Freedom is defined as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint” (Dictionary.com). It is an important human right that we value as humans however total freedom is only a mirage. A person is free to do only what society seems as acceptable. Jean Jacques Rousseau once stated “Man is born free, and yet everywhere he is in chains”. This statement boldly depicts that as humans we are born free but that freedom is hindered when we are faced with reality that total freedom is a mirage. We live by society’s rules we already have limited freedom, since there are laws and regulations which everyone lives. When failed to abide by these rules there are consequences that follow for those who do not conform to society’s rules.
Though the novel, “The Outsiders” and the film “Dead Poets Society” are two different stories they excellently defy ones freedom. The texts show that one is born free but they are bound by the chains of society, causing true liberty to not exist. This is depicted through the characters individuality, laws and institutions that are set in place and the consequences of their choice. Our freedom as to who we want to be as individuals are limited because we are society sets a bar on expectations to live by. Many people want to live an original life, but when it comes to being a part of society there is a limit set on how much individualism one is allowed to have. This is clearly shown in the novel “The Outsider” Meursault is his own individual who lives for himself and does not conform to society’s rules and for that he is seen as indifferent.
He does not Stephens get attached to people on an emotional level, and interacts with people when he chooses to or if he has to. Meursault is judged by people of society because of his individuality to be indifferent and detached. In society when one is different, they are judged and rather seen as strange. At the hearing Meursault says “the investigators had learned that I had “shown insensitivity” the day of Maman’s funeral…He asked if I felt any sadness that day… it was hard for me to tell him what he wanted to know”( The Outsiders,95). This quote shows how society negatively judged Meurauslt for his actions without even getting to understand why he did what he did. This quote also shows that there is a boundary on how much indifference one can have to society before being judged for that action. For him choosing not to cry at his mom’s funeral played an important role in his court hearing that has nothing to do with the murder he committed.
It shows Meursault’s distinct and different character shows that he is not totally free to make whatever choices he wants to because that freedom is hindered when society has a set standard on how one should act. Similarly, in “Dead Poets Society” it is made evident that one is not free, since a person is free when they live by while obeying society’s guidelines. Mr. Keating an English teacher for Weldon gives his students a new perspective in life to follow their own dreams and ideas. When the students begin to show their individualism, they are judged by people of society such as parents and peers because there is already a standard set on how they should live. Neil Perry, a member of Dead Poets Society chooses to do pursue his dream of being an actor, instead of being by his father’s rules to just focus on school to be a doctor. He is then limited of his freedom to be his own person when his father told him that he cannot be an actor. Neil says “I just talked to my father.
He is making me quit the play at Henley Hall. Acting is everything to Stephens me. He doesn’t know… He’s planning the rest of my life doe me… He never asked me what I want” (Dead Poets Society). This quote shows that Neil is not free because his father does not want him to act and because of that he his chained at the end of the day to what his father believes he already has an expectation of how Neil should do with his life. This shows that one does not have true liberty because there are expectations put into place on what one can or cannot do. Moreover, in society there are laws and institutions made for people to follow therefore limiting free will. In “The Outsiders” Meursault is sent to prison for a crime he has committed, which is killing the Arab causing him to lose his freedom. As an existentialist, Meursault is not a part of society and does not like institutions but also has the free will to what he chooses to do.
This shows that laws chain people wherever they go because there is a code to live by even though we are “born free”, that total freedom is limited due to laws and institutions. Towards the ends of the book Meursault is at a court hearing which he internally says that “ He stated that I had no place in a society who’s fundamental rules I ignored and that I could not appeal to the same human heart whose elementary response I knew nothing of”( The Outsiders, 94). Meursault’s statement shows that his actions of his free will go against society rules and that he had no place in society. Again this ties into the idea of how much individuality and free will one has due to societal fundamentals. By law, it says that one is given the freedom to do what they please “without hindrance or restraint” but it is evident in “The Outsider” one is bound to the chains of society through its laws and institution restricting that freedom.
