A Comparison Between the Coping Mechanisms and Realisations Made While in Prison by Alba in House of the Spirits and Meursault in The Outsider Alba in The House of the Spirits and Meursault in The Outsider display several survival strategies that are contrasting, yet there are some undeniable similarities worth noting. They come to contrasting realisations on the ultimate meaning of life, as Alba takes the decision to fight at all costs to preserve her life, while Meursault makes the opposite choice in taking a despondent attitude towards life and a fatalistic one towards death.
Another contrast is that Alba’s life has a definite cyclical nature, whereas Meursault’s follows a typically existentialist linear form. Also, Meursault’s acceptance of his guilt and his inability to form emotional bonds with people contributes to his resignation towards life, whereas Alba’s knowledge of her innocence and her compassion towards others fuels her fight for life and her optimism. But both characters experience, to some extent, an alteration in personality as a result of their incarceration.
As well, both characters occupy their minds with listing things and writing on imaginary paper in order to escape the horror of their ordeals. Alba and Meursault both emerge from their incarceration with new realisations on life. For Meursault, the acceptance of his ultimate fate brings about an awareness of what life and death mean to him as an individual. This is unusual for Meursault, as we have not seen him analyse the fundamentals of life and being alive at any point in the novel prior to this.
Instead, we have so far seen a reserved character who focuses more on practical detail than emotion. The psychological pressure he is under brings about a revelation within himself: ” As if this great outburst of anger had purged all my ills, killed all my hopes… laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world”, also, he ” realised that I’d been happy, and that I was still happy” (117). Though he uses the word “happy”, it is evident that Meursault is as indifferent to the world as he perceives the world to be indifferent to him.
Throughout the novel Meursault is portrayed as a character who possesses unshakeable honesty. He is honest with himself and others at all times because he ignores any pressure put on him to conform to society’s expectations. The passing of his sentence makes Meursault realise that he has got nothing to lose, as well as giving him unlimited time to think about the meaning of life, and come to an honest conclusion. Alba also goes through a process of reflection on life. She overcomes the wish to escape through death, and eventually finds the strength to fight for her life.
She comes to the realisation that it is by choosing to fight and live rather than escape through death that she can come out victorious over the evil of Esteban Garcia, “she was beyond his power” (471). The two characters’ attitudes towards and conclusions on the meaning of life are contrasting as a result of the experiences they go through. Alba’s attitude is to embrace life and appreciate its worth, whereas Meursault’s attitude is more fatalistic. He accepts the cruelty and “benign indifference of the world” (117).
The shock of the realities of prison brings about a discovery of inner strength and the forming of survival strategies in both characters. Alba is forced to find strength within herself that she never thought existed, and the shock and horror of her ordeal catalyse a powerful struggle for survival and the discovery of her courage. She has to rely entirely on herself, as she has discovered that she cannot rely on spirits or others for help. Yet once she has found the internal spiritual strength to survive on her own, Alba is more able to help others and accept their help.
Allende writes “this allowed her to venture slowly out of the private circle of her terror”(467). She succeeds in converting negative emotions of despair and hopelessness into compassion and caring for others: “her fear began to ebb and she was able to feel compassion for the others” (467). Meursault, on the other hand, remains isolated throughout his ordeal, alone in his last hour as in every other hour of his life. He answers to no one, therefore he is made to face his demons alone, and through his acceptance of his situation and his survival, he is alone.
After all, he faces no “divine justice” (113), only he reflects on his own life and actions and finds peace through his final judgement of himself: “I was guilty and I was paying for it and there was nothing more that could be asked of me” (113). The existentialist nature of Meursault’s character and his detachment from other human beings does not allow him to connect with others during his struggle, nor does he need to in order to achieve final peace within himself before his death.