Marie is Happy too

Albert Camus’ The Stranger exhibits the way that societal expectations serve to uphold a system in which everyone’s aim is to reach an ideal and is, therefore, never satisfied. These ideals are merely constructs, however; irrational and absurd. Camus asserts that the only way to truly seek happiness is to avoid seeking control over what is random and to embrace one’s agency to determine their own fate. 

Of the characters through which Camus demonstrates the theme of his novel, Marie acts as somewhat of a contradiction. She chooses to follow societal norms, unlike characters like Meursault and Salamano, who are disconnected from judgment and expectations. Marie illustrates what is expected of a romantic relationship when she asks Meursault if he wishes to marry her (41). The motivation behind this as well as her subsequent questioning of whether he loves her seems to be because Marie assumes this is what should happen in a romantic relationship like theirs. The widely accepted image of love that she embodies merely serves to establish a need for perfection in the construction of an expected passion for romance.

Despite striving to follow in the image of society, Marie is the most joyful character in the novel. This is in part because of her naivety, but also because she is the most open-minded and accepting. When Meursault responds to her question, he is contradictingly dispassionate. Marie is not upset by this, but comes to understand Meursault’s seemingly shallow view of her. While one might argue that this only proves her naivety, it also allows her to fully enjoy her relationship with Meursault because she is not overly attached to any one idea or expectation.

Double Standards in The Secret Woman

This short story, written by Colette in 1924, is indeed short, however it is packed with rich language that reveals underlying societal understandings of female sexuality that drive the main character’s thoughts. Irene, the wife of the character whose perspective the story is told through, is at first portrayed as fragile and dependent. When her husband suggests that he might not be able to attend the ball with her, Irene expresses her discomfort with the idea of being alone at such a social function. Throughout her reaction, which insinuates dependence on her husband, her husband observes her “delicate hands” (328). Later on – after witnessing his wife take liberty and control over her sexuality – they are described as “satanic.” This implies that because Irene took control over herself and others, she was somehow impure.

At the same time, Irene’s husband finds power in his own sexuality. While his exact motives are unclear when he lies to his wife to arrive at the ball in disguise, it seems as though he has come to meet someone with the assumption that because of his wife’s dependence on him, she would not be going alone. At the beginning of the story, he is seen with another woman, however his agency is never described as impure or monstrous. This creates a double standard as the main character views his power with indifference while his wife’s – although liberating – is unexpected and threatening.

The suppression of female sexuality at the time of the story’s writing in 1924 was oppressive and apparent. In today’s world, while strides towards normalization have been made, traces of it remain. In the context of politics or even in private spaces, women are often looked down upon for taking up too much space and being self-sufficient. Colette’s portrayal of a woman trying to find liberty and power outside of the male sphere remains true and relevant.

Benjamin’s Theory and Saviorism in America

In Bonds of Love, Benjamin elaborates on the mutual aspect of power dynamics that involve a dominant and submissive side, explaining that in order to fully access their productive potential, equality must be achieved. This can be observed in the typical American “savior” attitude. The United States and the majority of European countries are generally considered to be a part of of the “developed” world. Even in elementary school, I can recall presenters flipping through slideshows of malnutritioned children. “Believe it or not, this child in Africa is a kid – just like you!” From a young age, my peers – no matter our varied statuses in our own society – have been instilled with the suggestion that as a developed nation (superior, powerful), the rest of the developing world (inferior, helpless) needs our help. While this dynamic may seem one sided, as Benjamin explains, such power dynamics of superiority and inferiority are mutual, although not mutually beneficial. Current projects and foreign aid – while accepted – usually only serve to corrupt nations and provide them with what we think they need. Instead, according to Benjamin, these nations should be recognized as equals. Their decisions and policies should be acknowledged and aid should be considered in accordance with their that. The mindset of superiority and separation in many Americans must be broken down in order to identify equally with others.