1.1 Background of Study
Existentialism is a philosophy that has begun from very long time ago, when human being tried to look for their identities in life. In basic existentialist beliefs, man is defining himself through life. Existentialists believe in life and fighting for it (Wyatt, 1999). In America, people always uphold the freedom of choice. So, the existences of human being are also considered as important problems, but on the other hand, there are some people who held up the others to reach their existences, as it is found in The Princess Diaries.
The writer finds a research about existentialism that discuss about a novel by Albert Camus. He is one of the existentialists, so he made the novel based on existentialism philosophy. In this paper, the writer raises the issue in The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot, because Meg is not an existentialist, but the philosophy is still found.
The Princess Diaries tells the struggle of the main character, Mia Thermopolis, to reach her existence in her world. The problem is, she thinks she cannot exist because she is nerd. Most people assume nerds as a non-existent people, but people would at times be considered as non-exist because they get this brand stuck on their forehead.
Therefore, the writer will examine how the environment influences Mia that makes her reach her existence. Then how she finally reaches the existence she wants. The theory used in this research is Existentialism Theory. It was found by Søren Kierkegaard and popularized by Jean-Paul Sartre.
According to Kierkegaard (1962), the crowd is untruth. It is the public opinion in the widest sense; the ordinary and accepted way of doing things; the complacent attitude that comes from the conformity necessary of social life. “Existentialism is philosophical and literary tendency that typically displays a dismissal of abstract theories that seek to disguise the untidiness of actual human lives and emphasizes the subjective realities of individual existence, individual freedom, and individual choice.” (Kierkegaard, 1962). It means that subjectivity is needed to create the existence.
The main character, Mia, is influenced by the society and people around her, especially at school, where people are indirectly point her as a nerd, and she is trapped in public opinion. Therefore, the writer analyses how she is finally able to accomplish everything well and get her existence in her own effort.
The writer is challenged to analyze this problem because people never really pay attention in how others try to do something acceptable in order to be existent. Meanwhile, existence problems always happen and never stop. The writer hopes that by reading this paper, the readers will understand existentialism better and apply it in daily life.
1.2 Problem Formulation
The writer wants to know the process of the main character to reach her existence in life, apart from the fact that she is a princess. From the beginning until the end of the story, many things change and affect the main character. Therefore, the writer wants to find out how the main character finally reaches her existence in life.
1.3 Scope & Limitation
The writer will analyze the The Princess Diaries through Existentialism theory by Kierkegaard, and only in three tenets of existentialism, which are absurdity, alienation, and anxiety. This will focus on the main character, Mia Thermopolis, by using the effects of American culture, where Mia lives, grows up, and is influenced.
1.4 Goals & Functions
For the goal, the writer wants to find out how the main character achieves her existence through the process she has been passed by these three specific goals:
1. How the main character conquers absurdity through her action.
2. How the main character conquers alienation through her feeling.
3. How the main character conquers anxiety through her thought.
The writer hopes that every people who read this paper know the philosophy behind existentialism. The readers will understand existentialism better, that human being can reach his own existence in life.
1.5 Research Method
The writer uses the library research. First, she reads the novel thoroughly and precisely. After understanding the main character well, she does the library research and internet research to compare and select which theory suits the best. Then, the writer use characterization approach to analyze Mia’s thought, feeling, words, and action. Then, she observes thoroughly the main character with the theory and conception of American culture to get the data, which will be applied in the analysis.
In this chapter, the writer will explain all the theories used to support the analysis, such as character, issues on American teenager, existentialism, and the previous researches. In existentialism, the writer will use Kierkegaard’s theory, which leads to theist existentialism, and analyze the ten tenets of existentialism. The focus of American culture will be on the issues of teenagers in high school.
