Live and Let Die

Over Saeed and Nadia’s migration journey, they end up losing their romantic love for each other. However, they end up gaining something much more valuable: fulfillment. Hamid’s exploration of self-growth throughout his novel focuses on the idea that enduring traumatic events provokes a more complete understanding of one’s sense of self.

For example, Nadia learned that she loved Saeed, but not in a romantic way. She was uncomfortable with the responsibilities and family dynamics that came along with being faithful to Saeed. When she met the woman in Mykonos, she began to understand that she was attracted to females as well. Saeed was also able to come to terms with the fact that Nadia wasn’t exactly the kind of girl he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. What he really wanted was a woman who shared more of his personal and religious values.

Being thrown into a life-or-death scenario allowed Saeed and Nadia to see clearly what was really important to them without the pressures of society’s expectations. Simply being faced with the prospect of death sparks self-reflection. Nadia and Saeed were able to reflect on what was truly important to them so they could lead authentic lives – even if that meant letting their romantic love die.

The Great Gatsby and Existentialism

While the Great Gatsby was not written from an existentialist point of view, it can certainly be tied back to it. The main theme of the book is money does not buy happiness. Gatsby ends up conquering his wildest dreams – and yet he is not satisfied. He realizes that he has achieved all there is to achieve in life, leaving him empty with no dreams to chase. He marries Daisy, and realizes she is not who he thought she was, and again is disappointed. He holds countless parties, and still he is removed from others.

The Great Gatsby emphasizes the existentialist view that there is nothing more to life than existence. One can work until they have made all of their dreams come true, and yet, they will still feel unfulfilled. By assuming that artificial things – money, material wealth, etc – will make you happy, you are buying into the power structure. Existentialists would say that we have been taught to believe that money will make us happy. We have been taught how to love in a certain way, and believe that will make us happy. We spend our whole lives chasing what we think will bring us joy, and yet, the greatest joy is freedom.

Had Gatsby been able to understand that true power and happiness comes not from wealth, but from freedom; perhaps he would have been better off.

Sociopath or Sane?

Mersault, the main character in Camus’ novel The Stranger appears to have no true emotion. He senselessly shoots an Arab man on the beach, and seems to feel no remorse although he understands he is guilty. He confides, “I knew I’d shattered the balance of the day, the spacious calm of this beach on which I had been happy. But I fired four shots more into the inert body, on which they left no visible trace.” Mersault’s lack of guilt and continuous display of disinterest with his mother’s death, his friends, and the woman he is romantically involved with gives the reader good reason to believe he is not normal, seeing as he exhibits many sociopathic tendencies. However, existentialists may argue he is completely sane. Existentialists believe there is no overarching meaning to life – that we are all free and responsible for determining our own existence. An existentialist would argue that Mersault is not crazy, he is free. He is free from the social expectations that cause guilt, pain, and suffering. In that sense, perhaps Mersault is not crazy. Perhaps he is simply free from society’s expectations and is living exactly the way he wants to.

My Thoughts

I honestly don’t know how to judge Mersault’s character. I have had times in my life where I have agreed with some existentialist ideals, but I always go back and forth. Critics of existentialism would say existentialists are cynics, unable to find joy in life. Existentialists would say their critics are slaves who derive life’s meaning from what they have been told to believe in. They would say they are not cynics, they are simply free. Whose to say which side of the argument is right? I have no idea which I agree with. I know there is nothing more to our existence besides ourselves, I understand that I rule my path. But I, as I’m sure most do, hate the idea that there is nothing more. That there isn’t really love, philanthropy, or individual values. I think it’s a really interesting debate, and The Stranger gives an excellent explanation to existentialism and the essence of life, especially in the last few pages. It really helped me grasp the existentialist point of view. As of now, I really don’t have an answer, but I look forward to continuing this conversation in class and learning more so I can broaden my perspective.