Vintage International Essay
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“I gazed at my reflection one more time. It was still serious-and what was surprising about that, since at that moment I was too? But at the same time, and for the first time in months, I distinctly heard the sound of my own voice. I recognized it as the same one that had been ringing in my ears for many long days, and I realized that all that time I had been talking to myself. “6 Before then, Meursault took everything as fate had predestinated for him.
However, the moment he began talking to himself, he changed. He became active of his own life.
In the isolated prison cell, he became aware of the power of his own mind, which was demonstrated by his rejection of the priest. For Gregor, he ate less and less, and began to drive more and more attention to his family. It was somehow giving him a pleasant feeling, despite of his starvation. For instance, when he listened to his sister’s violin performance, it said, “He felt as if the way were opening before him to the unknown nourishment he craved.
“7 This scenario, which described Gregor getting nourishment from a feeling for his family rather than food, marked that he no longer sought happiness by satisfying physical needs.
Being isolated from the society, he began to realize his feelings for his family. Summing up the three protagonists’ process of realization, their isolation had somehow granted them an opportunity to realize the power of their minds. It was only then that they began to see an alternative way in obtaining happiness. On their isolated “islands”, the protagonists gave up to achieve their happiness through physical body, but freed themselves from it instead. All three of them came to a realization that they could achieve true happiness through mind.
As Ivan reviewed his day before he went to sleep, he accounted the satisfaction he had gained from the action decided by his own mind. Despite of the lack of food and physical discomfort in the morning, these feelings of physical discontent as the mental satisfaction became greater and greater as he gained essence of himself through living it. As he fell into sleep, “he was very happy”8. Ivan’s happiness was not from his physical state, but his mental state. It was his own decisions that brought him the satisfaction.
His physical isolation had indeed deprived him many luxuries, yet it was the absence of these luxuries that led him to discover a happiness that could be achieved simply through mind. In the case of Meursault, he realized why he did not cry on his mother funeral. Isolated in his prison cell, he meditated and came to a conclusion that life was never predestined. The world was just there as it was. If he could put down the “mind forg’d manacles”, forget the rules of the society; he was indeed a free person. Summing up his thoughts, he claimed, “I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again.
“9 Like Ivan, although the physical isolation prevented Meursault from many pleasure possible by body, he found happiness by freeing himself from the values of the society. Such isolation had indeed provided him an opportunity to reflect his thoughts about life, leading to a mental happiness. As Gregor died, he discovered his love for his family, as hinted in the following passage. “He thought of his family with tenderness and love. The decision that he must disappear was one that he held to even more strongly than his sister, if that were possible.
In this state of vacant and peaceful meditation he remained until the tower clock struck three in the morning. “10 Despite of his family’s hatred towards him, he still loved them and wished his death would bring them happiness. In isolation, he dwelled in a meditation with peace. Peace implied a freedom from violence. For Gregor it would be the violence in life to satisfy his physical needs. It was at the last moment when he freed himself from his body and achieved happiness through mind. All the protagonists in the end realized that they were all free individuals on their “islands”.
They freed themselves from the rules of the world. Those were the very moments when they achieved happiness. Concluding the three protagonists’ expeditions to true happiness, in isolation, they all discovered a satisfaction in the mind instead of body. While sensual stimuli were reduced to the least, they saw something beyond. One may argue that they were resigning to life in their inevitable isolation, but they had indeed grasped an alternative happiness in such isolation. Like a walk with many people holding one long stick, “no man is an island”. The stick connects us all.
As we proceed to the front, no matter what speed we are at, we move as a whole. Yet, we take the steps by ourselves. Happiness may be realized when we see our strength in taking that step, like the Ivan, Meursault and Gregor in the three novels.
A phrase from Meditation 17 by John Donne in 1624 2 Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Bantam Books, 1990. (Hereafter ODITLOID) 3 Albert Camus, The Stranger, Vintage International, March 1989. (Hereafter TS) 4 Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis, W W Norton and Sons. (Hereafter M)