Comparisons between the relationships that the protagonists had with their parents and how these defined their characters. In the novels, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and The Outsider by Albert Camus, there are many important relationships that help define the protagonists. The protagonist in The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa, and the protagonist from The Outsider, Meursault, both had significant relationships with people that helped develop and define their character, the most important of these being their relationships with their parents.
I will compare the two protagonists in their relationships with their parents and explain how these relations define aspects of their character. Firstly, in the novel, the Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, Gregor Samsa is a travelling salesman who hates his job but is forced to keep it in order to support his family and pay off his father’s debts. Gregor has only one sister, so their family is quite small. Immediately at the beginning of the book, Gregor is transformed into a giant insect. He never comes to terms with his metamorphosis and struggles with intense feelings of guilt as if his inability to support his family were his own fault.
Though he is now free from having to go to work, Gregor is now a liability to his family who keep him locked up in his room. Isolated and neglected, Gregor is a metaphor for the human being oppressed by capitalism and alienated from work, family, and himself. In the novel, The Outsider by Albert Camus, Meursault is a young man who lives alone and is emotionally indifferent to most things in his life. He cares only for physical pleasures, things that he experiences and senses and is completely honest, always telling people the truth.
He lives in Algeria in a time just after there had been two world wars and like many people in that time his existence was empty which we see through his relationships. Meursault never mentions his father in The Outsider and so we are only looking at his relationship with his mother. At the beginning of The Outsider, Meursault receives a telegram informing him of his mothers death. He accepts this with little emotion, seeming to be more concerned by the fact that his boss will be angry with him for taking two days off to go to the rest home where his mother was staying before she died.
This immediately demonstrates Meursault’s lack of feeling or emotion over death. In his view, everyone dies eventually and it is inevitable. We learn that he sent her to the rest home because he did not have enough money to care for her, had nothing more to say to her, and he thought she would prefer to be around other people of her age. So his relationship with his mother defined a part of his character because it showed his lack of emotion that continues throughout the book. The very first sentences of the play: Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.
Are a good example of this lack of feeling and although he gives a fair reason for not knowing when she died, you still get the feeling of a lack of emotion which is clarified at many other points throughout the novel. When he arrives at the rest home, he says that he would rather not see his mother’s body. Meursault knew this was not the right thing to say but as I mentioned before he is unable to lie, he refuses to hide his feelings and will never express them as more than they are. It is Meursault’s relationship with his mother that eventually leads to his death.
At his court case, the caretaker recounts to the jury how he had not wanted to see his mother’s body, had smoked and slept during the sitting as well as drunk white coffee. The prosecutor spoke more about Meursault’s actions at the rest home in his final speech than he did of the actual murder and so it was his actions there that got him the death penalty, along with the murder as well and his refusal to admit that he was sorry for what happened, but the main emphasis was on his actions at the rest home. Samsa’s relationships with his mother and father are more complicated perhaps.
Before Samsa’s metamorphosis his role within his family was important for he was the man of the house because he made most of the money. He came to this position after his father’s failure in business and through Gregor’s success, his father’s self esteem and acquisitive senses were lowered. His father slipped into a degraded state while Gregor became the head of the household. His mother is mentioned less throughout the book but she comes across as being a loving mother who goes into a state of severe shock after Gregor’s metamorphosis.
Many of her actions are masked by those of the father due to her submissive nature and throughout the book Mr. Samsa’s nature becomes more dominant. There is also a sub theme of the competitiveness between father and son that we see in parts throughout the book where the father uses force on his son, in an effort to regain dominance of the family. For example, at the end of chapter two when Gregor is in the living room alone with his father, he is bombarded with apples and one is thrown so hard it embeds in Gregor’s back.
Another example is at the end of chapter one when Gregor is stuck in the door to his room, unable to move anymore, his father gives him a hard shove, pushing him through the door and causing him to bleed profusely. The father slams the door shut without any time to attend Gregor’s wounds. So we can see that the father is quick to pick up that Gregor is no longer able to provide for the family and his weakness allows himself to rise up again as man of the house and towards the end of the book the father seems to have regained some of his former stature with a new job and a uniform he never takes off.
So Samsa’s relationship with his parents shows that he used to be the responsible, man of the house who worked hard to provide for them, due to his father’s inability. And throughout the book, the fathers changing attitude towards him, conveys the loss of control Samsa has and shows that he is no longer able to live in a community where uselessness is not tolerated. As Samsa became more and more of a burden for his parents and sister, he eventually let himself die so that he could do his one last duty for them, and rid them of him.
Even in his last action he is still thinking of his family. From these relationships we see some noticeable qualities in both Meursault’s and Samsa’s characters that are similar and different. To begin with, Samsa lives with his parents (and sister) in order to support them. He does not like his job but he continues to do it as his duty to the family. Meursault however sent his mother off to a rest home, yet we know he did this because she needed help from a nurse that he could not offer.
Yet he tells us that he stopped visiting her because he did not want to take up his Sunday and travel for two hours on the bus. Unlike Samsa he felt more sense of duty to his job and his boss for example when he said “it’s not my fault” when he informed his boss he had to take two days off. So this is a key difference between the two characters. Their sense of duty. We also see that in different ways, Samsa’s duty to his family, and Meursault’s lack of emotion towards his mother, both end up causing their demises.
So Meursault’s mother and Samsa’s parents are important in defining their characters. Meursault’s mother shows his lack of emotion his outlook on life and his inability to lie, while Samsa’s parents show that he was once a provider but throughout the book he loses that ability. The fact that Samsa was living at home working to support his family and that Meursault had sent his mother away to a rest home is a clear example of the different ways in which these men think, and even though Meursault sent his mother away, he felt he was being kind to her by doing it.