A Comparison of How Alienation Affects the Protagonists of The Thief and the Dogs and The Stranger

February 12, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Naguib Mahfouz’s The Thief and the Dogs Albert Camus’ The Stranger, we are exposed to two very different characters, Said Mahran and Meursault. Both these characters are alienated from their societies, and change drastically as a result of this rejection. Using these novels as examples, we can gain insight into the minds of two contrasting characters, and the extent to which alienation leads to their change. To understand the change these characters go through, it’s important to understand the characters themselves. Said Mahran is a passionate man, but full of hate and a need for revenge. After spending several years in prison, Said is unable to deal with what has changed. He feels alienated from the life that he used to live and the friends that he used to have. Throughout the book, he searches for his purpose in life: “I want nothing, long for nothing, more than to die a death that has some meaning to it” (Mahfouz 251) and it’s through violence that he intends to find meaning. He has very clear ideas about what he needs to accomplish, and rarely strays from what he considers his personal duty. Initially, Said comes across as a rational man, one with whom readers can easily sympathize, but throughout the book his sense of rationality and sanity seem to disappear. Meursault is a completely different character, emotionless and detached. He feels no significant emotions other than those relating to his most basic physical desires, such as eating or sleeping. He has trouble grasping natural human concepts such as love or remorse. For example, when his girlfriend Marie asks him to marry him, he replies that he “didn’t mind” and “that it didn’t mean anything” (Camus 41). And during his trial, Meursault admits he “…had never been able to truly feel remorse” (100). Both these characters are outcasts in their own ways. Said’s criminal ways and his desire for revenge ostracize him from the rest of society, while Meursault is looked down on for his seeming indifference to everything. The way Said changes in The Thief and the Dogs is much different than that of Meursault’s. Ironically, it is Said, the free man who changes for the worst, rather than Meursault, the imprisoned man. Even though Said is physically free, his need to avenge his enemies keeps him mentally imprisoned. Said’s change in character first starts early in the book, after his first encounter with his daughter. Said foolishly anticipated his daughter to greet him with open arms despite his being in prison for the majority of her life. When he sees that she doesn’t recognize him, his desire to avenge Ilish and Nabawiyya quickly overcomes his desire for his daughter. Said is unable to cope with the changes that occurred while he was in prison. Not only has his hate for Ilish and Nabawiyya grown, but also for his former close acquaintance, Rauf Ilwan, who has prospered greatly since his imprisonment. Rather than trying to accept what has happened, Said chooses vengeance. Gradually, his obsession with vengeance grows, and Said’s character begins to deteriorate. His transformation from a Robin Hood-type figure to a murderer happens quickly. It’s through his acts of violence that we see this transformation. Said creates a distorted self-image, seeing himself as much greater than he really is. This is seen clearly after news of his attempted murder on Rauf (as well as the actual murder of an innocent) gets out: “Whoever kills me will be killing the millions. I am the hope and the dream, the redemption of cowards; I am good principles, consolation, the tears that recall the weeper to humility” (Mahfouz 257). Despite achieving nothing whatsoever, he praises himself for his actions. Even the way in which he commits his crimes becomes wild, as he screams, “I am Said Mahran! Take that!” (249). Said Mahran is a different man by the end of the book. His morals disappear, and are instead replaced by an insatiable need for revenge. Although Meursault is undoubtedly different in terms of his emotional capacity, it never seemed to affect him in the past. In the beginning of the book, we see Meursault as a somewhat popular man with a girlfriend and several acquaintances. He was happy with his banal way of living. It’s not until Meursault is actually arrested and in jail that we see him start to change. During Meursault’s trial, he is prosecuted not only for what he did, but for what he is. Evidence of his lack of emotion and indifference is repeatedly shown to the jury. In one instance, the prosecution points out the fact that Meursault never cried when his mother died, and instead seemed bored, smoking cigarettes and falling asleep during the procession. It is during this part of the trial that Meursault begins to change. Firstly, in response to the prosecutor’s satisfaction at having incriminated him, Meursault states that, “…for the first time in years, I had this stupid urge to cry, because I could feel how much all these people hated me” (Camus 90). This is the strongest emotional response from Meursault thus far. At the same time Meursault also acknowledges his guilt. “…I then felt a stirring go through the room and for the first time I realized that I was guilty” (90). Meursault knew that he had committed the crime, but never really accept that he was a guilty man. It’s during this assault on his personality that he begins to see everything that is supposedly wrong with himself. Although this realization was a turning point, it’s not until the end of the book that we see a significant change in Meursault. After meeting the chaplain, Meursault snaps. “Then, I don’t know why, but something inside me snapped…I was pouring out on him everything that was in my heart, cries of anger and cries of joy” (120). At this point, everything changes for Meursault. He realizes the world is not rational, and that things don’t necessarily happen for a reason: “…for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself…” (123). After living his life never considering any of this, he stops worrying about his death and instead looks at his life in a new light.Both these books show how strongly alienation from society can affect a person. Each character undergoes great change, but in very different ways. For Meursault, isolation creates positive change. When faced with death, he is able to look at his life in retrospect for the first time. The fact that he is physically alienated from society (by being in prison) is also key Meursault’s change. He had previously lived a life based purely on physical pleasure, but when that is taken away from him, he is forced to resort to his mind. On the other hand, Said was unable to cope with his alienation. His time in prison didn’t have the same effect on him as on Meursault. When he was released, he couldn’t accept what had changed, and chose to avenge those who had betrayed him instead. Said and Meursault both undergo major transformations as a result of their alienation. Despite these similar circumstances, we see that each character reacts differently, helping us gain a better understanding of their characters and people in general.Works Cited:Camus, Albert. The Stranger. Trans. Matthew Ward. New York: Vintage International, 1988. Print.Mahfouz, Naguib. The Thief and the Dogs: A Novel. Trans. Trevor Le Gassick, M. M. Badawi and John Rodenbeck. New York: Anchor, 2008. Print.

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