Super Women

The main female characters of Sonia and Marie in Crime and Punishment and The Stranger, respectively, do more than faithfully support Raskolnikov and Meursault in their times of need. Their roles structure the men’s characters and ultimately help the men form their philosophies: Sonia manages to alter Raskolnikov’s superman theory while Marie’s presence reinforces Meursault’s absurdist theory. By the women’s varying influence, they bridge the protagonists between individuality and society, and through an awakening Sonia eventually leads Raskolnikov to embrace society’s rules while Marie leads Meursault to abandon society and to affirm life and his individuality to an even greater degree.By Raskolnikov’s and Meursault’s choice of female companionship, the reader can already perceive elements of character. Sonia and Marie both appear in the novels because of the disparate needs of the men. Sonia’s initial appeal to Raskolnikov is deeply emotional; he finds solace within a woman who is equally isolated from society due to her prostitution. Yet, surprisingly even to Raskolnikov, Sonia becomes his beacon of light: she is more enlightened than he in the ways of the world. On the other hand, Meursault is attracted to the pretty and playful Marie because she can satisfy his physical desires. He is indifferent to any deep emotional connection; even when Marie tries to illicit his love, he says that “it [love] didn’t mean anything but that I probably didn’t love her” (Camus 41). However, she, too, becomes a beacon of light in a different sense. Meursault tries to see Marie’s face in his jail cell because she represents a purpose to his life–physical wants rather than emotion. Interestingly, Raskolnikov thinks about Sonia in his jail cell also because his love for her–not her body–represents his inspiration.It can be noted by the general depiction and description of the female characters by the men that Raskolnikov is much more emotionally and internally involved than Meursault. Meursault describes his world by sensual experiences, and his description of Marie never goes far beyond her job as a typist and her looks. Meursault relates the effects of Marie upon him with vivid detail: the sensation of brushing “against her breasts” (19), resting his head “on his stomach” (20), and feeling “Marie’s heart beating softly” (20). To Meursault, these moments are the only worthwhile experiences in a meaningless life. On the other hand, Raskolnikov views Sonia’s facial expressions and postures as a window into her soul: “Raskolnikov looked strangely at her. He read it all in her face…” (Dostoyevsky 255). He questions her about her faith and her outlook on life and takes care to note her changing emotions. He is deeply concerned with the psychological; his connection to her is never confined to the physical.Sonia and Marie act as bridges, connecting the men to society. Each of these female characters possesses a view of life that differs from that of the man in question, and her influence assists in the development of the philosophy of the protagonist. Despite Sonia’s desecration of her body, she is one of the purest and most innocent characters in the novel. Sonia’s and Raskolnikov’s attraction for each other is surprising because they are so different. Though they are both in turmoil, Sonia is Raskolnikov’s foil; she is reassured by her faith. Throughout the latter part of the novel, she is the Christ-like savior who rescues Raskolnikov from the oblivion of a meaningless life and connects him again to humanity. Sonia is his only pathway to salvation: she teaches him that only repentance of his sins and responsibility for his actions can save him. His emotional investment in Sonia is so great that he is able to confess his crime to her, and his eventual return to society is preceded by atheserious and emotional connection he harbors with Sonia. He has not, after all, truly felt much for another human being in a long time. Thus, Sonia slowly coaches Raskolnikov back to the social convention of feeling, and she continues to wait for his ultimate metamorphosis by following him to Siberia. Raskolnikov’s philosophy of the superhuman alienates him physically and emotionally from society. Only when he rescinds the murder through which he tried to assume the role of the “übermensch,” the superhuman, can he reenter humanity and feel genuine emotion for another person. With his cleansing of sin, he can embrace his love for Sonia without fear. He opens his heart to accept her love and her creeds: “Can her convictions not be mine now? Her feelings, her aspirations at least…” (430). Though she has tried to introduce religion to Raskolnikov in the literal form of the Bible, not until the very end of the novel, when he realizes his love for her, does he actually attempt to open the pages. Dostoyevsky, by depicting an individual who is as destitute as Raskolnikov but still lives life with hope because of a companion’s faith, signifies that a spiritual connection is needed to combat the dismal world and to understand one’s place within society. On the other hand, Marie provides Meursault with the choice of being an emotional individual by asking for his love. Obviously, she lives a life different from Meursault’s: she is surprised at the apathy he displays when he is able to enjoy himself so fully, swimming and going to the movies so soon after the death of his mother. Marie serves in the novel as the representation of sensual pleasure, and her identity as an individual is not as important to Meursault as her identity as a woman who embodies the physicality of all women: “I never thought specifically of Marie. But I thought about a woman, about women…” (Camus 77). While Sonya’s individuality and personality save Raskolnikov, Marie’s universality and body lead Meursault to his own awakening. In The Stranger, Meursault is never daunted by the misery of the prison; he is, more than anything, a man who simply wants to go on living. Because of his crime and jailing, Meursault’s everyday life as a clerk is suddenly interrupted by the hurtful realization that death is an inescapable fate. Meursault is the absurd man who has a passion to exhaust all that he possesses at any given moment. Marie serves as one of his passions in life, and he has never thought about a time when this enjoyment would end. Likewise, he has never before pondered his relationship with the world. Only when this pleasure, Marie, is taken away from him is he really jolted out of his self-content world and compelled to think about his real connection to society. Unlike Sonya, Marie does not intentionally try to change Meursault’s mindset to accept society or to deny it. Her role actually affirms his absurdist theory in another way. Without the thought of losing Marie, who is his one link to the world, he may never have revolted, and the thought of Marie continues to encourage him to fight against death even in jail. Thus, through Marie, he assesses his values in relation to the world and ultimately attempts to battle society as his own individual.These two female characters elucidate the messages of their respective novels’ endings: with the character of Sonia, Dostoyevsky proclaims hope as the answer to a meaningless world; with the character of Marie, Camus labels hope as a useless façade to find meaning when it does not exist. Because of Raskolnikov’s love for Sonia, Dostoyevsky signifies that though the world is bleak and meaningless, individualism and isolation from society may not be the answer. Hope and optimism arise from the need for companionship and spirituality. Marie acts as a window through which Meursault views the faults of society, which leads to his ultimate, stark individuality by the novel’s end. Camus defies Marie’s false hope and emotion as answers to living in an absurd world and does not allow Meursault to reenter society. Ultimately, Marie’s hope constrains her from understanding Meursault, and, by her depiction, Camus implies that she will never be truly happy because she has not accepted the “gentle indifference of the world” (122). Sonia and Marie have helped the main characters find their place with respect to society (though not necessarily in it) and self-understanding within the structure of the world.Works CitedCamus, Albert. The Stranger. Trans. Matthew Ward. New York: Vintage International, 1989.Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Trans. Constance Garnett. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2001.

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