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Essay/Term paper: Comparison of character masks in the novel the stranger

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Persuasive Essays

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In the real world there exist many different people, of different races and ages, each one unique. Some live secluded lives with few friends and others live very rich and complex lives surrounded by friends and acquaintances. No matter what type of life is led it is human nature to adjust one's external personality to suit the specific situation, much like putting on and removing different masks. People tend to be polite and respectful to others in public even though they may not know the person well or not care for them, yet behind closed doors that mask may disappear and their true feelings may come to the surface. People may adjust their external behaviour and attitudes when around others because they may not like their true selves and either want to change themselves or just merely fit in with society and be liked by others. Another mask that is often worn is the powerful and superior one and so to feel superior when among others pushes them around and becomes a bully. This same person could be gentle, nice and kind when around family but may feel the need to appear superior around other people. This form of adjusting one"s personality or mask to suit a situation in life, is also common among characters in novels, dramas, and other forms of literature. In certain characters it is evident in the novel The Stranger and the play A Doll's House . In some instances it is quite easy to notice but other times it may be difficult to identify the changes in character"s masks as the changes slowly develop throughout the plot.

A form of mask wearing was found at the beginning of the novel The Stranger, where Meursault goes to the beach to go swimming and meets Marie Cardona. She was lying on a float when Meursault was swimming towards it. "She turned toward [him]. Her hair was in her eyes and she was laughing."(20) Later on when both Meursault and Marie go swimming together "She laughed the whole time,"(20) and then on the dock while they were drying themselves off Marie playfully says "I'm darker than you."(20) She puts on a type of giggly, flirty mask when around Meursault, probably because she likes him and wants to be friendly with him. It did not seem like a serious interest at first because it appears that Marie is a very friendly and joyous person who seems like she only wants to have fun, giggle a lot and behave like a "bubble head". But later on in the novel it is found that Marie is not so stupid and "bubble headed" after all and that her giggly attitude was simply to get more acquainted with Meursault. It was the mask she used to get Meursault interested and did not reflect her true intentions. When Marie goes over to Meursault's house, and after an exchange of kisses, Marie puts on a more serious tone and asks Meursault the question "...if I (Meursault) loved her (Marie)"(35). Meursault then replies "...that [he] didn't think so..."(36) which leaves Marie quite sad and somewhat broken hearted because it seemed as if both Meursault and Marie knew that their relationship wouldn't last but in fact Marie did want to make something out of it. Evidence for this is that she constantly asks Meursault if he loves her and also if they should get married.

The beginning of the play A Doll's House is similar to the beginning of the novel The Stranger in that both Nora and Marie appear playful and childlike but we later discover that again this is merely a mask. In The Stranger, as stated before, Marie is very childish and giggly when she meets Meursault. The same goes for Nora. She appears very childish in the opening scene when Helmer calls her "my little skylark"(148) and "little squirrel"(148). She hides her macaroons like a child hiding something that she should not have, before going to see Torvald her husband. This seemed to be an act or a mask because it is unusual to see a normal woman act like a child. It is not totally obvious at first that Nora is hiding anything from others or even that she is wearing a mask. Not until later in the story when Mrs. Linde comes does Nora drop the mask and reveal her true self when Mrs. Linde and Nora start talking about how Nora got the money in order to send her husband Torvald to Italy. Together they play a type of guessing game or cat and mouse.. "There are all sorts of ways I might have got it [money]"(160) says Nora during this guessing game. A short while later, Nora reveals herself by telling Mrs. Linde that she "earned"(162) the money. "[She was] sitting there working and earning money. It was almost like being a man."(162) This finally revealed Nora's true self. Behind closed doors she was working as a business woman to earn money. This is quite shocking because in the 1800's women were only supposed to take care of children and the household while the men worked. It was important for her to have the attitude of being playful and like a child in order to hide her true self. Otherwise she would have been in trouble not only from Torvald but from others as well because it was not proper or socially acceptable for a woman to work.

Another obvious mask in The Stranger is very evident in Raymond Sintes. He is" a little on the short side, with broad shoulders and a nose like a boxer's"(28). At the beginning of the novel when speaking with Meursault, Raymond tells the story of him running into his mistress's brother and that he "let him have it"(29). This makes him seem like a strong, aggressive character. Later, a fight breaks out between Raymond and his mistress. Sounds could heard of Raymond hitting her. After a while, a policeman shows up and knocks on Raymond's door. "Raymond opened the door . He had a cigarette in his mouth and an innocent look on his face"(36). Raymond puts on a different attitude or mask, hiding the true self that beat his mistress and presents himself to the cop with an innocent look on his face. He puts on his mask to make it seem as if nothing had happened. With his macho attitude he stands in front of the policeman disregarding the plea to get rid of his cigarette. Then out of nowhere ".. the cop slapped him - a thick, heavy smack right across the face."(36) At this point, Raymond"s mask flew off along with the cigarette that was once in his mouth and he showed his true self to the policeman. This was the most embarrassing moment for Raymond because he thinks that only women slap. But when the cop slapped him that was the ultimate insult to Raymond's personality. Raymond then has the "shakes"(37) from being incredibly nervous and humiliated by what the policeman did. He thinks Raymond is drunk due to the "shakes" but Raymond tries to explain "I'm not drunk officer. Its just that I'm here, and you're there, and I'm shaking, I can't help it."(37) In other words, Raymond was so humiliated by the cop slapping him, that he is so nervous he is shaking.

Some of the masks that characters exhibit are very subtle and initially no masks are noticed. This is the case with Meursault in The Stranger as I discovered that perhaps Mersault was wearing a mask to hide from himself. The evidence of this is when Meursault notices the "robot lady" in the restaurant with her regular routine of eating. For some reason he becomes fascinated with her. "Her gestures were jerky¼she ordered her whole meal all at once¼she gulped [it] down¼took out of her bag a blue pencil and a magazine¼one by one¼she checked off almost every program¼put her jacket back on with the same robotlike movements, and left."(43) Meursault even "followed her for a while"(43). In part 2 of The Stranger, the robot lady is in the court room and she too is fascinated by Meursault. He recognises something familiar within her but does not realise that it may be a reflection of himself. He too has a routine which he follows in a robotlike fashion such as having "¼lunch at Celestes¼"(21) Meursault does not recognise his own mask which hides his true self from himself and prevents him from recognising the woman as a reflection of his true self.

In conclusion, the main reason for the types and significance of mask wearing or dual-personalities is that it shows how characters behave when among other characters and when alone. Raymond had his macho attitude which he put on whenever he felt intimidated by others such as during the fight with his mistress"s brother. A different mask presented itself when the policeman slapped Raymond. He became very nervous, embarrassed, and began to shake. He asked to pick up his fallen cigarette as if wanting to piece back together his shattered "tough" mask. Nora had her "socially acceptable" mask on to protect her from both her husband and other"s opinions because she lived in a time when women were not to work.

No matter what the reason is for people wearing masks and altering their external personalities to hide their true selves, it is evident that it happens not only in novels and play but also in the real world and is therefore a major part of human nature. To survive and be accepted by oneself as well as others people need to have available to them a number of different masks that can be put when required.


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