Meursault should be distraught by the end of The Stranger. After months in prison, he is about to be executed by guillotine with no way out; but he isn’t. In fact, he is perfectly at peace on the night before his death. The reason why Meursault is content is found in Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus”. According to Camus, Sisyphus is happy because his fate is one that he created out of his own free will, and his fate wasn’t imposed on him by someone else. Similarly, in The Stranger, Meursault finds peace because he created his own fate. He realized that he could have done things differently, but it wouldn’t matter because he would inevitably die regardless of the actions he took (121). Ultimately, Meursault finds peace because he realizes that he is in a situation that he created out of his own free will, and because it doesn’t matter that he’s about to die because it would have happened anyway, with the only difference being the where and when.
The short story “The Secret Woman” written by Colette follows a husband trying to catch his wife cheating. Over the course of the story, the husband follows Irene through a ball where everyone present wears masks that obscure their faces. As the husband follows Irene, it becomes clear to the reader that she is acting abnormally, “… the eel-like Pierrot noticed him. ‘Is that a declaration, purple Domino?’ He did not reply, for he was stifled with surprise, waiting and nightmare…” (44). This shows that Irene is acting very differently to how her husband would expect her to act, to the point of leaving him speechless. The reason why Irene is acting unusual is because she believes herself to be anonymous and that no one at the ball will recognize her, “… she was going to leave again the next moment, wander about once more, collect some other passer-by, forger him, and simply enjoy, until she felt tired and went back home, the monstrous pleasure of being alone, free, honest in her crude, native state, of being the unknown woman, eternally solitary and shameless…” (46). This shows that the reason she is acting abnormally is because of her anonymity, because she is the “unknown woman” who doesn’t need to worry about being criticized for her actions.
This is similar to how people often say things they wouldn’t normally say and do things they wouldn’t normally do when they believe that no one is watching or that they can’t be identified. Overall, Irene’s surprising behavior in “The Secret Woman” can be explained as her believing that she can say what she wants and act how she wants because she won’t be recognized.
Jessica Benjamin’s argument is that individuality comes from a combination of separation and connection with other people. Essentially, a person’s subjectivity comes from them being recognized by a subject by someone who is recognized as a subject by the person. This is in contrast to Freud’s beliefs about individuality. Freud believed that a (male) person’s individuality first begins to develop when he realizes that he is distinct from his mother. Freud believed that a person’s individuality is developed through their recognition of their separateness from others. Another part of Jessica Benjamin’s argument is that when this delicate balance of mutual recognition breaks down, it leads to a power struggle between those involved. When one person stops recognizing the other person as a subject and diminishes their individuality, the other person affirms their own individuality, which forces the other person to affirm their individuality in return, leading to a power struggle.
Benjamin’s theory helps me understand why people develop a sense of individuality. Her theory may also explain why relationships fall apart and a power struggle forms. As the two people stop recognizing each other as individuals, they try to impose their individuality on them, causing the other to reciprocate by doing the same. Benjamin’s theory also made me think about the human need for socialization. I think that it may explain one of the reasons humans need socialization. Without others to recognize a person’s subjectivity, their sense of individuality falls apart. People who are lonely are more likely to anthropomorphize inanimate objects, and according to Benjamin’s theory, people need their subjectivity to be recognized by another to maintain a healthy sense of individuality. So I thought that people might anthropomorphize objects when lonely/isolated as a subconscious attempt to get that recognition.