Many of the readers are unaware of the importance of the structure of a novel. Indeed, it can convey many mysteries hidden by the authors. It represents how the protagonists progress throughout the novel, and how the plot resolves. An ordinary text will begin the story with an exposition, then climax and resolution. The structure of the novels, The Metamorphosis written by Franz Kafka and The Stranger written by Albert Camus portrays the progression of the protagonists through their acceptance of reality as an alien and stranger of a society. In The Stranger, the story is in chronological order, giving the reader a clear perception of how the protagonist evolves into a stranger. Ironically, The Metamorphosis starts off in an unusual way, beginning with the climax first which makes the readers question “Why?” or “How is it possible?”
When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin (Kafka 3).
The first sentence of the book confounds the reader as there is no buildup or introduction of the causes of this transformation. Gregor’s desire to get out of the bed and catch the train as if nothing had changed signifies his physical transformation and not his consciousness. By mentioning “unsettling dreams” Kafka emphasizes that Gregor’s unaware of his metamorphosis. Furthermore, “vermin” refers to a defenseless animal that can easily be crushed. This implies that Gregor’s transformation occurred because he is being crushed by the society. It inclines the readers that Gregor does not want this metamorphosis to happen; in other words he does not want to become an alien to the society.
He actually intended to open the door, actually present himself and speak to the managerâ€¦ (Kafka 12).
It is ridiculous that Gregor “intended” to open the door. If an ordinary person has transformed into a vermin, he or she will not take a risk of showing themselves to the society because it is obvious that they will be ashamed and embarrassed of themselves. However, Gregor dared to show himself to the society because he did not think that he is different from other people. The climax in the opening of The Metamorphosis serves to give the readers an insight of Gregor’s response towards a sudden transformation.
As The Metamorphosis progresses towards the falling action, society’s reactions to Gregor’s transformation makes him gradually accept himself as an alien. For example, the cleaning woman is using his room as a garbage dump:
Whatever was not being used at the moment was just flung into Gregor’s room by the cleaning woman (Kafka 46).
The term “garbage” symbolizes Gregor as a useless creature and a burden to the family. The incident of throwing apple signals the shift in his relationship with his father and the diminishing of his consciousness:
One appleâ€¦ that came flying after it literally forced its way into Gregor’s back (Kafka 39)
The apple is related to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were enlightened after they ate the apple. Similarly, the apple in The Metamorphosis is thrown to Gregor, making him realize the truth through his family’s reactions toward his existence. Furthermore, he is exiled out of the society like Adam and Eve. The falling action provides the readers an understanding of how Gregor realizes the truth.
Kafka resolves The Metamorphosis with Gregor’s complete acceptance of himself as an alien of the society:
If it were Gregor, he would have realized long ago that it isn’t possible for human beings to live with such a creature (Kafka 52).
After Grete called him “it” and “creature”, Gregor realizes that he is no longer part of his family. He enters his room with the door locked from outside on his own will, indicating that he is willing to be alienated from society. Furthermore, the light he sees before his death symbolizes that he has no remorse of being isolated in the room. The resolution allows the readers to see how Gregor had changed from the beginning of the novel.
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Contrary to the opening of The Metamorphosis, Camus begins The Stranger in a traditional way with the exposition where Meusault accepts himself as the stranger of the society. The first sentence of the book depicts how Meursault feels no interest in the world. His view of human existence differentiates himself from the society. It doesn’t matter if his mother is alive or dead:
Maman died today. Or yester day maybe, I don’t know. (Camus 3).
He’s indifferent to the world and human sufferings. The sentence is simple and straightforward. Camus develops this technique to emphasize Meursualt’s simple view of life. During the exposition, Meursault does not reveal his opinion even once. Most of his explanations are brief, involving only in the physical world. He can communicate with society, but he chooses not to. This symbolizes the way he rejects society or in other words his acceptance of himself as a stranger:
I explained to her that it didn’t really matter and if she wanted to, we could get married (Camus 41)
It is unbelievable that he considered marriage as a trivial event since it determines his future and family’s life. His neglecting of marriage serves to clarify his detachment to the world and a stranger of the society. The exposition explores on Meursault’s beliefs and how he is a stranger.
Meursault’s belief in human existence is shaking in the climax as he is being judged by the society in the court. It is the first time in the novel that he displays his emotional feelings as he listens to others interpretation of him:
I had this stupid urge to cry, because I could feel how much all these people hated me (Camus 90).
This trial forces him to confront his existence in a more conscious way. It is the first time he feels “guilty” (Camus 90).
All I care about right now is escaping the machinery of justice, seeing if there’s any way out of the inevitable (Camus 108).
The word “inevitable” emphasizes on how Meursualt is struggling to escape death. It is contrasting with the exposition where Meursault had not show any remorse towards his mother’s death. The climax provides a significant shift in his beliefs and the denial of Meursault as a stranger.
Camus ends The Stranger in the resolution with Meusault’s complete acceptance of himself as the stranger of the society. After talking to the chaplain, he realizes that the world is similar to him, indifferent to human struggles:
â€¦ I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world (Camus 122).
It appears that he is reverting to the same way he is in the beginning of the novel with a complete understanding of the world and himself. Meursault accepts that his belief made him become the stranger of the society:
I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate (Camus 123).
His eagerness to having people cry hatefully at him reflects that his contentment of being an outsider because no one would want other people to look at them with disgusted feelings or as if they were stranger. Thus the resolution emphasizes Meursault’s complete understanding of himself and the world.
The structure of these two novels reveals the progression of truth for the two protagonists. The Metamophosis, starts off with a puzzle, but allows the reader to explore Gregor’s gradual acceptance of himself as an alien. The Stranger, starts off with a vivid explanation, but a shift in the plot at the climax. Nevertheless, it allows the reader to follow chronologically with the protagonist through the acceptance of himself as a stranger.
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The structure of the novels allows the readers to perceive the protagonists as an alien and a stranger. Furthermore, it reflects the authors’ views of the society. In the beginning of The Stranger, Camus makes the readers view his protagonist in a negative way through the protagonist’s indifference to his mother’s death. As the novel progresses, the readers start to sympathize with the protagonist as he is sentenced to death for a crime that he did not commit. Similarly, in The Metamorphosis, Kafka makes the readers feel pity for his protagonist as a victim of the society. In the end, both authors convey the protagonists’ death as freedom. Gregor is freed from all duties and Meursault is freed from all human sufferings. Kafka and Camus are successful in making the readers believe that the society is evil and that their protagonists are heroes.
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