the protagonist’s distinct characteristic and central theme to evoke sympathy in the readers for Gregor Samsa and Meursault, which will be explored in a deeper context in the essay. Both protagonists have their own characters which defines them as a person. Readers will be replete with sympathy knowing that the protagonists’ misfortunes were a result of their characters. Themes are used to express ideas and are employed by authors as a literary device to bring forth basic elements in any story. The main theme in both books bring into light the more significant context of what the story focuses on, hence drawing the readers closer to presiding events which affects the protagonist, and ultimately brings forth the sympathy we feel.
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When Meursault kills an Arab he is adjudicated not for his murder, but for “burying his mother like a heartless criminal” (p93) after discovering he was enjoying and having fun on the day after his mother’s death. As it is common for people to mourn for the loss of a loved one, the lack of concern he has towards his mother’s death differ from the social norms. Meursault was punished for his insensitivity as the Prosecutor talked about Meursault’s attitude towards his mother “much longer” (p98) than “about his crime” (p98). He was tried for not expressing regrets or showing emotions during the trial simply because he did not feel any of it, staying truthful throughout even if it affected his fate. Therefore, this elicits sympathy in readers as he in incapable of relating to others, conveying how his nonchalance led to his downfall as the trial placed a sole focus on his character instead of the crime he committed.
In The Metamorphosis, Gregor’s altruistic character is illustrated from the very beginning of the novella, portraying how he hates his “grueling job” (p3) as a travelling salesman, experiencing the “torture of travelling, worrying about changing trains, eating miserable food at all hours” (p4) when he actually desired to quit a long time ago. Yet, Gregor only has his job in mind as he has no intention of letting his family down. More notably, despite his sufferings he sacrifices his time and freedom of choice profusely by continuing with his job which he loathes so much just to provide his family with “such a life in so nice an apartment” (p21) and to pay off his parents’ debt.
Sadly, when he transforms into a vermin, his family repays his devotion by neglecting him, and “swallow their disgust and endure him” (p38). His family feels the need put up with the revolting sight of Gregor and bear with his vermin form, thus exposing their ungratefulness. Gregor is no longer of any use “since his transformation forces him to stay in his room”  He eventually dies from the guilt of burdening his family because of his inability to provide for them and also because he lost his final link to his family- Grete, his sister and closest family member-when she agrees Gregor is burdensome. Hence, we sympathize for him as Gregor is neither thanked nor appreciated for his selfless acts, but instead shunned by his family- his natural source of love and support.
The notion that Gregor and Meursault suffer the same fate of being neither emotionally nor socially involved with their families or with others, and die lonely is similar for both protagonists. Thus, it engenders our sympathy for Gregor as he sacrifices so much but his actions are not repaid with kindness and is isolated from his family, while Meursault’s downfall was a consequence of his indifference.
The central theme Camus conveys is the meaninglessness of human life. For Meursault, there is no purpose in life and only one definite thing-the inevitability of death-as portrayed in The Outsider. Meursault realizes that everyone has to die in the end, either from old age or by execution. He then concludes that he, like everyone else, is of no further importance, “Given that you’ve got to die, it obviously doesn’t matter exactly how or when,” (p109) hence drawing that life is worthless. After talking to the chaplain, nearing the time of his death, Meursault realizes that he had been happy, and “was still happy” (p117) when he sees death as being unavoidable by anyone once he finally grasps the concept of death as a part of human life. Therefore, we can express sympathy with Meursault as his view and meaning of life are both very pessimistic. He does not seem to appreciate life as a blessing, but sees it in such a negative light which will make life not worth living and taken for granted.
Whereas, the main theme Kafka expresses in The Metamorphosis is change. Gregor experiences a physical change when he “wakes up one morning from unsettling dreams” (p3) to find himself “changed in bed into a monstrous vermin” (p3). His voice also undergoes a change to “the voice of an animal” (p12). His transformation into a vermin alienated him from his family as he could no longer communicate or be seen by them. After Gregor’s physical change, it triggers the mistreatment he receives from his family. We sympathize with him as the changes occurring to Gregor were undesirable for him, despite having done nothing wrong.
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This change experienced by his family subsequent to Gregor’s metamorphosis brought about his rejection by them, since he is unable to work to meet his family’s needs and to provide for them. Instead, he had to be taken care of by his family, and overtime, they gradually disregarded Gregor, angering him with the “miserable treatment” (p41) he was given in return. Being the sole breadwinner, Gregor’s family had to learn how to be self-reliant and discard their dependence on him by acquiring jobs. By the end of the novella, after Gregor’s death, his family found life “especially promising,” (p55) portraying the optimism and hope they saw in their future without Gregor. Thus, we sympathize with Gregor as he worked so hard to offer his family a comfortable life; however his transformation into a vermin proved that his family treated him as a paycheck to provide for their needs, seeing as how they neglected him when he needed help the most.
The theme of life being meaningless somewhat applies to Gregor’s life as he has nothing worth living for, as result of sacrificing so much, and not living his own life as one should be doing. Yet, he continues to persevere for the sake of his family who in turn become unappreciative of his dutiful actions and avoids him after his metamorphosis. This causes us to sympathize as the change seen in both characters led to their eventual deaths, and a similar idea in which life becomes void as there is no longer anything worth living for, either by living life as not how you want it to be or the realization that the only thing one can get from life is death.
Through both authors’ use of characterization and central theme expressed, readers will gain a deep insight of how the protagonists are led to their deaths. Gregor’s transformation into a vermin was unfavorable as it made his family members shun him, after all his hard work and effort he selflessly put in to provide them with a comfortable lifestyle. This conveys how his unconditional love for his family goes unnoticed; hence it evokes our sympathy for him as his kind actions are disregarded. Gregor’s metamorphosis renders a change in his family’s attitude towards him and dependence gained by his family members. While Meursault’s crime made others judge him for his indifference and incapability of relating to others, hence playing a significant role in his death as he was tried solely for his attitude towards his mother’s death and severe lack of emotions. This engenders our sympathy for him as he is devoid of human feelings from the very beginning of the novel, and this character led to his death sentence.
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