Essay On The Stranger By Albert Camus

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The Stranger by Albert Camus Essay

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The Stranger Essay If people were to accept that absurdism exists then that would mean that life is irrational and has no arrangements of any sort. This would mean that everything mankind has done so far to progress itself through society and religion means absolutely nothing because both are used to control chaos from happening in the first place. Consequently, if a person is known to be an absurdist, people would generally think that means someone who lives a life without any meaning. However, this is not true because a life can be lived out rationally or irrationally and be meaningful at the same time because it is a choice.

The Stranger, written by Albert Camus, takes place in Algeria in the mid 1940’s. Around this time period, the French had colonized this area and considered themselves to be superior to the Arabs. Though this story does show the racism that the French projects onto the Arabs, Camus also uses this book to teach readers the idea of what can be meaningful to the lives of humans as well as how the philosophy of absurdity fits into it. Absurdity basically means that the world is so full of nonsense that it is almost impossible to find any sort of meaning in life so therefore everything is meaningless.

Camus use this as his own philosophy to understand why the world is the way it is. He then applied this notion in his book called The Stranger as a medium to explore this very idea because if there were to be absolutely no logic, no rationality, or any type of structure in the existence of the human race then everything is simply insignificant. The antagonist in this allegory is named Meursault, who is sent to trial after he shoots an Arab. Camus tells this story to map out and explain his philosophy on “the absurd” through Meursault experience from ignorance to self-acknowledgment of the world the antagonist lives in.

Although he is sent to trial for the murder of the Arab man, Meursault, in actuality, is being tried because of his lack of emotions and his ultimate rejection of God. As a result, Meursault is forced to finally analyze for himself as well as to question and to conclude about how he is the way he is and what he can do to make his life meaningful. Meursault shows himself to be a nonconformist in such that he does not abide the proper social conduct in the society he lives in. He is unfairly judged by society because he exhibits no emotions of any kind at his mother’s funeral.

In a community where the principle belief that emotional displays are the necessary and correct response to traumatic events such as in Meursault’s case (his mother’s death) means that there is a standard that is applied to all people. But because the protagonist is shown to be a rebel he does not obey the expected behavior of mourning that society wants him to show. Society asks “has [Meursault] uttered a word of regret for his most odious crimes? Not one word, gentlemen. Not once in the course of these proceedings did this man show the least contrition (Camus 126). Meursault finally understands that he is in a paradoxical situation where he is judged for showing the lack of feelings rather than his murdering of the Arab man. In the courtroom, the jury represents society’s ethics in which Meursault is being judge while the spectators in the courtroom represent society who are there to pass views on him. He eventually is put on the death penalty because of his nonconformist attitude. Another example that shows the protagonist to be a social misfit is that Meursault believes all men are equal in a sense that no one can ever escape death even if they were a Christian or not.

He explains that “every man alive was privileged; there [are] only one class of men, the privileged class. All alike would be condemn to die one day; his turn, too, would come like the others (Camus 152). ” He even goes on to say that Old Salamano’s dog was worth just as much as Old Salamano’s wife in view of the fact that like all humans, dogs will eventually die as well. So the life of a human can’t be more special than that of a dog since both organisms are made equal by death. The protagonist is an absolute rebel because he is passive, detached, and emotionless but because of it he can understand how society works.

Though Meursault recognizes that religion was made by man in an attempt to create meaning to an existence he does not believe that God can help any individual escape death because everyone will eventually die. To accept Christianity would mean the possibility of going to Heaven thus escaping death. This is a belief held by people so that they could have a sense of significance. Meursault provokes this idea and clearly says out loud that he does not believe in God. When the magistrate ask Meursault “if [he] believed in God. [Meursault] said no. [Magistrate said] all men believed in God, even hose who rejects him [… ] if ever he came to doubt it, his life would lose all meaning. “Do you wish my life to have no meaning(Camus 86)? ” The magistrate places the meaning of his existence on his faith in God while Meursault rejects that idea that the rest of society seems to be accepting and dismisses it. Meursault challenges religion even before his own death by denouncing God and as a backlash, Meursault is made to be a “hardened” criminal. When he is visited by the chaplain, Meursault suddenly has an epiphany and “told him not to waste[… ] his prayers on [him]. Meursault] wasn’t even sure [the chaplain]was alive, because he was living like a dead man […]. Actually, I was so sure of myself, far surer then he; sure of my present life and of the death that was coming […] but at least that certainty was something I could at least get my teeth into-just as it had got its teeth into me (Camus 151). ” Because the chaplain uses religion to get a ticket into the afterlife, Meursault says “he was living like a dead man. ” The protagonist lives his life in the present and he does not care about the so-called a “after-life. This is where Meursault finally begins to transform from a passive person into someone who forms their own opinions. Meursault regards life and death simply because if everyone’s going to die, God shouldn’t matter anyway. Meursault is content being a spectator in life and is aware that he does exist, however he does not know if everyone else exists as well and in account of that he forces himself to be isolated and detached from society since he does not know how to handle emotions. In the beginning Meursault feels no personal guilt for killing the Arab yet he somehow knows that he has done something wrong within himself.

