Absurdism of "The Stranger" by Albert Camus
- from Rebecca Long
- Middletown High School North
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The Stranger, by Albert Camus, is a novel about Meursault and how he is a “stranger” to society. The public has come to know of him as a murderer, which, in the event, he did murder an Arab. But what the public fails to understand about him is his lack of emotions toward killing a man, and even though it shouldn’t be part of the case, Meursault’s failure of mourning over his dead mother’s casket. Society does not understand his existentialistic beliefs. His existentialistic beliefs lead him to believed his life has no meaning. Meursault’s common sense is that everyone dies eventually, and their lives do not matter in the end. Meursault is a “stranger” and an absurdity to society because he does not show any emotions, he has no meaning for life, and his only certainty and guarantee is death. Sources that are used throughout the essay are “Camus and the Novel of the “Absurd”” by Victor Brombert, “Death and Absurdism in Camus’s The Stranger” by Alan Gullette, “The Stranger Theme Philosophical Viewpoints: The Absurd” by Shmoop Editorial Team, “Psychological Interpretation of the Novel The Stranger by Camus” by R. Gnanasekaran, and the novel “The Stranger” by Albert Camus.
Meursault is different from society mentally and emotionally, and society does not even see him as a living being in the ways he shows his emotionless features. Meursault never mourned for his mother at her funeral and refused to see her body in the casket. “Because he is true to his belief, Meursault is judged a monster by society and is condemned to die.” [Gnanasekaran, R. “Psychological Interpretation of the Novel The Stranger by Camus.” International Journal of English Literature and Culture, vol. 2(6), 2014, pp 73-86, Accessed 21 Nov. 2016.] This shows how much society has failed to understand how he feels. Meursault shows no emotions due to the fact that he does not have any meaning in life. He does not feel like his life makes a tremendous difference in the world, along with the Arab he killed. Meursault does not feel any regret for the murder, but is more annoyed by the fact that he killed a man and it is being made such a big deal. He was annoyed and bother with the process of being convicted, that the court has gone off subject to testify him, and that the jury could not see him as a simplistic man with little needs in his life. It is a shame that the whole process of the case was contrived into such a big deal, but in fact, it was and still is a big deal to murder someone. Camus made it seem like all the attention towards Meursault was partially annoying, and since he pleaded guilty and all the evidence pointed towards him, he should serve his jail time for murder like everyone else. When the jury and court finds out that his mother recently died and he did not mourn for her like a “normal person,” they said, “They had before them the basest of crimes, a crime made worse than sordid by the fact that they were dealing with a monster, a man without morals.” [Camus, 95-96]. The fact that the court and jury saw Meursault as a “monster” and “a man without moral” is partially true, but also partially untrue. Considering that Meursault is a believer of Absurdism, his lack of meaning of life causes him to have less morals then the “average” person. Meursault is a “stranger” in society, where society fails to understand that he is not a monster, but a simplistic man with little needs and has different morals then everyone who does not know how he thinks. Meursault is a man who feels that the life of one man is not going to change the whole universe and effect every human being living.
All in all, Meursault is different from society because of his lack of emotion and having a different morals.
Meursault clearly explains his beliefs and how there is ultimately no meaning in life. He does not act like he cares about topics that should be of importance to him, like Marie, his girlfriend, who suggested that they should get married, and his response was, “I said it didn’t make any difference to me and that we could if she wanted to.” [Camus, 41]. Meursault’s lack of motivation to better himself and his life is astonishing. “There is no truth, no certainty, nor any unwavering, non-relative laws in life―and there is no sense in pursuing such impossibilities.” [Shmoop Editorial Team. “The stranger Them Philosophical Viewpoints: The Absurd.” Shmoop University Inc.] It is very challenging to understand that someone could have such disregard for themselves and others, but that is what the life of an Absurdist is like; not a care in the world with no determination to succeed or improve life for themselves. Along with Meursault having no meaning in life, he declines the existence of God, even after being sentenced to execution. “I had only a little time left and I didn’t want to waste it on God.” [Camus, 120]. Meursault’s logic leads him to believe there is no God, and if there was, He would have already led him to understand life and his role in society. But Meursault has not found any religion to comfort him before death but instead is left with his thoughts and the hope to live another day until his inevitable death arrives. His life and everyone else’s life is meaningless to Meursault because to him, he will not be remembered after his execution for being a simplistic man, but a cold-blooded murderer who has no emotions or feelings. Meursault does not have any meaning in life and no understanding of the meaning in other lives around him.