According to Webber (2009), character is central to thinking about one another. Patterns are found in the thoughts, feelings, and actions of each individual that people deal with, these patterns can be seen and differ from person to person, and these differing patterns are understood in terms of underlying properties or traits. Thus, people understand one another as being honest, cowardly, kind, selfish, prudent, spiteful, upbeat, and arrogant. These terms are applied on the basis of experience and help people predict future behavior and hence to decide how to deal with one another.(p.3)
Here Webber stated that the better knowledge of people and the better understanding of one another made the thought runs, and the more successful to be in the relationships with one another and in the fulfillment of hopes and dreams in general. Therefore, the character takes big impacts in the struggle to reach existentialism. (p.3)
2.2 Issues on American Teenager
In high school, teenagers usually form an informal, tight-knit group, often in a high school/college setting, that shares common interests. According to Kinney (1993), students typically rank the diverse groups in terms of prestige, and the group’s position in the school social structure denotes their members' relative peer status or popularity. Generally, teenagers who are members of the most popular crowds are participating in the most valued and visible school activities, (e.g. male basketball and football teams, cheerleading, and the yearbook) and express significantly higher levels of self-esteem than do their peers who are members of less popular groups (e.g. nerds) who do not participate in widely recognized extracurricular school activities. (Kinney, 1993, p. 2)
Popular definition based on Merriam Webster Dictionary is suitable to the majority, as adapted to or indicative of the understanding and taste of the majority. It also can mean suited to the means of the majority, or frequently encountered or widely accepted, commonly liked or approve.
The nerd may be awkward, shy and unattractive. Therefore, a nerd is often excluded from physical activity and considered a loner by peers, or will tend to associate with like-minded people. (Lori, 2002, p.260)
Existentialism is a philosophical movement or tendency, emphasizing individual existence, freedom, and choice, that influenced many diverse writers in the 19th and 20th centuries. (REF) Important existentialists thought are Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, Gabriel Marcel, and Jean-Paul Sartre. All revolt against the traditional metaphysical approaches to man and his place in the universe.
This philosophy began when Kierkegaard discovered that truth was not only about himself, but also about the human condition.
…there is much that is wrong with human nature. Man is an existential being whose life is more than logic and who must discover the meaning of existence. There are no answers to the human predicament to be found in the back of a book; Philosophy is to be lived, something to be proven in action… (Davis and Miller, 1967, p.206).
For Kierkegaard and the other theist existentialist, God exists, but it depends on people’s own effort to reach existence. If people want to spruce up the description that has been started with, it could be said that existentialism is the philosophy that makes an authentically human life possible in a meaningless and absurd world. (Panza & Gale, 2008)
For the existentialists, life is absurd; it makes no sense and has no meaning or ultimate purpose, but human being need it to make sense, to have meaning and purpose.
“Absurdity is a feeling which arises from the confrontation of the world, which is irrational, with the hopeless but profound human desire to make sense of our condition. The appropriate response to this situation is to live in full consciousness of it.” (Camus, 1950)
According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, freedom is the quality or state of being free, the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.
We regarded any situation as raw material for our joint efforts and not as a factor conditioning them: we imagined ourselves to be wholly independent agents. ... We had no external limitations, no overriding authority, no imposed pattern of existence. We created our own links with the world, and freedom was the very essence of our existence. (Simone de Beauvoir, 1963)
This is the feeling that you are a stranger in your own life, a stranger in the world. Alienation refers to the estrangement that occurs in the relation between an individual and that to which he or she is relating. This break in the relation occurs in a variety of forms, such as the estrangements between an individual and his or her social community, natural environment; own self or even God.
This is the feeling of unease you get when you start to recognize that life is absurd.
