The human society is a very complicated structure. It consists of a huge quantity of members, each of them with their own thoughts, emotions and experiences. The notion of “society” unifies all those members and therefore, they must correspond to the standards of that society. They have to elaborate some special mode of living, thinking, behaviour in order to be like other. “Being like all” – that’s the main motto of human society of all times. Within the complex structure of society one can be happy and rich, other unhappy and poor but everyone tries to be like the rest.
But it is well known that each rule can have its exceptions. So, the human society has. There are people who are not able to find their place in the society. Each of them has his own reasons. One just doesn’t want to be like all, the other just can’t behaviour like people around him and so on. In the world literature the notion of the “outsider” has been rather often discussed. Among these discussions the view of “outsider” by Thomas Mann and Albert Camus are one of the most interesting. Tonio Kroeger in the novel of the same name by T. Mann is rather a typical outsider. So, what made him to be so?
Surely, he is an artist and the real artist is always a little bit different from the crowd. But there are many talented artists which are not outsiders at all in their real life. Tonio is a lonely artist. These two words- “lonely artist” are able to explain the Kroeger’s problem. The first word is “lonely” and the second is “artist”. The “lonely” is the reason and the “artist” is the consequence. Kroeger has become an artist because he was lonely and couldn’t find himself in this life. All he can do is creating art describing the reality around him but he is not able to live in this reality.
He realizes that his inability and suffers a lot because of that. Some of the events of this story must be perceived in symbolic manner because of Kroeger’s difficulties in being like other. His homosexual sympathy to Hans Hansen hasn’t to be understood as just a physical sexual expression. This sympathy symbolizes the Kroeger’s aspiration for prestige bourgeois life as Hans was the bright representative of same. Kroeger couldn’t find himself in this bourgeois life but was eager of living like his “ordinary” contemporaries. That’s why Hans attracted him. Kroeger lived in constant paradox within him.
His heart was the heart of an artist but in his veins the bourgeois blood was flowing. He wanted to be as easygoing and careless as his friends but he couldn’t be so because his mind was depressed all the time by the events of the life around him and he could only describe them in his art. That was the main reason of Kroegen’s being the outsider. The main thing Kroeger had to learn during his life was that probably his outstanding skills as an artist were conditioned by his withdrawing from the ordinary life. In other words, if he had been an ordinary bourgeois personality he wouldn’t have been a gifted artist.
The main reason of his unhappiness was that he didn’t want to understand that simple thing: it is not possible to connect things which can not be connected – the commonplace satisfied life and the delicate, sensitive vision of the artist. Should Kroegen understand that in time, the life would be much easier for him. But he understood that later. Perhaps, that’s the fate of each real talent – to pass through many difficulties in order to find oneself in the art. The ordinary always remains to be ordinary. It is not worth to follow it.
We must follow things that we have skills for and there always will be place for the ordinary in our life – it will come into our lives by itself. But if talented person tries to overtake the ordinary or to live between the ordinary and the exalted he or she is doomed to unhappiness and misfortune. Precisely that started to happen with Tonio Kroeger. When he understood that it is not possible to find compromise between “the Dionysian” (all the passionate and emotional) and “the Apollonian” (rational and reasonable) he decided to combine them in his art and that was the unique correct decision for him.
Albert Camus in his “Stranger” gives us the other notion of outsider. Meursault – a man of absurd in the world of absurd, – that’s the Camus’ vision of the problem in case. When after the first sentence of the novel -“Maman died today” follow the indifferent meditations of the protagonist regarding when died his mother – today or yesterday, we understand the Meursault is completely indifferent to the notions of time, place and many other phenomena of our real world. All along the novel new arguments prove that. Meursault lives being ruled by purely physical instincts.
His life consists of a number of patterns (ways of behaviour) which he uses every day. For example, he becomes sad because Sunday came and broke the customary way of his everyday life. The heat produced by the sun when he goes back from the funeral of his mother worries him more than the very death of his mother. In other words the Meursault activities look completely paradoxical for other people, but not paradoxically for him. Camus presents in his hero his understanding of life in general and of truth in particular. To say more, Meursault believes sincerely in justice and truth.
