The Importance of Surroundings in Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Importance of Surroundings in Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and The Stranger by Albert Camus

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The Importance of Surroundings in Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and The Stranger by Albert Camus According to John Locke, people begin their lives with a clean slate and are nurtured by their surroundings and contact with others, also known as Tabula Rasa (Landry). In Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and The Stranger by Albert Camus, both Siddhartha and Meursault, respectively, affect this concept of Tabula Rasa, which makes each of the men who he ultimately becomes. Part of this theory is that a change of location can and will alter who a person becomes. In conjunction with his own unhappiness and the views of others around him, Siddhartha moves from place to place in the novel in a cyclical movement.

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Conversely, Meursault’s location defines who he is because of his decision not to move. Expanding on the theory of Tabula Rasa, one is changed due to his or her contact and relationship with others. Siddhartha’s relationships throughout the book continuously change him and his beliefs. Similarly, Meursault’s relations such both friends and strangers alike cause him to take actions he may not have taken without their interactions. As Tabula Rasa states Expectations made by society also change the way one views life and his or her opinions. In Siddhartha Siddhartha is unhappy with himself because he feels as if he must prove himself to society. On the contrary Meursault does not feel as if he must conform and therefore is changed by not doing what society dictates. Siddhartha and Meursault are products of their surroundings due to a change in location, human relationships and influence, and experience.
As the definition of Tabula Rasa states, changing location and environment adjusts a person’s outlook on life (Landry). In Siddhartha the protagonist, Siddhartha, is in search of happiness, which causes his continuously varying surroundings to change who he is. Siddhartha's change in location is due to the love from his family and his desire of happiness while in search of his goal. But Siddhartha does not bring joy to himself, he does not delight himself. Walking along the rosy paths of the fig orchard…with perfect breeding of his gestures, loved by all, a joy to all, he nevertheless bore no joy in his heart…He had started feeling that his father’s love, and his mother’s love, and also his friend Govinda’s love would not make him happy forever and always, not please him, gratify him, satisfy him” (Hesse 4-5). Siddhartha’s happiness is nearly nonexistent early in the book. He does not feel fulfilled from the love of the people he cares for, which had satisfied him in the past. His decision to move away from his village is made because of his search for the higher goal of self-discovery. “Although generously endowed with intelligence, good looks, a winning personality, and all other requirements for what would normally be considered a successful life, Siddhartha is not content. He is conscious of a discrepancy between conventional assumptions and personal satisfaction… (Butler 1-2). His search for himself drives him away from his village as well. However, in the end, it is the journey itself that will motivate Siddhartha to continue rather than the final product. Siddhartha’s discontent is easily noticed and the reasons are obvious. In contrast, The Stranger’s Meursault’s search for happiness and change in location is a defining factor of who he is and the way his character develops. Meursault finds his content with what he is accustomed to and does not want to move away. Meursault is offered a job by his boss to work in Paris. Meursault is not “dissatisfied with his life here at all” and “wasn’t unhappy” as his life is now (Camus 41). His indifference and feelings of happiness and love of where his life currently is causes him to want to stay home and not change. “He also declines the opportunity of going to Paris. Not to have any professional ambition is an affront to modern society” (Feuerlicht 2). This passage shows how he is happy where is with no desire to move on to something different. Due to his relative happiness of where he is, Meursault does not need to change location to define who he is. The fact that he does not move is what makes him the man he becomes. Also, his love or lack of love towards Marie shows how he is happy with how his life is and, therefore, he does not want to be changed. Siddhartha and Meursault are changed due to their surroundings and search of happiness, though their ideas of happiness are much different.
Further adding to the theory of Tabula Rasa is the idea that human contact and how the influence of others can change who a person becomes. Siddhartha comes in contact with many different people throughout the novel. While on his quest for something, he cannot find who will give him love, experience and a feeling of dependence. As he moves from place to place, he meets a courtesan, Kamala, and falls in love with her. He “makes a resolve” and follows through with it to love her and be with her (Hesse 56). He subconsciously gains much experience from her and her ways. This experience brings about his love for her, though it is most likely love of their physical relationship and not a true love. He becomes dependent of her love and gives up all of his internal progress that he had been striving for previously in the novel to be with her and their physical relationship. “For the first time in many years he really looks about him and perceives the beauty of the world. The world about him, from which he had fled, he now finds attractive and good. He must not seek to escape life but face it, live it (Malthaner 4). Siddhartha’s new outlook on life is made by the influence of the people he comes in contact with, such as Kamala. His love, experience, and dependence on others have made Siddhartha who he is. Similarly, Meursault is changed by his relationships with others, such as Marie. However, rather than show dependence, Meursault displays independence from others. By not being dependent on others, he is changed by his surroundings differently than Siddhartha. Marie asks Meursault if he will marry her and he says that it “didn’t make any difference to me.” She then asks if he loves her and he says it doesn’t matter but “he probably doesn’t” (Camus 41). This passage shows how he likes her to be around, but he can get along alone if he needs to do so. His independence of others demonstrates how he does not need to be loved or have friends, though he would generally prefer both. These traits of human contact make him who he is and how he takes on life. For both Siddhartha and Meursault, experiences of human influence have changed who they are, though in different respects.
Finally, the third characteristic of Tabula Rasa that can change who someone becomes is the expectations placed on one by society. Siddhartha is almost completely defined by how everyone perceives him to be, whether it is society, a utopian image, or even his friends. ”…he [Govinda] loved everything that Siddhartha said and did, and most of all he loved his mind, his lofty fiery thoughts, his glowing will, his high calling“ (Hesse 4). Govinda’s love for his friend is expressed in this passage. Furthermore, the passage describes all of Siddhartha’s wonderful qualities as well as his higher position in the eye of society. Govinda recognizes “his [Siddhartha] high calling” from society and realizes that he is special. Siddhartha is perceived as a higher figure in society by society, causing Siddhartha to be pressured into becoming something great. Contrarily, Meursault is the polar opposite of Siddhartha in that he does not feel as if he should conform to what society dictates. “…find themselves among others from the same world. That is how I explained to myself the strange impression I had of being odd man out, a kind of intruder” (Camus 84). Meursault finds it is easiest to deal with society by isolating himself and shutting all the frantic actions of the world out. He tends not to try to fit in and chooses not to expand his knowledge of the outside world. “There can be hardly any doubt, however, that Meursault is a stranger to society…He is…not playing society’s game, because he does not lie, even where and when everybody lies in order to simplify life, and because he rejects time-honored formulas, such as expressing regret after a crime, even when this rejection means the death sentence” (Feuerlicht 2). Due to expectations made by society, both Siddhartha and Meursault are changed by their surroundings, though they change in very different regards.
As Locke says, “No man’s knowledge here can go beyond his experience” (Moncur). Both Siddhartha from Siddhartha and Meursault from The Stranger are made into the characters that they are due to Locke’s Tabula Rasa. The fact that man starts with a “clean slate” and begins knowing nothing is profound, but it can be seen through these two characters. The reader can see that from the many facets that make up each character, they all lead to the central idea of Tabula Rasa. It is quite evident that a person’s surroundings contribute to who a person becomes. Friendship, love, family, dependence or independence, happiness, desire and experience all contribute to the concept of one’s environment and therefore are a part of the cause of who someone becomes. Siddhartha and Meursault alike are morphed into who they are because of their respective settings. Due to these altering situations for each man, they each develop differently, hence making them into dissimilar people. From all of this, it is clear that a man’s surroundings will create who he becomes due to a change in location, human relationships and influence, and experience within society.
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