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Rationality And Death In The Stranger English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1563 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In times of spontaneous change, rational thought and logical thinking may bring a greater acceptance of death. Meursault from Albert Camus’s work The Stranger, and Gregor, in Franz Kafka’s short story “The Metamorphosis”, both display rationality when experiencing change from their repetitive routine. Both Meursault and Gregor are able to accept death as a natural occurrence, rather than an end to all means. Through this lens, Meursault and Gregor become open-minded individuals due to the circumstances that bring them out of their monotonous daily routine, and both characters are able to rationalize and accept death as just another step in the progression of human life.

Oftentimes, sudden change may create a sense of growth and enlightenment. Meursault and Gregor both achieve a state of enlightenment when faced with circumstances that are unfamiliar from their ordinary routine. In The Stranger, Meursault’s acceptance of death allows him to exhibit his mother’s rationality and feelings towards death in his current condition,

For the first time in a long time, I thought about Maman. I felt as if I understand why at

the end of her life she had taken a “fiancé,” why she had played at the beginning

again…And I felt ready to live it all again too (Camus 122).

Here, through the literary technique of anaphora, the reader can see that Meursault becomes enlightened after understanding his mother’s actions. In this passage, Camus repetitively uses the word, “I”, to bring the reader into a first-person connection with Meursault, which in turn strengthens the reader’s understanding of Meursault becoming increasingly aware of his self. Meursault’s thoughts are illustrated by, “I thought…, I felt as if I understand…, I felt ready”, which portrays a sense of gradual acceptance through this train of thought. Meursault first thought, then he understood, and now he is ready to “live it all again.” Meursault’s mother, Maman, is shown to also have a rational view on death because although she too neared her demise, she took a fiancé and started all over again; a symbolic action showing that death merely ends one’s physical self, and not one’s spiritual self. Meursault recognizes Maman’s rationality, and ‘chooses to live it all again too’ (Camus 122). Through this, the changes in Meursault’s life have allowed him to become rational and accept death as a natural occurrence. Similarly to Meursault’s situation regarding rationality towards death, change has led Gregor to accept death calmly as well. Once a traveling salesmen living a life filled with frustration and worry, Gregor is open-minded by his sudden transformation into an insect,

But Gregor had become much calmer. To be sure, he now realized that his speech was no

longer intelligible, even though it had seemed clear enough to him, clearer than before,

perhaps because his ears were getting used to it (Kafka 19).

At this point, it can be seen that Gregor has adapted to his new physical condition and approaches his position with sensible awareness. The literary technique of symbolism is apparent here, as Gregor’s acceptance of his new insect-like qualities is symbolic of society’s eventual acceptance of its’ own faults and errors. Rational thinking is very important in understanding and accepting one’s self. Because of Gregor’s rationality despite the absurdity of his situation, he is able to approach the complexities of death with the same rationality. These statements support the idea that one’s view of death is often enlightened when experiencing an extreme break in routine with leveled rationality.

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Rather than fear of death, one may accept its presence if logical thinking is used. Logical thinking, in times of interruption allows one to apply the same, rational outlook when contemplating death. Both Gregor and Meursault apply logical thinking regarding their own death. For instance, in Meursault’s situation, the rationality he exudes in his cell as he contemplates his nearing execution allows him to accept death serenely. Once physically free, Meursault’s transition from physical freedom in the outdoors to mental freedom in prison allows him to achieve a refined view of death.

So close to death, Maman must have felt free then and ready to live it all again. Nobody, nobody had the right to cry over her. And I felt ready to live it all again too (Camus 122).

In this passage, Camus alludes to an “epiphany” which demonstrates the revelation created from Meursault’s rationality regarding his own death. In this quote, Meursault reflects on his mother’s actions upon nearing her own death and is enlightened to parallel her calm outlook regarding death. After contemplating his mother’s death, Meursault realizes that death is a natural occurrence in life, and that all of humanity will face death at some point or another. Prior to his break in routine, Meursault would have likely viewed death as an end to his entire existence. However, through his rationality that developed out of a drastic change in lifestyle, Meursault is able to consider death as the beginning of a new life. Similarly to Meursault, Gregor exudes the same mindset towards his own death.

He remained in this state of vacant and peaceful contemplation until the tower clock struck the third morning hour…Then his head involuntarily sank down altogether, and his last breath issued faintly from his nostrils (Kafka 49).

This passage demonstrates Gregor’s logical and rational thinking, and further promotes the idea that the acceptance of death correlates to the degree of rationality an individual exudes. Here, the literary technique of visual imagery is evident through the descriptive narration of Gregor’s final movements. Gregor is illustrated to remain in a “state of vacant and peaceful contemplation until the tower clock struck the third hour”, which means that Gregor is aware that his life is drawing to a close, and instead of panicking, he is able to stay in a state of calm acceptance and allow death to come (Kafka 49). Moreover, his head is described to have “involuntarily sank down altogether” meaning that Gregor has accepted the natural occurrence of death. Thus, it is possible to make a connection that both Gregor and Meursault’s rationality during their respective transitions allows a greater acceptance of death.

Comparatively, both Gregor and Meursault are similar in the sense that they both are able to rationally accept death after experiencing events that break the monotonous routine of their lives. Meursault realizes that the world’s indifference to his execution mirrors his own apathetic stance and Meursault is able to become truly happy again.

As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time,

in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference

of the world. Finding it so much like myself – so like a brother really – I felt that

I had been happy and that I was happy again (Camus 122, 123).

From this, it is clear that Meursault feels comfort and companionship, which allows him to remain at peace. The literary technique of personification is used here, as Meursault identifies the universe as a brother because both share a feeling of indifference to his nearing execution. In Gregor’s particular situation, “He recalled his family with affection and love. His opinion about the necessity for him to disappear was, if possible, even firmer than his sister’s (Kafka 49)”, it can be seen that through rationality, Gregor was able to accept death and “for him to disappear”, after recalling the love that he has for his family. Though each character experiences a different type of break (Gregor in his physical state, and Meursault in his state of freedom), the dramatic effect of the break itself is what allows both characters to view the concept of death much more logically and rationally. Both characters are aware that their death is looming, but feel impartial due to their acceptance of death. They contemplate the nature of death openly, and accept it as a natural progression in the human life cycle.

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Thus, the examples of Gregor, from “The Metamorphosis” and Meursault from The Stranger clearly show that enduring change often allow individuals to think rationally about routine and the subject of death. In their respective condition and scenarios, both Meursault and Gregor experience a change in routine that forces the monotony of their lives to break. Despite the drastic change in their life style, both characters apply rational thinking to their own death and become open-minded. From the various events that have altered Meursault and Gregor’s lives, it is apparent that they both were able to approach them with unparallel rationality. Through this rationality, it has allowed both individuals to accept the complexities of death with the same, rational mindset.


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