Christian RampersadENG4UMs. Lidstone7 December 2017Absurdism in The StrangerIn Albert Camus’s The Stranger, the protagonist, Meursault, a man who is emotionally detached to the world around him, is treated by society as an outsider or a stranger as the title suggests.
Meursault does not try to justify or understand the actions of others, he is content with whatever decisions people make as he conditions himself to bare with any situation. Meursault does not conform to social norms when it comes to relationships with strangers, friends and family. Society scrutinizes Meursault for his indifference to the world, ultimately sentencing him to be executed. By using various different theoretical perspectives it enables the meaning of the work to be exposed as a whole. Firstly, through the theoretical perspective of the philosophical school of thought, Absurdism, we are better able to understand the irrational and illogical actions of Meursault. Secondly, Meursault continuously isolates himself from society and emotions as a way of avoiding the absurd; therefore, by viewing this isolated behaviour through the Freudian school of thought we are better able to account for the manner in which Meursault deals with the Absurd until he eventually comes to terms and accepts it. Thirdly, Meursault is ostracized by society for his lack of emotions and amoral behaviour and his refusal to conform to the societal norm, which is made clear during his trial, this concept mirrors the universally present theme of Marxism.
Firstly, the term absurdism stems from a branch of philosophy known as existentialism. Absurdism is a concept that highlights man’s futile search for meaning in a meaningless universe. Camus states that there are three responses to the absurd, physical suicide, philosophical suicide and acceptance.
Physical suicide is the most fitting response to the absurd as it puts an end to a life of meaninglessness; however, this is not very fruitful and it does not counter the absurd, if anything it makes the world more absurd. Camus claims that people who find meaning in the concept of god have taken a leap of faith and committed philosophical suicide. By removing religious philosophy and ignoring the idea of suicide, one is left with acceptance to the absurd. Camus suggests that by accepting that the world is devoid of meaning and absolutes man becomes free to create their own unique meaning in life with the futile and meaningless events that they experience on a day to day basis. In the novel, Meursault often refers to events that society would consider meaningful as meaningless. In the novel when Meursault receives news of his mother’s death he responds by saying, “Maman died today.
Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: ‘Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow.
Faithfully yours.’ That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.” (Orwell 1). Also when his lover, Marie, asks for his hand in marriage Meursault shows no emotion as per usual, “Marie came that evening and asked me if I’d marry her. I said I didn’t mind; if she was keen on it, we’d get married. Then she asked me again if I loved her. I replied, much as before, that her question meant nothing or next to nothing—but I supposed I didn’t.
“If that’s how you feel,” she said, “why marry me?” I explained that it had no importance really, but, if it would give her pleasure, we could get married right away. I pointed out that, anyhow, the suggestion came from her; as for me, I’d merely said, “Yes.” Then she remarked that marriage was a serious matter. To which I answered: “No.” She kept silent after that…” (Orwell 40). These two quotations shows the character of Meursault. When Meursault received news of his mother’s death he was more concerned about the date of her death as opposed to the fact that she died. Camus creates the apathetic Meursault by opening the novel with that quotation.
Meursault is more concerned with present day events and the weather, he does not conform to societal norms and has no interest in pretending to grieve over his mother’s death. His lack of emotion and reason will result in Meursault’s demise at the climax of the novel during his trial. Furthermore, not only is his mother’s death insignificant but so is the vocation of marriage.
When Marie asks for Meursault to marry her Meursault replies as honestly as possible, in the quotation, it is evident that the emotional elements of marriage never entered his head nor does he understand the emotional sensitivity of Marie. Meursault sees marriage as meaningless and sees life no different as a married man or as a single man. Furthermore, Meursault’s employer offered for him to work at their new office in Paris as well as he would have paid time off to travel around. Meursault’s boss thought that it would be appropriate for Meursault’s age. Meursault answers as honestly as he can by saying, “I told him I was quite prepared to go; but really I didn’t care much one way or the other. He then asked if a “change of life,” as he called it, didn’t appeal to me, and I answered that one never changed his way of life; one life was as good as another, and my present one suited me quite well. At this he looked rather hurt, and told me that I always shilly-shallied, and that I lacked ambition—a grave defect, to his mind, when one was in business.” (Orwell 40).
In this quotation Camus suggests how equally meaningless one life is to the other as Meursault explains to his boss as one never changes their way of life. By Meursault saying that a change in life didn’t appeal to him he is indirectly referring to the absurd concept that life is so irrational and random that one cannot necessarily change the events and randomness that life throws at them as it is beyond their control. Camus makes the personality of Meursault mirror that of the absurd; however, Meursault does not grasp the concept of the Absurd until the end of the novel when he awaits his certain death while sitting in a prison cell. In the cell Meursault reaches an epiphany in which he states, “As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again.
For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.” (Orwell 116). In the closing sentences of the novel Meursault recognizes the absurdity in life upon recognizing that his certain death awaits him. Meursault recognizes the fact that the world is no different to him, random and illogical, and that he can embrace it and call it brother. He only ever wants what interests him and that was “to feel less alone” even if that be the spectator that “greet him with cries of hate” on the day of his execution.
His death does not worry him as it is the only thing that is certain and inevitable in life, it would prove futile to fight; as a result, Meursault only wants to feel less alone as a result until that time reaches. He does not mind being a hated criminal nor the company he seeks be that of the angry crowd present on the day of his execution. Secondly, the theme of isolation is consistent throughout the novel.
Meursault is detached from his mother, his lover, his friends, normal logic and empathy. The isolation apparent in Meursault’s life is a result of him trying to avoid more unnecessary meaningless in his life, this isolation ultimately allows him to reach an epiphany in which he comes to terms with the fact that life itself is absurd and meaningless and irrational which mirrors his personality. Meursault only has a relationship with Marie due to sex which interests him, he does not see the difference between love and lust, he does not have much interest in heavy conversation with her as he sees that as meaningless as well. In the beginning of the novel Meursault falls asleep on the bus, he recounts, “When I woke I was leaning against a soldier; he grinned and asked me if I’d come from a long way off, and I just nodded, to cut things short. I wasn’t in a mood for talking.”