Stephens To contrast, the students of Weldon are not existentialist but they are also confined by laws and institutions. Welton’ Rousseau once stated “Man is born free, and yet everywhere he is in chains”. s Academy has strict values that support their conformity, with their motto of “tradition, discipline, and excellence” (Dead Poets Society). Each student is taught to dress the same, achieve high grades, and speak in an educated manor. The purpose of Welton’s conformity is to maintain a high reputation in society through educating their students to a point where they will be great. The students’ freedom of being allowed to go to bed whenever they feel like, being free to make decisions and how to behave is restrained due to an institution.
Mr. Keating’s teachings however go against the academy’s principle which he believes in free thought and having passion. He says to the boys “carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary” (Dead Poets Society). This quote means not be afraid to pursue your passion. Take control of every single day and bend it to your will. This quote obviously goes against what the school believes, which eventually leads to Mr. Keating losing his job and the downfall of the Dead Poets Society. This exemplifies that total liberty is only an illusion because institutions and laws control ones’ freedom making it impossible to have complete free will.
In the philosophy of existentialism, there are four concepts two of them being the right to free will but accepting the consequences because the way society is set up, there are consequences for what one chooses to do. In this case, Meursault chose to kill the Arab, which he now has to deal with the consequences of it, a death penalty based on the jury’s judgment. However, Meursault is judged not solemnly based on killing the Arab but due to his choice to be different. This goes again in the sense that even if one is born free, at the end of the day society judges you of how one chooses to live as a free person. Meursault having to deal with the Stephens5
consequences of his actions through society cause him to lose his free will. This event demonstrates one have limited liberty, since the guidelines which everyone lives by have severe consequences for those who desire to be different. Towards the end of the novel, when the hearing was going on Meursault says “ he said I hadn’t wanted to see Maman, that I had smoked and slept some, and that I had some coffee. It was then I felt a stirring go through the room and for the first time I realized that I was guilty” (The Outsider, 100). In this quote Meursault begins to understand that the trial more for his character than his crime, and due to his character is now condemned for it. One is then again not fully free because there are consequences constraining it, causing that freedom to be gone. Similarly, in Dead Poets society when the boys choose to be exercise their own freewill they are then condemned. Examples being, Charlie placing the article in the paper, stating that girls should be allowed to attend the school. He is later beaten by the head of Welton for his behavior.
Knox falls in love with a girl named Chris, which results in him getting beaten up by her boyfriend. The most tragic effect of all was Neil having to deal with the consequence of going to military school because he chose to star in the play. This eventually led Neil to killing himself because he was condemned when he chose to do what he wanted. His freedom was taken away from him because of the standards set by his father whom he did not agree with. This shows that when one tries to exercise their freedom there are consequences for it. Mr. Perry said to Neil “tell me what you feel! What is it? Is it more of this, this “acting” business? Because you can forget that!” (Dead Poets Society). Neil then realized that he was hopeless and concluded to take his own life. He could not escape his father rules and be who he wanted and the only escape he had was killing himself.
The event that followed after was Mr. Keating losing his job. These Stephens two events demonstrate that total freedom is a false belief because consequences will occur and be made a scapegoat chaining them to the consequences of their freewill. To conclude, “The Outsider” and “Dead Poets Society” had different plots but through the actions and events of the texts, the distinction of similarities begins to arise. Through these two novels, Freedom being an important theme strongly depicts the meaning of Jean Jacques Rousseau statement that “Man is born free, and yet everywhere he is in chains”. He means that we are born as free, but as we go through life, we are bind by chains that condemn us such as being judged when dared to be different, such as Meursault and Neil, being controlled by the law and institutions that have been set up to be followed and having to deal with the consequences that have been set up by the law in society. Whether we choose to conform to society or not, we are bound by the chains that cause true liberty to not exist.
Courtney from Study Moose
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