“Existentialism emphasized man must have a strong consciousness of self-control. However, people in the real world can never existent without others’ influence. So no one can go without anxiety, because there are contradictions everywhere in our life. As a result, anxiety appeared.”( (Hsin-Yu Tsai & Jin-Tsann Yeh,2007,)
This is the feeling of loneliness you get when you realize that no one can help you make sense of your existence. Based on Merriam Webster Dictionary, forlornness is the noun of being bereft, forsaken, left quite forlorn of hope, and it can be sad and lonely because of isolation or desertion.”(Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2000)
Everyone bears responsibility. If no one is going to give you a guidebook to life, you have to bear responsibility for making your way through it and creating some kind of meaning for it. According to Cox, existentialism is as much about self-responsibility as personal freedom. The truth is we constantly have to make free choices for which we are responsible. (Cox, 2009)
People want authenticity to live in a way that is in tune with the truth of who they are as human beings and the world they live in.
“Authenticity is a feature of the existentialist individual. In fact, existential individuality and authenticity seem to imply one another. One is no more born an individual (in the existentialist sense) than is one born authentic. To be truly authentic is to have realized one’s individuality and vice versa.”(Flynn, 2006)
An important part of developing an authentic and satisfying life is individuality. Reason, science, and systems that try to cover up the absurdity of life often take individuality from you. “Man chooses completely want he wants to do. His existence depends on this.”(Sartre, 1970)
Being passionate or engaged is another important aspect of living an authentic life, and it’s under attack from the same forces that take away your individuality.
“For non-existentialists, passion and fate may be an excuse for their actions; whereas for existentialists, responsibility for one's passion is a central belief. Fate is overruled; there is no power of passion. An existentialist will never regard a great passion...”(Marsak, 1961)
This is the ultimate context for all human actions and an important source of the absurdity of life. “Every one is afraid of death; this makes us slave of life. The feelings of anxiety dread that we feel in the face of our own radical freedom and our awareness of death.” (Hsin-Yu Tsai & Jin-Tsann Yeh,2007)
2.4 Previous Researches
Shilvy Cendana, a student of English Department Binus University had ever done the research based on the same theory in 2006. She conducted the research to find out how Albert Camus applied this philosophy in his novel, The Plague. After all, she concluded that in The Plague, the characters experienced the individual existence, freedom, and choice, which was emphasized by existentialism.
Another research is entitled Existentialism, Globalization and the Cultural Other; Gavin Sanderson did it in 2003. In this paper, he did the research about existentialism and the impact in globalization and culture.
Therefore, from the theory of character, the issues on American teenager’s lifestyle in high school, three of ten tenets of existentialism and the other researches before, the writer will apply and analyze it one by one it in The Princess Diaries. Each of them will lead to the goal of this research, how the main character reaches the existentialism.
“An Analysis of Existentialism of the main character
in The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot”
In this chapter, the writer will analyze the main character through her character and environment based on issues in American teenager. Qualitative research is chosen to analyze this story. After doing library research, the writer will use characterization approach. From this analysis, the three existentialism tenets will be used to gain the deeper meaning of the main character’s thought, feeling, and actions. Therefore, in the end of the chapter, the analysis will lead to the goal of this research.
3.1 Character of Mia Thermopolis
Mia Thermopolis is a 14-year-old-girl, who is studying in Albert Einstein High School in Manhattan, New York City. Reading this novel is like reading her diary, from her point of view. Mia is the main character of The Princess Diaries, because the whole content of this novel is about her feeling and thought. She is also the one who has the conflict, but it is an internal conflict because it happens between Mia and herself. Mia realizes she is not popular and can’t exist, so sometimes she can’t accept that truth.
“Like everybody doesn’t already think I’m a freak. I’m practically the biggest freak in the entire school. I mean, let’s face it: I’m five foot nine, flat-chested, and a freshman. How much more of a freak could I be?” (p.9)
This quote is on the situation when Mia knows about her mother relationship with her Algebra teacher. Mia has suffered for this low self-confidence because of her physical appearance. She realizes she is not popular and most people do not know her. They never invite her to the party or a date. On the contrary, sometimes she prefers to be invisible and does not want to be the center of attention as well.
