INDIVIDUALITY VERSUS CONFORMITY INTRODUCTION : At the time of the story, many people of the « older generation » were troubled by the social confusion seen in the 60’s and the development of individuality and freedom amongst the « younger generation”. The story shows the contrast between individuality and conformity. Through this book we can see Harold’s evolution. Firstly he is a conformist because of his education, and he learns to become free and an individual. He learns to live for himself and not for the others. The individuality is represented by Maude, she doesn’t accept the rules of the society.
She does whatever she wants and she loves life. She sets about changing Harold, teaching him the joys of life. All the other characters are conformist and very conventional. Mrs. Chasen, the psychiatrist, Uncle Victor, and the priest fail to persuade Harold to adopt a conventional lifestyle that they would feel comfortable with and which they would pretend to enjoy. CONFORMITY: Most of the characters are conventional. For example Harold’s mother represents the conformity: she is part of the high society, she believes in values like marriage, Church, patriotism. She worries about appearances to be well accepted in the “good” ociety and therefore she wants
A career in the army is the only way a man can choose if he doesn’t want to be married, in the conformist vision of course. The psychiatrist enforce all the ideas of conformity developed in the book by pseudo-scientific assumptions. He works without taking any real consideration to the true personality of his patients. He wants to bring Harold back to more conventional behaviour, disregarding the reasons and the context of his strange attitude. INDIVIDUALITY Maude represents freedom and individuality , she is a free-spirited older woman who’s high on life.
She doesn’t respect the traditional values of law and order, « liberating » a dying tree, reckless driving without a license, « borrowing » other’s cars, stealing the cop’s motorcycle amongst other examples. Maude philosophizes continuously about living life to the fullest, about rebellion and nonconformity, about individualism, spontaneity and libertarian attitudes. Maude loves trying something new, like driving Harold’s hearse: MAUDE (p. 25) “I like to keep a variety. I’m always looking for the new experience, like this one. ” She is always looking for new enriching xperiences unlike the conventional people trying to stay in the normality. Despite of her age, her vision of life makes her look younger than most of all other characters. HAROLD’S EVOLUTION ON INDIVIDUALITY: Everyone wants Harold to live his life in the way they recommend: Mrs. Chasen wants him to marry a nice young woman and drive a nice sport car; Uncle Victor wants him to « take on a man’s job » in the Army and die for his country « like Nathan Hale »; the priest wants Harold to marry someone who can give him children; the psychiatrist thinks Harold’s « alienation from the regular social interaction » can be isolated and coped with.
Harold is part of a society in which he has no personal importance; and existentially, therefore, his life is without meaning. The conventional world where Harold was imprisoned by his mother was destroyed by Maude’s behaviour: HAROLD (p. 25)asked to maude: “But when you take these cars don’t you think you are wronging the owners? ” Their different takes on life is what Harold and Maude focus on: MAUDE (p. 39-40) “. . . Harold, what flower would you like to be? HAROLD I don’t know. Maybe one of those. MAUDE Why do you say that? HAROLD Because they’re all the same.
MAUDE . . . Oooh, but they are not. . . . all kinds of observable differences . . . ” MAUDE (p. 46) “Each person is different, never existed before, and never to exist again… An individual. ” This could be a metaphor of the sixties society. Harold represents here the conformist vision of life: A person, as a flower, is only one amongst others. Unlike Harold, Maude considers every person as an exceptional and unique individual. Harold, influenced by Maude, is learning that life is not just about rules, but about exceptions, especially concerning individuals.
He demonstrates this new direction by presenting her a single daisy in a vase. This direction is further enforced by the Cat Stevens’ lyrics : « If you want to be free, be free. Because there are a million things to be, you know that there are. » Harold is subjected to the rules of the society. After helping Maude save the tree, Harold expresses his true feelings for the first time, with a little help from one of Maude’s plant friends. He begins to change more and more during the story. He change his mind moving from a conformist vision to a more individual one. Finally, he fully enjoys life.