Many books have been written by many authors that deal with a struggle between society and individual. Albert Camus’ The Stranger (L”etranger) deals with this same topic, but it can be analyzed from a unique and very interesting point of view. The way of life of people can be analyzed by classifying them into two main forces that oppose each other. These forces were named after the Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus. Theses terms were first used by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. The main concept of the Apollonian personality is that these persons’ main mode of functioning is by reason, whereas the Dionysian personality functions by intuition.
In Camus’ The Stranger, Mersault’s personality can be seen as Dionysian (reasons will be discussed later), but his main attitude towards society is quite Apollonian. This leads to the statement that the Dionysian personality of Mersault is restrained by society, making him seem or behave in an Apollonian style. The term Apollonian was first used by Nietzsche to represent principle of order, logic, clarity, moderation, and control in human personality and society. He applied the word Dionysian to represent spontaneity, passion, intuition, an excess in human personality, and rebellion against society.
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The Apollonian self is what makes people be organized, be on places on time, follow the rules, etc. An Apollonian person often wants solitude and quiet moments to think. Some of these persons often loose temper when they encounter their clashing personality, the Dionysian personality. The Dionysian personality always wants to have fun, live the moment, resist authority and act on hunches.
A Dionysian person usually has a tendency to resist authority, jump to quick conclusions (whilst the Apollonian tends to think a lot before jumping to conclusions or making decisions) and indulge, or overindulge, him / herself . While the Apollonian person likes to have quiet time to think, a Dionysian person likes to daydream. The Dionysian personality basically revolves around the senses and what is natural and beyond reason. In The Stranger, Mersault’s personality can be difficult to analyze. Some people say that his personality is strongly Apollonian; some say that he is a balance of both personalities, and others say that he is Dionysian. Mersault, as society sees him, he is an individual with antisocial traits, a person who rarely speaks and does not show many emotions.
All these traits can be related to the Apollonian style. But we can also see that he enjoys laughing, going to the beach, basic human needs like eating, drinking and having sex and he resists or rebels against society. Mersault basically lives the moment when he is around his friends and is not being oppressed by society. This means that Mersault’s personality is originally Dionysian, but when society acts upon him, his attitude changes. For example, his attitude towards his mother’s death wasn’t quite what the others expected it to be, in Part 1, Chapter 1 Mersault thinks, “The director spoke to me again.
But I wasn’t really listening anymore” (The Stranger, p. 5).
This may lead the readers to think that Mersault is behaving insensitively; and thus someone could reach to the conclusion that he can be able to commit cold-blooded murder. But as you read the book, you come to realize that Mersault is much more than he appears to society. He enjoys good company; for example, he says, “She had her leg pressed against mine. I was fondling her breasts.
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Toward the end of the show, I gave her a kiss… .” (The Stranger, p. 20).
There we can see that he expresses his feelings and likes being around people he trusts. As we read later on, we can see that Mersault reveals more and more of his personality, so we can finally realize that he is not the Apollonian person society thinks he is; he is completely Dionysian. When society acts upon Mersault, he now seems very reserved and quiet.
Society sees him as a person that lacks the ability to feel and thus is harmful to society and can kill anyone without reason. But the truth is that, due to Mersault’s Dionysian characteristic of resisting society, he avoids society and tries not to face it. This is what makes him seem Apollonian, but he really is Dionysian. Due to the fact that society rejects people like Mersault (who rebel against it), these persons have to find a way to deal with society, a sort of defence mechanism. This defence mechanism consists of isolating himself from society and revealing his true self only to those persons he trusts. That is why some people look at him as a person without feelings.
For example, the accusing lawyer (requesting for a “fair” sentence to the case) said, ” I ask you for this man’s head… by the horror I feel when I look into a man’s face and all I see is a monster” (The Stranger, p. 102).
But to his friends, the perspective is completely different. As C’eleste said in the trial, “Yes [Mersault was a customer of his], but he was also a friend” (The Stranger, p. 92).
Albert Camus’ The Stranger is the perfect example of how society restrained one man’s true emotions and personality and made him assume an antisocial personality that is capable of cold-blooded murder. Not only in books are these cases real, but one can be certain that in real life there has been more than one case in which society repressed a Dionysian person making them act in an Apollonian manner. Even though the opposition of these two can be dated back to ancient Greek plays, The Stranger is a unique case because it shows how these two counterparts are forced to coexist in a single person due to society’s “gentle indifference.”
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1. The Stranger by Albert Camus..