“A bunch of girls ran out of the bathroom giggling like crazy when I went in, though. Sometimes I wish I lived on a desert island. Really. With nobody else around for hundreds of miles. Just me, the ocean, the sand, and a coconut tree. And maybe a high-definition 37-inch TV with a satellite dish and a Sony PlayStation with Bandicoot, for when I get bored.”(p.202)
This quote above is when Mia goes to school and her secret for being a princess has been spread. From these two different quotes, they show that Mia takes existence as a serious problem in her life, she wants to be existent, but on the other hand, she blames the situation. First, she blames her physical appearance, and then she blames the situation that makes her to be a princess.
3.2 Issues on American Teenager in The Princess Diaries
In Albert Einstein high school, which absorbs the culture of America High School, people can find terms like nerd, freak, and popular. Based on the theory of Kinney, the condition is also the same. They usually divide the big groups into two, the nerds and the populars.
“So I was standing there like a total idiot with my stupid tray of stupid salad, which was the only vegetarian entree today, since they ran out of cans of Sterno for the bean and grain bar, and I was like, Who am I going to sit by? There are only about ten tables in our cafeteria, since we have rotating lunch shifts: There’s the table where I sit with Lilly, and then the jock table, the cheerleader table, the rich kid table, the hip-hop table, the druggie table, the drama freak table, the National Honor Society table, the foreign exchange students table, and the table where Tina Hakim Baba sits every day with her bodyguard.”(p.177)
This is the situation when Mia squirrels with Lilly and she doesn’t know whom she will sit with, because she is not included to any of them. She usually sits with Lilly (who is nerd also), Ling Shu (who is a painter), and Shameeka (whom her father is very strict).
This stereotype has been formed since the very first time Mia steps her feet in Albert Einstein, so she cannot that easy to join one of the tables. Finally, she chooses to sit with Tina Hakim Baba and her bodyguard, because students in AE also think Tina is nerd. This is similar to what Kinney, 1993, define before, that popular crowds express significantly higher levels of self-esteem than less popular groups.
In Albert Einstein, people who are considered as popular are they who are rich, athletic for boys, skinny and beautiful for girls, and like to party. They are easy to get along with people.
Meanwhile, people outside sport teams are nerds. Students in Science Club, Computer Club, or Drama Club, have no respect for their existence, but they don’t take it as a problem because they have talent and exist among their group members themselves.
However, for Mia, who is not included in one of any clubs, often being tortured mentally by Lana Weinberger, a cheerleader. This indirectly lowers Mia’s self-confidence even more. She can’t find what her talent is, and she is almost failed in Algebra, too, which depresses her much. “Fat lot of good it did me, too. After he’d collected the test, Mr. Gianini went over the problems on the board, and I got every single one of them wrong anyway” (p.114). This is the quotation when Mia has an Algebra test. She can’t understand Algebra at all because when she has understood one topic, they move to another topic so fast.
From the quotation above, Mia is very poor in Algebra. Therefore, the pressure from her environment is getting worse with the academic pressure. That’s why Mia loses her hope about her existence. This is contrast with what the existentialists said, that fate is not decided by others, we are the one who decides it.(Marsak, 1961). Being nerd, Mia does not think and feel she can change anything. She has not realized the potential within herself.
3.3 Existentialism in The Princess Diaries
From the statements above, Mia is in her struggle to reach her existence in life, which gets many influences from her environment, such as family, teachers, and friends. From three main tenets of existentialism, the writer will analyze one by one, to reveal the goal on how Mia reaches her existence based on the tenets.
Absurdity is the feeling that arises from the confrontation of the world, which is irrational. Mia is feeling the absurdity in her life as well. Instead of the fact that she is freak, but she has to experience thing that she thinks is irrational.
There are four million people in Manhattan, right? That makes about two million of them guys. So out of TWO MILLION guys, she has to go out with Mr. Gianini. She can’t go out with some guy I don’t know. She can’t go out with some guy she met at D’Agostinos or wherever. Oh, no. She has to go out with my Algebra teacher. (p.9)
This can’t be rational for Mia. It’s her expression to face the fact that her mom is dating her algebra teacher. Mia keeps saying, as if her life hasn’t been freak enough, this irrational thing has to happen to her.
