The Stranger is Albert Camus’ first and best known work. It is a book on the Philosophy of the Absurd and also an existentialist paper. Albert Camus, himself, summarizes the book up in one sentence. He states that, “I have summarized The Stranger a longtime ago by a sentence which I accept to be quite paradoxical – In our society every man who does not cry at his mother’s funeral risks being sentenced to death – I wanted to say that the hero of the book is sentenced to death because he doesn’t play the game.” The book, The Stranger, is an existentialist piece. The indifference that the character of Meursault shows is a manifestation of the existentialist school of thinking. The indifference of Meursault isolates him from the rest of society and even from the people that he loves. Through the progression of the story we see more and more of the honesty of Meursault which is a channel of expression for his indifference towards certain practices in society.
The Honesty that Meursault uses to manifest his indifference is clearly shown in this passage; “Why do you refuse to see me?” he said. I replied that I didn’t believe in God. He wanted to know whether I was quite sure about that and I said I had no reason for asking myself that question: it didn’t seem to matter. (p. 111). Rather than lie and get a chance at freedom, Meursault tells the truth and is seen as an outsider through that action. There is no other ultimate measure of man’s honesty as when he is confronted with the question of his own existence. When man is confronted with a choice to decide whether or not he will lie or tell the truth in order to save his life, it is often said that the dishonest man would sooner live a lie then die for the truth. In this passage, Meursault reveals that he would rather die than betray his convictions.
These excerpts also reveal that Meursault has no God. The life that is given to man is not a blessing it is more of an obligation. The lack of a God then creates a loss of direction. There is no sense of purpose in life, there is no past, no future, and there is only the present which Meursault lives because he feels that he is given no other choice.
Existentialism does not concern itself with the concept of God or neither does it posit the theory that man’s existence is dependent upon a higher being. Analogously, there is no higher deity that governs man and sets the standards. The only thing that is relevant in existentialism is the present. There is no future, there is no past (Todd 37). This passage clearly shows Meursault’s embodiment of existentialism as he shows here that he really does not care about time. Today or tomorrow does not mean anything to Meursault. Even at his mother’s death, Meursault is still indifferent about the situation and is in fact slightly annoyed (Todd 37). The present is all that matters for Meursault. He is an immediate man who lives only for what is now and what is here.
Meursault erases his past when he feels no sorrow or the death of his mother. There is no more past for Meursault to go back to for his mother is the only link to the past that Meursault has in his life. There is no other family member mentioned in the book who is alive. Meursault has no children, no relatives. He has no past.
Camus also makes sure that the character of Meursault has no future. By not wanting to marry Marie, Meursault annihilates all possibility of future (LeBlanc 138). He shows that the future does not matter to him each and every time he answers that he will only marry Marie if she wants him to because it really does not matter to him.
Having no past and no future, Meursault lives for the present. There are no flashbacks in the story; the foreshadowing can only be derived from the events, never by Meursault himself. Meursault is shown throughout the story as doing things only in the present (LeBlanc 138). This proves that Meursault is indeed an embodiment of existentialism. Living in the present makes it possible for Meursault to live his life without thinking of it as a blessing. Instead, Meursault views life as an obligation. There is something that Meursault feels that he has to do in life but he is never quite able to grasp what it is that he is supposed to live for in his life.
The last paragraph of Part I in The Stranger uses stylistic devices of imagery and diction to illustrate the lack of emotion and to magnify the isolation of Meursault from the world and from society (Todd 37). This entire imagery works together to create the feeling of intense pressure in the actions being carried out by both Meursault and the Arab on the beach. All of it describes what is happening in the physical world, yet none of it deals with how Meursault feels in that situation (whether apprehensive, frightened, or angry) or what he is thinking. Since the imagery of the passage deals only with action and not the emotion, Camus creates the impression that there is no emotion.
This imagery also shows the isolation of Meursault and the existentialism that he embodies. The fact that in the last paragraph of Part I there is no flashback (as is commonly used by writers as transition devices to avoid violent scenes) shows that Meursault lives for the present and that there is nothing else for him except the present (LeBlanc 137). The lack of emotion reveals once again the existentialist way of thinking because it focuses on the isolation of an individual. This isolation of Meursault is not only from society but also from himself, his emotions.
As the philosophy of the absurd comes into issue, it is evident from the piece that Camus presents the theory that man’s struggles to find meaning in life in the context of the universe are absurd because there is no such meaning and therefore only certain failure. The existentialist musings of the protagonist in this case merely serve to prove this point. The human condition of mortality is deeply emphasized in this; for how could man, in his finite lifetime, struggle to define himself against the infinite?
The Stranger is a classical work composed about the absurd and against the absurd. As the last chapter comes to a close and the last thoughts of Meursault are said, it comes to mind that there is not one single unnecessary detail, not one that is returned to later on and used in the argument. There is a realization that there is no other fitting end for the book. This is explained best by the words of Jean-Paul Sarte, “In this world that has been stripped of its causality and presented as absurd, the smallest incident has weight. There is no single one which does not help to lead the hero to a crime and capital punishment.”
Camus, Albert (1942) The Stranger
Todd, O (1998) Albert Camus: A Life, p37, 250, Alfred A. Knopf, 1998; Carroll & Graf, 2000. Actuelles III: Chroniques Algeriennes, 1939–58
LeBlanc, Dr. John Randolph (2004) Ethics and Creativity in the Political thought of Simone Weil and Albert Camus 2004