But he has his own notion of that “truth”. Yes, he doesn’t cry at his mother’s funeral. But on the other hand he never says lies. He doesn’t see any sense in acting like the rest of people. He just shows his own true emotions or indifference in each particular moment of his life. He is independent in the full meaning of this word. He doesn’t believe in God, he lives by his own motives. Society tries to find some meaning in his behaviour but all in vain. It is not possible to find sense in absurd. Otherwise, it will not be absurd any more. Thus, Meursault embodies the Camus’ notion of so-called “relative truth”.
That is not all society’s truth but the truth of one person. Yes, he guns down the Arab but he believes in justice and doesn’t try to avoid it. Certainly, it sounds terribly but that is Camus’ absurd vision of the truth. On the one hand Meursault’s activities are horrible as that his “relative truth” makes a lot of harm to other people but on the other hand he is not eager of making harm to anyone, he never lies, he is just living his own life which is right to his opinion. This difference between Meursault’s truth and society’s truth makes Meursault to be the outsider.
He can’t understand the sense of the society’s existence (to say it more exactly – he doesn’t even want to understand it as it is not important for him) and the society, in its turn, can’t find out any meanings in the mode of Meursault’s life. Nevertheless, Meursault has learnt his lesson towards the end of the story. When we see him sentenced to death it is already possible to speak about “new” Meursault. It doesn’t mean that he has completely changed his moral perception. He still doesn’t believe in God and is sure that after death there is nothing but non-existence.
But he started using his memory what he has never done before. He remembers his father and understands all the “advantages” of human memory. He had never resorted to his memories and lived only following his physical impulses. When being in prison he understood how good it can be – to remember something that has happened once. Meursault starts to distinguish the past and the future. His imagination and feelings work like they never did before. He realizes that both imagination and feelings (spiritual, not physical feelings) are rather useful in regular life.
Only in prison he begins to perceive each new day like a gift (as there were few left before his death penalty) without classifying them in days which are good and in days which break his customary way of life. In other words he began to understand that his life was not as correct as it seemed to him before. But he started to understand that too late when his life was going to be cut by those who haven’t managed to find some meaning in his life. Both Tonio Kroeger and Meursault realized the mistakes of their existence.
Kroeger understood that he was unable to learn living like other people because the problem which was, by the way, created by himself was already too significant and complex for him and he had to find some area in which he could get rid of that immense moral tension. That area became his art for him. Meursault couldn’t change his life because he was already sentenced to death for the actions of his previous egoistic “self-life”. These two protagonists are similar in this respect as they both realized the necessity to change their lives. Nevertheless, there is a clear difference in “being outsider” between Kroeger and Meursault.
Kroeger was a brightly expressed outsider as he couldn’t find himself in his society and that was hurting him a lot. He really was out of society’s side. He crossed successfully with the society within his professional skills only when he was describing that society in his works. As to the commonplace reality- he was an unhappy man. Meursault, contrary to Kroegen, represents another type of outsider: “outsider within society”. Meursault was the member of society and that’s why society was astonished by his behaviour. He was a stranger within society and that made his activities paradoxical.
Kroeger experienced pain because he was outsider and the society didn’t care a lot about it. Meursault didn’t suffer a lot because of being outsider – but society suffered because of his activities. Speaking about the outcomes made by each of these two protagonists it is necessary to say that Kroeger’s conclusion was more successful than Meursault’s. Kreoger found the decision of his problem in his art and Meursault had not already time for the correction of his mistakes as he realized them under the threat of guillotine. Being outsider means to not coincide with the public’s opinions and norms of life.
T. Mann and Albert Camus showed us that the notion of the outsider is poly-semantic. Tonio Kreoger and the stranger Meursault are both outsiders but each in his proper manner. Kroeger is an “outer outsider” (he wants to be within the society being like all) and Meursault is an “inner outsider” (he doesn’t feel himself to be outsider but the society consider him to be so). Regarding Mann’s story it would be helpful to conclude that it is not worth to follow the common opinion and try to be like all. The most important thing is to preserve the skills and the lofty given to you by the nature.
As to the Camus’ novel, it is possible to learn from it that being honest only for oneself is not enough, it is also necessary to thing about the society you live in and that one’s notions of truth are not always common for all. The society was created by people precisely in order to find the compromise between different people’s opinions. Both Kroeger and Meursault have become outsiders by themselves. The conclusions they have made from their mistakes are rather consoling. So, hope that Mann and Camus’ novels will serve as good examples for many for not being an outsider in the future.