Second, she has to accept the reality that she is a princess. For the first time she deny it, and her family said that being a princess is her fate, the blood flowing through her vein is blue blood.
WHAT? A PRINCESS?? ME??? Yeah. Right.
This is how NOT a princess I am. I am so NOT a princess that when my dad started telling me that I was one I totally started crying.
You should see what I look like. You never saw anyone who looked LESS like a princess than I do. I mean, I have really bad hair that isn’t curly or straight; it’s sort of triangular, so I have to wear it really short or I look like a Yield sign. And it isn’t blond or brunette, it’s in the middle, the sort of color they call mouse brown, or dishwater blond. Attractive, huh? And I have a really big mouth and no breasts and feet that look like skis. Lilly says my only attractive feature is my eyes, which are gray, but right then they were all squinty and red-looking since I was trying not to cry. (p.57)
This quote above expresses how Mia reacts to the fact. She can’t accept it and she deny it. Instead of going home, she goes to Central Park Zoo, and after the zoo closing, she goes to Lilly’s house and sleep there.
This action shows that Mia usually runs from something that she can’t accept. However, in absurdity, the expected response to any situation is to live in full consciousness of it. Nevertheless, Mia thinks she has no purpose to life as Mia Thermopolis, and what purpose will she have if in fact she is a princess? In her mind, it will not change anything to be better, but to be worse.
After her father offers one condition and Mia agrees to become a princess, she still does not expect that people will know about it. She just plans that she becomes a princess only on holiday when she goes to Genovia, not here, in Manhattan. However, her Grandmere reveals the secret to the media. The reporters come and flood her school.
“But oh, no. Not my dad. Because he’s a prince. And he says members of the royal family of Genovia do not “go home” when there is a crisis. No, they stay where they are and slug it out.”(p.208)
This quote shows how Mia desperately wants to go home after this incident, and her dad doesn’t let her to do so and Mia can’t insist. She learns to face the problem and solve it. She attends her class and faces her friends. In addition, there is also Lilly who starts to confront Mia about her disagreement on monarchy absolute.
There’s a significance change in Mia’s action in facing the Absurdity. From the first time she runs away from the reality, now she faces it with full consciousness like Camus, 1950, said, with the help of her father.
Alienation is the feeling that someone is a stranger in her own life. Mia often feels like a stranger in her world, because she lives in a world that appreciate beauty and physical appearance, but not heart. She can’t understand this world and can’t stop thinking about it, why person like Lana Weinberger who is really cruel is so popular.
“So here I am again, home on a Saturday night. Not that I’m ever NOT home on a Saturday night, except when I’m with Lilly. Why am I so unpopular? I mean, I know I look weird and stuff, but I really try to be nice to people, you know? You’d think people would value me as a human being and invite me to their parties just because they like my company. It’s not MY fault my hair sticks out the way it does, any more than it’s Lilly’s fault her face looks sort of squished.”(p.102 & 103)
This quote shows that Mia feels herself as a stranger, when she is trapped with her father on Saturday night, while her friends are dating with their boyfriend, and other popular students are partying and having fun.
This feeling can emerge because Mia sees it from the perspective of stereotype in her culture, that normal teenagers should hang out and date. Mia thinks the situation traps her, but in fact, she is trapping herself by looking through other people’s glasses and standards.
On the other hand, in the end of the story, she doesn’t feel she is a stranger when she is with her true friends, like Lilly, Tina, Shameeka, Ling Su, and Michael, because she is accepted as who she is and they are the same. There is no measurement of popularity because they are unpopular together.
