The Stranger and His Absurd Trials

Franz Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ (published posthumously in 1925) and Albert Camus’ ‘The Stranger’ (published in 1942) deal with protagonists who face trials in the Court of Law. The two masterpieces of literature deal with uncomfortable truths typical of  the human world.  One of the masterpieces of existential literature, the two novels reveal truths which are otherwise smothered by a singular truth as forced upon humans by the society, religion and other artificial constructs.  The two young men refuse to accept The Truth as placed before them by law, religion and society. They insist on standing on their ground to decipher The Truth, if any or find their own ‘truths’ and ‘meanings’ in the large meaningless world.

Joseph K, the protagonist of ‘The Trial’ is trapped in a typical Kafkaesque world trying desperately to understand his predicament, seeking the Truth. He finds it easier to accept this predicament rather than accept the Truth imposed by the system. He knocks on all possible doors during the course of his ‘trail’ to know his crime, to defend himself and his actions but everything that he does and seeks doesn’t save him from his final execution. He never understands the basic question as to why he has to face a trial and gets a part answer from religion that there is the door of judgment for each individual. We all have to face our individual ‘trials’.  Kafka builds a reality by breaking the stereotype of predictable reality. Joseph K battles extreme loneliness, anxiety and frustration but he persists in his quest to decipher the strange world he is trapped in. His execution finally liberates him from his agony.

Meursault, Camus’s protagonist in ‘The Stranger’ is a more confident person than Joseph K. He knows his crime and he knows the reason for his summons to the court but through the course of his trail he ends up getting punished for his ‘lack of emotions’ after his mother’s death rather than for the murder he has actually committed. Here, a person totally in control of his emotions, who has his own clarity of thought for all his actions and inactions including his ‘lack’ of emotion for his mother, finally prefers to be executed rather than accept The Truth as it is perceived and accepted by the world. Meursault’s analysis of the self and the world as an individual living in an absurd world is convincing indeed. Compared to Kafka’s Joseph K, Meursault is clearer about his life, his emotions, the reason he faces the execution, his options, and finally the reason why he has to die.

The triumph of the two contrasting existentialist protagonists of the novels is that they refuse to cling to any illusions to save their own life or to escape from their agony and suffering. Their trial and execution is a mirror Kafka and Camus held out to the ugly dark world meaningless we all inhabit and cannot escape. Could Joseph have been a little compromising and accepted the truth as served by the system? If he did, would he have been saved from the claws of death? If he did, it may not have been valiant enough to continue living. Meursault’s predicament of being punished for being emotionless rather than for the murder he committed is an example of the absurdity of life.

Though Camus was the brain behind the idea of absurdity, Kafka has already laid the foundation for this eternal school of thought. Absurdists worldwide would know that there perhaps was never a solution for the two protagonists but to accept the Truth as forced down their throats by an unfeeling system. The system has not changed much, and is as absurd as it was during the time of Kafka, or during the terror filled days Holocaust victims spent at Mauthausen or Auschwitz. The players may have changed, but the essence has remained the same, and shall continue to be. It certainly is an absurd world. The being that comes to this world remains a stranger until he or she meets their trials, ultimately ceasing to exist.

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References:

1. “Franz Kafka.” Microsoft® Student 2008 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2007.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2008. © 1993-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

2. Cosper, D. Dale. “Albert Camus.” Microsoft® Student 2008 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2007.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2008. © 1993-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

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