The only certainty that Meursault has and holds onto is that everyone eventually dies. It comforts him to know this due to the fact that he at least knows how and when he is going to die. “But I was sure about me, about everything, surer then he could ever be, sure of my life and sure of my death I had waiting for me.” [Camus, 120]. Meursault is sure of his past, present, and future, unlike the priest he is comparing himself to, who does not know when or how he is going to die. Meursault’s point in this quote is saying at least his death is not a mystery like so many other sitting ducks waiting to pass on from this world. Meursault refuses to turn to God in his last hours of life, despite the priest’s attempts, but instead, he goes through his thoughts and memories to reflect on the past to comfort his nearing end as he knows it. He thinks about how much he misses Marie, he finally understands why his mother took a fiance so close to her own death, and he hopes that there will be a huge and hateful crowd to greet him at his execution so he will at least go out with a bang and be remembered for something.
“The idea of death makes one aware of one’s life, one’s vital being ― that which is impermanent and will one day end. When this vitality is appreciate, one feels free ― for there is no urgency to perform some act that will cancel the possibility of death, seeing as though there is no such act. In this sense, all human activity is absurd, and the real freedom is to be aware of life in its actually and totally, of its beauty and its pain.” [Gullette, Alan. “Death and Absurdism in Camus’s The Stranger.” University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Spring, 1997.
Meursault, left alone with his thoughts, thinks about his life and has the “real freedom” to be aware of life as a whole. He is lost in thought to pass by time when he could not sleep, thinking about the beach and how beautiful it was before he murdered the Arab, and thinking about how beautiful Marie is and what he would do to see her one last time. Meursault feels free because there is no rush to change whether he is going to die or not. His death is set in stone and his deathbed is already laid out for him. The quote above is stating that “all human activity is absurd,” easily compared to Meursault’s beliefs of having no meaning for life and having no reason of motivation. He is “aware of life in its actually and totally,” meaning he knows the full meaning and understanding of life. In “its beauty and its pain” is saying that life has its up and downs. There are beautiful sceneries to see like the sunrise or sunset, or maybe even searching through the stars. But there is also pain, which includes death and emotions, the good days gone bad. Meursault does mention and notice the beautiful sceneries and describes them to the readers. Just seeing the beauty could make his simplistic mind happy. Death to him is just one less person to worry about on this earth. It did not make a difference whether they lived or not. Left with his own thoughts gave Meursault a lot of time to reflect on his experiences and life. Meursault is no longer guaranteed happiness like he was when he was a free man to make his own choices. Being aware of his own death, he learned to cherish it as his only and last guarantee in his life.
Meursault is a stranger to society and an Absurdist to himself. He is not only a stranger to society but a stranger to himself in a way that he does not even understand his own emotions or why he made certain choices. But that is what makes him an Absurdist. Meursault, in his own mind, is a simple man with little needs, but society sees him as an emotionless, meaningless, monster who learns to cherish his only guarantee; death. As a reader, it felt like Camus was playing with the audience’s emotions. It makes the audience want to show emotion to make up for the lack of emotion in the novel. Getting this kind of vibe, as a reader, could make anyone want to never put the classical novel down. The ideas written in the book are intriguing and interesting to study and think deeply about, considering that Meursault is such an ordinary character but different in a way only the readers could possibly connect to. The author brings to notice that Meursault is different from society, an outsider and an alien.
Camus shows that Meursault is different from society emotionally, has no meaning in life, and certainty of his own death.
Brombert, Victor. "Camus and the Novel of the "Absurd" JSTOR. Yale University Press, n.d. Web. Nov.-Dec. 2016.
Gullette, Alan. "Death and Absurdism in Camus's The Stranger by Alan Gullette." Death and Absurdism in Camus's The Stranger by Alan Gullette. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.
Shmoop Editorial Team. "The Stranger Theme of Philosophical Viewpoints: The Absurd."Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.
Vol. 2(6), Pp. 73-86, June 2014, Doi: 10.14662/ijelc2014.024, Copy©Right 2014, and Author(S) Retain The Copyright Of This Article. "Psychological Interpretation of the Novel The Stranger by Camus." Review Psychological Interpretation of the Novel The Stranger (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.