Existence precedes essence. These are the few words that many people live by. These words describe a philosophy called Existentialism. The philosophical term, Existentialism, came from Jean Paul Sartre, a French philosopher. Jean Paul Sartre wrote No Exit, where he portrayed his philosophy negatively. On the other hand, Albert Camus, who wrote The Stranger, portrayed Existentialism positively through his characters. Each author uses the characteristics of Existentialism positively or negatively to define their own story as well as their characters as true Existentialists or not
Existentialism has been described as a philosophical movement especially of the 20th century that stresses the individual position as self determining agent responsible for his or her own choices. Basically a true Existentialist will create their own beliefs, take responsibility for his of her own actions, and is very honest. If they were to do something wrong, they would take responsibility for their actions and not make excuses or put the blame on someone else. Furthermore, a true existentialist believes there is no God and thus man becomes alone with only ourselves as a guide to making the decisions that define our existence. They also believe that Life has no meaning and that everything happens by chance.
Jean-Paul Sartre examines the basic themes of existentialism through his three characters Garcin, Inez, and Estelle. Garcin seems to appear an existentialist, but upon a closer look, he violates the rules time and again. Next, Inez seems to fully understand ideas deemed existential. Estelle is the third person, and does not seem to understand these ideas well, nor does she accept them when they are first presented to her.
One similarity amongst the three is that they all at some point seem to accept that they are in hell for a reason.
Garcin is hell because he beat his wife and cheated on her. However, he doesnt wish he had acted differently. He shows and proves this when he says: I tell you I regret nothing (p. 24). By saying this, Garcin is taking responsibility for his own actions; hence he is following the laws of Existentialism. However, he sometimes violates these laws. For example, he is so preoccupied with the idea that he is a coward that he makes the women tell him that he wasnt a coward and makes her tell him that he was right in doing so. He is so dependent upon this that he wouldnt get involved with Estelle until she tells him what he wants to hear. Again Garcin is showing his Non-existential characteristics because he shouldnt have to rely on another for confidence or want other people to judge him.
Inez is in hell because she had stolen her cousins wife, then conspired to make his life miserable, until he finally he killed himself. She had also brought guilt upon Florence and then she killed Inez by poisoning her with gas. Then after she killed Inez, she committed suicide. Inez doesnt regret anything she has done. She proves this by saying: I was what some people down there called a damned bitch (p. 25),, You know, I dont regret a thing (p. 25)., and Human feeling. Thats beyond my range. Im rotten to the core.. Here Inez is proving that she isnt an Existentialist because a true Existentialist is supposed to believe in rejecting bad things such as cruelty, sins, and oppression.
She has told us that she is cruel and that she wishes the worst things for other people. Inez also got very jealous easy when Estelle and Garcin were close. She started saying bad things about everyone. She asked Estelle: Estelle, do you like cowards?. Here she is saying that Garcin is a coward to get back at him. This proves that Inez isnt very responsible, doesnt believes in rejecting bad things, and isnt very honest. Inez also violates the existentialist idea that everything is based on luck, nothing happens for a purpose, when she persists in telling the others that they have been put there together for a purpose. An example of this is when she says, Mere Chance? Nothing was left to chance. This room was all set for us.
Estelle is probably the most Non-existentialist in the story. She is in hell because she committed adultery, killing her new baby, and making her lover commit suicide. However, in the beginning of the story, she cant believe that she is in hell. She shows this when she says, Thats just it. I havent a notion, not the foggiest. In fact, Im wondering if there hasnt been some ghastly mistake (p. 15). She also has an obsession of her looks and how people perceive and judge her. No, I cant do without a looking-glass for ever and ever. I simply cant (p. 19). Here she is saying how if she cant see herself she wont be able to survive. She is also trying to impress Garcin, whom she seeks for comfort and pleasure but is ultimately rejected by him. There is evidence, however, that she begins to understand existentialist concepts when she accepts her sentence to hell and when she says, Its mere chance that has brought us together(p. 14).
Moreover in The Stranger, Albert Camus uses his character, Meursault as a prefect example of a perfect Existentialist. He portrays almost every characteristic that a true Existentialism should have. By killing the Arab, Meursault basically created his own moral code and he took responsibility for his actions. He had no real reason for killing the Arab, although he just says that the sun got in his eyes. He doesnt make up a story to cover himself; he just comes out and tells us. Another way he proves to be an Existentialist is the way he acted at his mothers funeral. He goes completely against all the traditional values and doesnt show his mom any respect. In simpler terms, Meursault is a freed individual. He is separate from everyone else. He even shows this in his relationship with Marie. They swim together all afternoon and see a movie that evening after his moms funeral. Afterward, they spend the night. After a short time, Marie asks Meursault if he loves her, and Meursault says: he probably doesn’t. When she asks him if he wants to get married, he says: that he will if she wants. It makes no difference to him.
In part two of the novel, Meursault again shows us how he does what he wants and doesnt care what others think of him. At his own murder trial, he doesnt care what happens to him. He is just sitting in the courtroom looking at the trial and not trying to defend himself. Even the prosecutor tries to use the absence of Meursaults emotional attachment to his mother becomes a primary focus of his argument. The prosecuter uses this to try to prove that he is a monster. Finally, Meursault got angry when a priest came to him and tried to talk to him about his religion.
Existentialism is a philosophy that I believe wouldnt really work in today’s society. Mostly everyone today is very superficial and cares what other people think and say about them. Furthermore, if they were to adopt this theory they would be breaking the law by creating their own moral code and doing whatever they want to do. So personally I dont think this philosophy would work nor do I believe it would work legally. But Sartre and Camus both displayed views on Existentialism. In No Exit, Sartre displays it in a negative way with his characters and Camus displayed it positively through Meursault.
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