“Then a fast song came on and everybody came back, and we sat around and talked about Lilly’s show, which Tina Hakim Baba is now going to be producer of, since we found out she gets $50 a week in allowance (she is going to start borrowing teen romances from the library instead of buying them new so that she can use all of her funds for promoting Lilly Tells It Like It Is). Lilly asked if I’d mind being the topic for next week’s show, titled “The New Monarchy: Royals Who Make a Difference.” I gave her exclusive rights to my first public interview if she’d promise to ask me about my feelings on the meat industry.”(p.305)
From this quote of Mia’s Cultural Diversity Dance’s experience, shows that Mia is having fun after her accident with Josh Ritcher. She feels comfortable among her friends, despite the fact that they are nerd or unpopular. The most important thing, she is not a stranger at all, because she sees in her own glasses and standards.
Anxiety is the feeling of unease someone get when she recognized that life is absurd. This happens to Mia when she knows the truth that seems to destroy her life. First is about her mother’s relationship. She is very anxious if the students in her school know about it. “If people at school find out about this, I’m dead. That’s it. Dead.” (p. 9). This is what she says when she talks about her mother and her algebra teacher. She is afraid if her friends know, because she very concerns with what people think and say about her. For her princess problem, Mia also insists that nobody should know about her status.
“I’ll only be a princess in Genovia, and since the chances of anybody I know from school ever actually going to Genovia are like none, no one here will ever find out, so I’m totally safe from being branded a freak, like Tina Hakim Baba. Well, at least not the kind of freak who has to ride in a chauffeured limo to school every day and be followed by bodyguards.”(p. 151)
This quote is taken from the conversation among Mia, her mother, and her father. She explains if people, and worse, students at school, know about this princess thing, they will mark her as a freak with bodyguard and limo, and she doesn’t want it. She only wants to be a normal teenager.
On the contrary, besides her anxiety, Mia also has her own principles about no meat, no drunk, and no free-sex. “So I just shrugged and went, “No. I try to be respectful of my body and not put a whole lot of toxins into it” (p.244). Mia speaks these sentences when Lana, Josh, and their cheerleader and football friends sit with her in cafeteria. Popular people never sit with nerd, and Mia realizes it, but after becoming a princess, they approach to her and invite her to their party.
This is what Mia always wants for her whole life, being invited to a party. However, she knows she can do nothing in that kind of party, because of her principles. So she reject the invitation by saying her ideology. She doesn’t afraid of what people think about her weird ideology. It’s weird because in America, teenagers drink and do free-sex.
This shows that although Mia’s anxiety is so big about her existence, there is self-principle that makes her even closer to existence itself.
From the three main tenets of existentialism, it can be analyzed through absurdity, alienation, and anxiety. In absurdity, Mia shows that there’s change in her habit when facing the problem. With the indirect help of her father, she tries to face it, not to run away. In alienation, the feeling of being stranger can be vanished after seeing something from own perspective and satisfaction. In anxiety, there’s own individual principles that has to be kept no matter how much anxiety is caused by what people will say.
Existentialism is the matter of individual’s struggle. The writer analyzes three of the main tenets; absurdity, alienation, and anxiety through The Princess Diaries. The writer begins by analyzing the main character, Mia Thermopolis, how she feels like no existence in life. On the other hand, being told that she is a princess in fact changes things in her life. It’s not only because she is a princess, but this fact helps her in reaching existence. How she reaches it is not because of her royal status, but her action, thought, and feeling, which lead to basic existentialism idea, that we reach existence in our own effort.
Through absurdity, the writer find out that Mia experiences significance change from someone who always runs away from problem into someone who faces it. This shows Mia’s action. This change happens because of the support from her father’s words that a princess never runs. Through alienation, from Mia’s feeling that she is a stranger in her world, change into not a stranger. This happens because Mia changes her standards. When she looks around and uses her own standard, she finds that she’s not stranger, different with the higher and popular standard she used before. This shows Mia’s feeling. Third is through anxiety. Mia who always concerns and afraid of what people say and think about her, still can stand for her own principle. This is Mia’s thought. In conclusion, the main character reaches the existence through action, feeling, and thought by the help of people close to her, different perspective to look, and the belief of her own principles she stands for.