World literature paper 1


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World literature paper 1

  1. 1. World Literature Paper 1<br />An analysis of simplicity and honesty in Candide and The Stranger<br />Alexia-Sylvie (Katya) Schur-Narula<br />May 2010<br />Word Count: 1096<br />Both Candide of Candide and Meursault of The Stranger are men who live with simple honesty in both outlook and behavior, resulting in neither of them having trouble in their dealings with society. Despite this, eventually, it is their ability to generally hold on to their individual ways of thinking that lets these two different main characters find peace and even meaning in their life philosophies.<br />Voltaire’s choice of Candide as the name of the hero is a good starting point as we all begin life purely and honestly. It is society which shapes us throughout our lives. Depending on which society and cultures we live in, we can lose, or have taken away from us, the ability or even the right to be honest. This is not the way either Candide or Meursault live their lives.<br />However innocent, naive or even stupid Candide sometimes is, he is open-minded and has an extraordinary variety of experiences in 18th century Europe. Meursault, also of French heritage, lives more than a century later in Algeria. Although his life is simpler than Candide’s, he, too, is able to continuously observe the life around him. Through this, he is able to see how it relates and how it doesn’t relate to himself. Neither Candide nor Meursault hesitate to question others or to speak their minds. It is in their words and in their silences that we can find understanding of what life means to them.<br />As Viktor Frankl expresses, man’s primary motivation in life is to search and find meaning. Whether it is obvious or not, this is exactly what both Candide and Meursault are doing. Very early on, Candide adopts the philosophy of his tutor. “Maitre Pangloss was quite right to tell me that all is for the best in this world” (Voltaire 9). Even though the reasoning is often absurd, Candide’s trust in his philosophy is pure. For Meursault, with his absurdist view of life, his tutor turns out to be his mother. “Maman used to say that you can always find something to be happy about. In my prison when the sky turned red and a new day slipped into my cell, I found out that she was right” (Camus 113). What is it that allows Candide to keep his honest appreciation of life despite its ups and downs, and what is it that gives Meursault his strength to live only for the present even when faced with this definitely too soon death?<br />Throughout his life, Candide displays sympathy to those in trouble or pain and gratitude to those who help him. He does not harbor grudges against those who have wronged him. Aside from once, when he politely asks to have his head caved in, he does not stop himself from feeling every sensation and emotion that comes to him. He also has a philosophy of optimism which deserts him only temporarily—when he meets the legless man.<br />“we are going to another world… No doubt about it, the New World is the best of all possible worlds (Voltaire 24). Even so, Candide is honest with both himself and with others. He admits to having some reservations about his life philosophy. “Despite what Maitre Pangloss may have said, I often noticed that everything went fairly badly in Westphalia” (Voltaire 45). It is not on occasion that things go badly for Candide—although he has cheated and beaten, and even when his preconceptions are changed, his interest in his observations of the lives around him gives him strength. Even if his philosophy is taken to ridiculous extremes, he does live fully.<br />Meursault’s external life is less exciting than Candide’s, but his inner life is filled with the richness of his observations. However, this doesn’t mean that he is always reflecting on what is going on. Meursault lives in a spontaneous and even random way. His observations are often like a neutral narrator in a documentary, which includes details of himself. Meursault accepts his own failings easily, like not knowing his mother’s age, without any excuses. He is often candid, as when he tells Marie that he “probably didn’t love her” (Camus, 123).<br />Still, from the outside, Meursault is initially seen by society as a functioning member with a social life and a job he does well, but there is more to Meursault and this is the fascinating part of him. It makes the point that no one can ever know what is really behind the facade of each and every human being. As long as a person conforms to the society or culture, then this part is safe inside. It is only when the internal shows itself through behavior that is different or not understood externally, that problems can arise.<br />Meursault does not conform to his society even when he is facing death. He is true to his painful mysteries about his own life and the meaningless of life. Early on, he tells his boss that “one life was as good as another” and even though his boss tried to change his reasoning, Meursault did not (Camus 109). As an absurdist, Meursault sees the impermanence and futility of life. At the same time, he gradually becomes aware that simply being alive and knowing it is a meaning of life. This is apparent when he tells the chaplain that he (the chaplain) was living like a dead man.<br />Nature plays an important role for Meursault, both subconsciously and later, consciously. He is even at the mercy of the sun when he kills the man because the sun is burning him, making him stupid. It is nature that, in the end, cools him down and gives him peace even when the world itself means nothing to him. Meursault opened himself “to the gentle indifference of the world” (Camus 123). For Meursault, whatever his thinking—whether absurdist or existentialist, he has the strength to always be able to face his fate alone, just like each and every one of us is alone.<br />Both Meursault and Candide each have and symbolize several characteristics that are important for living life fully: honest observation, compassion, gratitude, tolerance, being true to oneself, optimism and awareness. Candide and Meursault, although with very different fates, are men of honesty who eventually find meaning. It comes from being aware of and appreciating the smallest object or action, thinking, seeing and doing. Big names and events are, in the end, not what count in life. Both Candide and Meursault, and hopefully each and every human being, come to the awareness that life is simply for living.<br />