When Meursault killed the Arab he “fired four shots more into the inert body […] and each successive shot was another loud, faithful rap on the door of my undoing (Camus 76). ” Even after the Arab was long dead, Meursault still shoots the gun four more times and he never stops himself. When questioned for the killing, Meursault takes the blame for the shooting the four bullets but not for the very first one because “the trigger gave. ” This behavior is only capable of someone who is detached from society. When he goes to jail, the protagonist seems to come off as a free being rather than outside of it.

Even though he is lacking in emotions and he lives in a prison, Meursault is free from societal oppression. With all the questioning he receives from the jury as well as his own lawyer, he is force to think for himself why society the way it does and how does religion goes into it. Meursault says in his final thoughts before being executed that in order “ for [him] to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of [his] execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that hey should greet [him] with howls of execration (Camus 154). Meursault now makes his own pathway by making his own choices on how to look at life and what is meaningful to him in it. He finally accepts that life itself lacks rationality and meaning anyway and does not need any form of order to find meaning. An interesting thing to note is that Meursault sees his execution as his graduation ceremony of his new acquired philosophy (which would be his diploma). The main point is not for Meursault to feel less alone but it’s that he can choose whether or not he wants to be.

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Meursault is aware of this ability, and that this is what defines his revelation. Society believes Meursault to be immoral because of his detachment and he is put on trial more for his abnormal characteristics than his crime. Camus use of writing about an existentialist allegory show’s Meursault’s journey of becoming enlighten. Although at first, Meursault uses his isolation to live a simple life because it is the path of least resistance he also uses his detachment from society to finally understands that he has the ability to make his own choices.

Author: Brandon Johnson

in The Stranger

The Stranger by Albert Camus Essay

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Death and Absurdism in Camus's The Stranger


Alan Gullette


University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Spring 1979 (March 5, 1979)

English 3237: Fiction of the Absurd

Prof. Richard Penner



In his novel The Stranger1, Albert Camus gives expression to his philosophy of the absurd.The novel is a first-person account of the life of M. Meursault from the time of his mother's death up to a time evidently just before his execution for the murder of an Arab.The central theme is that the significance of human life is understood only in light of mortality, or the fact of death; and in showing Meursault's consciousness change through the course of events, Camus shows how facing the possibility of death does have an effect on one's perception of life.

The novel begins with the death of Meursault's mother.Although he attends the funeral, he does not request to see the body, though he finds it interesting to think about the effects of heat and humidity on the rate of a body's decay (8).It is evident that he is almost totally unaffected by his mother's death – nothing changes in his life.In other words, her death has little or no real significance for him.When he hears Salamano, a neighbor, weeping over his lost dog (which has evidently died), Meursault thinks of his mother – but he is unaware of the association his mind has made.In fact, he chooses not to dwell on the matter but goes to sleep instead (50).

It is when he is on the beach with Raymond Sintès and M. Masson and they confront two Arabs (who have given Raymond trouble) that Meursault first seems to think about the insignificance of any action – therefore of human existence.He has a gun and it occurs to him that he could shoot or not shoot and that it would come to the same thing (72).The loss of a life would have no significance – no affect on life as a whole; and the universe itself is apparently totally indifferent to everything.Here he implicitly denies the existence of God, and thus denies morality, as well as the "external" meaning (if it may be so distinguished from the internal or individual existential meaning) of life and death.(This latter, existential meaning is later affirmed, as we shall see.)Meursault kills one of the Arabs in a moment of confusion, partially out of self-defense, but does not regret it eve though it means going to prison and, ultimately, being executed.He has the fatalistic feeling that "what's done is done," and later explains that he has never regretted anything because he has always been to absorbed by the present moment or by the immediate future to dwell on the past (127).

