What are the similarities and differences of Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and The Stranger by Albert Camus?

Both main characters are outsiders, and both change through their journey. Meursault changes from a man who is indifferent to the world around him, to one that sees the world for what it really is. Siddhartha changes from someone who is searching for meaning in everything, to someone who realizes that there are no answers in life, so he should enjoy every moment the best he can.

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It is difficult to imagine two works less likely to appear in a compare and contrast experiment. On the surface, Siddhartha concerns a journey of enlightenment and spiritual fulfillment, whereas The Stranger seems to be an earnest meditation on the futility of everything. There are, however, similarities to be found, primarily between the respective protagonists of the work.

Both Siddhartha and Meursault are outsiders of society. In much the same way that Siddhartha searches for enlightenment among the many faiths of the world, Meursault violently rejects societal norms and illusions of peace. While it is our first instinct to think of Meursault as a detached, uncaring shell, he would, if he were truly uncaring, simply act the part of a civilized citizen to make his life easier. The antagonistic manner with which he approaches society indicates his sincere dissatisfaction. In his own perverse way, he too is seeking enlightenment—a Nirvana that transcends to farcical nature of everything.

Siddhartha lives as a rich man, but it brings him little joy. He becomes weary of the world to the point of suicide. He is only saved by a divine revelation and an understanding that the universe, while contentious, is locked in a constant back-and-forth dance that ultimately revolves around compassion. Meursault comes to a revelation at the end of his journey as well, though the take-away could not be more different. Meursault's "enlightenment" reveals to him that the universe is ultimately indifferent and that because nothing matters, nothing is worth fretting over. Ironically, and almost hilariously, this revelation brings him a very similar sort of peace compared to what Siddhartha felt by the river.

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I have to admit that it's a bit surprising to see a question linking these two books, because they seem, at a glance, to have few elements in common for us to use as points of comparison. The Stranger is the prototypical modernist novel about alienation and man alone in a hostile universe. Siddhartha is a modernist work as well, but one that embraces, in my view, a much more traditional philosophy rooted in religious thought, especially that of its Asian setting.

Yet there is nevertheless a similarity, though a hazy one, in character between the respective protagonists in the two works. Both Siddhartha and Meursault are men who do notconform to ordinary values or norms of society. Siddhartha, despite his period of work, love, and hedonism with Kamala, eventually renounces the material world as he had thought to do from the start by becoming a samana. Meursault, on the other hand, has never rejected the material world or anything else explicitly. But he seems cold to everything, just going through the motions. After his mother's death. his thoughts and observations are focused on meaningless things like the heat of the sun and the tar on the road to the cemetery. He agrees, without even seeming to think about it, to testify on behalf of his neighbor Raymond, though Raymond has beat his girlfriend. Meursault's girlfriend, Marie, wants to marry him, but he answers her indifferently, as if it does not matter to him one way or the other. He coldly tells her he doesn't love her and appears to expect her reaction to be one of not caring what he thinks or says. Eventually, he kills a man. It is as if this also does not make any difference one way or the other in an absurd universe.

Though the message of Camus ultimately (as Meursault himself realizes at the conclusion) is that all of this does make a difference, the trajectory of Meursault's story is completely different from that of Siddhartha's life. Meursault begins by not feeling. Siddhartha, though cold to the values of the conventional world, is almost the opposite because he feels too much, senses the agony of the world and, as it were, absorbs it in order to become a purer, greater soul. Both men "change" in some sense for the better. But the vision of Camus, in which man creates his own value in an inherently meaningless cosmos, is a much darker one than that of Hesse.

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Mersault and Siddartha are both staunch individualists dissatisfied with society. Both experience alienation from other people because of this. Outside of that, however, the two protagonists could not be more different.

Mersault views the world as a meaningless, absurd place. He is an aggressive fellow and a touch sociopathic in his inability to connect with other people. He eventually murders a man and then dies under the guillotine blade, feeling the world is nonsense and that his death ultimately doesn't matter, since he would have died sooner or later no matter what he did.

On the other hand, Siddartha quests to find spiritual fulfillment in life, moving through different phases (ascetic, man of the world, ferryman) until he gains enlightenment. He ultimately succeeds in his quest for spiritual revelation and fulfillment, finding peace through his trials and experiences.

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Both protagonists exhibit perfervid individualism--a nonconformist, go-it-alone, alienated worldview.  Meursault and Siddhartha reject mainstream religious doctrine and dogma in favor of lives devoted to simple pleasures.  Both go through phases where they enjoy the company of women (Siddhartha eventually abandons this).  Meursault loves the ocean, while Siddhartha finds peace in the river.  In both, water is a symbol for life.  Both are bored by the ennui of work and see the emptiness in materialism.

Siddhartha is much more actively on a religious quest than Meursault.  Meursault is much more passive and static in his daily life (he hates trips).  Obviously, the act of "murder" separates them: Meursault is more unhappy with society than Siddhartha and, therefore, lashes out in violence.  Meursault relishes his role of anti-christ in part II of the novel, while Siddhartha is less of a rebel and outcast.  While Siddhartha finds a reconciliation in the spiritual and physical while a ferryman, Meursault ultimately sees the world as a cruel, absurd place.  Ultimately, The Stranger ends with a violent execution, while Siddhartha ends with nirvana by the river (as polar opposite as two novellas can be).

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