Sanity is described by Plans as the ability to think rationally, have a sound and healthy mind. This theory believes that sanity is an ability to structurally fit into what is going on in the world and lack of this is called insanity. This structurally fitting means conforming to the behavior of those people we find ourselves with, or simply making an attempt to correspond our lives with the legislating ideas and imposed values in our minds and expecting others to abide by them (Fulero and Wrightsman 15). Then the insanity is an inability to function or act according to these imposed ideas and values as the main characters in the novels The Awakening by Kate Chopin, The Stranger by Albert Camus, and The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. As the psychologist Erich Fromm says in his book The Sane Society published in the 1955, just because a majority of the people in the society share particular ideas and feelings does not mean that they are valid, and just because majority of people in the society have a shared form of mental pathology does not make them sane (Plans 6). This paper discusses what determines a person’s sanity in regard to the three novels.
In Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening, Edna, a wife of an accomplished husband and a mother of two beautiful children, has got a privileged upbringing. She is expected to be happy and satisfied with her life. Actually, her friend Adele thinks that she is losing her grip on reality, falling in love with Robert and willing to sacrifice the “unessential”, which are her life, money and material things for the “essential”, which seems to be her happiness. Edna is also a woman who had always done what was expected of her. She had drifted through life doing what was expected of her, what was uncharacteristic of her nature, but deep inside she wanted to fly and seek happiness. She later marries a bland man and suffers from depression, which is defined by a doctor as a “mental disturbance”; the doctor knows Edna is unhappy since her heart belongs to another man. Edna finds comfort in Mademoiselle Reisz, who seems to understand her desire to free herself and find happiness with Robert. Finally, Edna cannot find agreement with her lover and understand her own thoughts (Chopin and Knights 17).
In The Stranger by Albert Camus, it is easy to define the main character, Meursault, in the first part of the book as insane, since he accepts what happens to him without much thinking. We consider his attitude to reality as indifference when he does not show any emotion when his mother dies; in fact, he just establishes a fact of his mother’s death. During the funeral he does not even want to view the body. He sits there the whole night, doing it just out of duty, smoking and drinking white coffee in front of the coffin. Being accused of cheating Raymond’s girlfriend, he shows the same indifference to what the society and law expect of him; Raymond is clearly a liar but Meursault does not seek to find out what is happening. In the trial, the sanity or lack of it is demonstrated when the defense lawyer uses Meursault’s reaction to the death of his mother, the fact that he was having sex with Marie a day after his mother died, and his atheist stand instead of the circumstances of the shooting and death of the Arab. It is not clear who between the accused and the society is more insane, but, in fact, Meursault was just bothered, because his fate was decided without his contribution (Camus 12).
Gregor Samsa finds himself changed to a vermin, and this led to the transformation of everything around him. Before the transformation, he was doing what was expected of him by supporting his family after his father’s business closed down. He meets the financial needs of the family, but forgets or losses himself in return. As Gregor changes to a vermin, his tie with the reality of the world has lost. Everybody seems to be fine without Gregor: his colleagues go to work as before; his family pretends that nothing has changed without him. He rests under the couch just like a vermin face to face with the insanity. The mental breakdown, however, is astonishing when his mind losses control over his body. His mother finds his patches on the wall and it shocks her. Gregor does not understand how absurd this is for his mother. When the head clerk comes to check on him, Gregor tries to explain his condition, since he still tells himself he is human. The way he tries to accept his predicament, without a doubt, is appalling. When he awakens and finds himself changed, he goes back to sleep, thinking that it was a bad dream, which will end (Kafka and Crick 23).