In a sense, Meursault is always aware of the meaninglessness of all endeavors in the face of death:he has no ambition to advance socio-economically; he is indifferent about being friends with Raymond and about marrying Marie; etc.But this awareness is somehow never intense enough to involve self-awareness – that is, he never reflects on the meaning of death for him – until he is in prison awaiting execution.Of course, the "meaning" of another's death is quite difference from the "meaning" of one's own death.With the former, one no longer sees that person again; with the latter, one's very consciousness, as far as we know, just ends – blit! – as a television picture ends when the set is switched off.Death marks all things equal, and equally absurd.And death itself is absurd in the sense that reason or the rational mind cannot deal with it:it is a foregone conclusion, yet it remains an unrealized possibility until some indeterminate future time.The "meaning" of death is not rational but, again, is existential – its implications are to be found not in abstraction but in the actuality of one's life, the finality of each moment.

Before his trial, Meursault passes the time in prison by sleeping, by reading over and over the newspaper story about the (unrelated) murder of a Czech, and by recreating a mental picture of his room at home in complete detail, down to the scratches in the furniture.In this connection, it must be admitted that he is externally very sensitive and aware, despite his lack of self-understanding and emotional response.This is evidence by his detailed descriptions.He is especially sensitive to natural beauty – the beach, the glistening water, the shade, the reed music, swimming, making love to Marie, the evening hour he like so much, etc.He even says that if forced to live in a hollow tree truck, he would be content to watch the sky, passing birds, and clouds (95).

After his trial (in which he is sentenced to be executed), he no longer indulges in his memories or passes the time in the frivolous way he was accustomed to spend Sundays at home.At first, he dwells on thoughts of escape.He cannot reconcile the contingency of his sentence (Why guilt? Why sentenced by a French court rather than a Chinese one?Why was the verdict read at eight pm rather than at five? etc.) with the mechanical certainty of the process that leads inevitably to his death (137).When he gives up trying to find a loophole, he finds his mind ever returning either to the fear that dawn would bring the guards who would lead him to be executed, or to the hope that his appear will be granted.To try to distract himself from these thoughts, he forces himself to study the sky or to listen to the beating of his heart – but the changing light reminds him of the passing of time towards dawn, and he cannot imagine his heart ever stopping.In dwelling on the chance of an appeal, he is forced to consider the possibility of denial and thus of execution; therefore, he must face the fact of his death – whether it comes now or later.One he really, honestly admits death's inevitability, he allows himself to consider the chance of a successful appeal – of being set free to live perhaps forth more years before dying.Now he begins to see the value of each moment of the life before death.Because of death, nothing matters – except being alive.The meaning, value, significance of life is only seen in light of death, yet most people miss it through the denial of death.The hope of longer life brings Meursault great joy.

Perhaps to end the maddening uncertainty and thus intensify his awareness of death's inevitability (therefore of the actuality of life), or, less likely, as a gesture of hopelessness, Meursault turns down his right to appeal (144).Soon afterwards, the prison chaplain insists on talking to him.Meursault admits his fear but denies despair and has no interest in the chaplain's belie in an afterlife.He flies into rage, finally, at the chaplain's persistence, for he realizes that the chaplain has not adequately assessed the human condition (death being the end of life) – or, if he has, the chaplain's certainties have no meaning for Meursault and have not the real value of, say, a strand of a woman's hair (151).Meursault, on the other hand, is absolutely certain about his own life and forthcoming death.His rush of anger cleanses him and empties him of hope, thus allowing him finally to open up -- completely and for the last time -- to the "benign indifference of the universe" (154).He realizes that he always been happy.

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.


Professor's Comment:

A thoughtful and carefully constructed paper.As Wallace Stevens says in his poem "Sunday Morning," "Death is the mother of beauty." Grade: A. [Richard Penner]


Web Links and Further Information


Albert Camus [brief entry and links]




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