Existentialism in the Stranger by Albert Camus
Existentialism in the Stranger by Albert Camus
As humans mature they start to realize that their life has almost always followed a basic routine from childhood till death. This is to go to pre-school, then middle school, then high school, then college, then get a job and get married. A critical tell-tale sign of maturity is when a person starts to take responsibility for their own actions and stops making excuses. Existentialism is a modern philosophical movement largely based on the theory that human existence is unexplainable, that the universe is indifferent and our free choice has a cause and effect to our consequences and that we our responsible for it.
Albert Camus brilliantly demonstrates these existentialist themes in the short story “The Guest” and the novel The Stranger. Three key themes that are displayed in both these literature pieces are freedom, responsibility, and indifference of the world. Freedom is the basic principle on what democracy & the country of America is based upon. It also happens to be the root basis on existentialism and how all humans are capable of free choice, regardless of the circumstance. In The Guest the school teacher Daru is ordered to transfer a prisoner to police headquarters.
In this situation it is presumed that Daru has no choice but to follow orders and take the prisoner, yet he states “every bit of this disgusts me, and first of all your fellow here. But I won’t hand him over. Fight, yes, if I have to. But not that. ” (Camus) Disobeying orders, he firmly puts his foot on the ground and confidently states that he will not in fact deliver the prisoner. As he starts to walk with the prisoner he directs him, “Now look,” the schoolmaster said as he pointed in the direction of the east, ‘”there’s the way to Tinguit. You have a two hour walk.
At Tinguit you’ll find the administration and the police. They are expecting you. “’… Daru took his elbow and turned him rather roughly toward the south… ‘”That’s the trail across the plateau. In a day’s walk from here you’ll find pasturelands and the first nomads. They’ll take you in and shelter you according to their law. “’ (Camus) This free choice is what separates us humans from animals and is the basis of our government. In The Stranger Meursalt gets involved in a conflict between Raymond and a man only known as “The Arab”. Meursalt restrains Raymond from killing the Arab only to return and avenge his friend by shooting, and killing the Arab.
Meursalt did not have any serious reason to kill the Arab, but he had the mindset that life was pointless and he was living for no reason so he decided to do his friends dirty work. Before he kills the Arab “It struck me that all I had to do was to turn, walk away, and think no more about it. ” ( Camus 38) This quote represents the idea of free choice. That he could have just walked away and nothing would have happened but he chose to continue with the murder. These two examples perfectly display how free will largely impacts our lives.
One choice gave a man his freedom, while the other took away a man’s freedom. “With great power, comes great responsibility”. Although this quote comes from the famous comic book adaptation movie Spiderman, it is still regarded as a very important quote which is true in all aspects. As we grow up we start from having no power to slowly gaining power as we grow older. A key idea in Existentialism is that we are all responsible for our own actions, which is shown in everyday life. For example if a person commits armed robbery his punishment will be prison, as that is the result of the action he chose to perform.
This is perfectly shown in both The Guest and The Stranger. In the guest Daru set’s his prisoner free and directs him towards both freedom and capture. The Arab however chooses to take responsibility for his actions “And in that slight haze Daru with heavy heart made out the Arab walking slowly on the road to prison. ” (Camus) In The Stranger, Meursalt makes the conscious decision to kill the Arab and is willing to pay the consequences. He starts shooting the Arab and realizes that “each successive shot was another loud, fateful rap on the door of my undoing.
” (Camus 39) This quote is textual evidence that Meursalt did know he was going to suffer from the aftermath and as he fires the shot each shot symbolically represents fate knocking on his door. He ends up paying for this by going to trial resulting in his eventual death; which he welcomes. These two people from their respective stories both commit murder and take responsibility for their decisions instead of fleeing from reality. The #1 cause in mid-life crisis’ are the realization that life is a routine and some people then choose to go out and do something wild or try to change their life, yet it all comes back to routine.
As mentioned before, everyone in the universe usually follows the same process of school, job, wife, kids etc. Meursalt comes to terms with this and knows that the “the benign indifference of the universe” (Camus 154) will make everything always return to normal. After his mother dies and he talks to his boss about leaving he realizes that nothing will change, he will come back to work after his leave, and continue with regularly life as if nothing had changed. There might be some small changes but everything would be the same. He talks about death and he knows “I’d been right, I was still right, I was always right.
I’d passed my life in a certain way, and I might have passed it in a different way, if I’d felt like it. … What difference could they make to me, the deaths of others, or a mother’s love, or his God; or the way a man decides to live, the fate he thinks he chooses, since one and the same fate was bound to “choose” not only me but thousands of millions of privileged people who, like him, called themselves my brothers,” (Camus 151-152) This quote perfectly represents the existential idea of indifference as it Meursalt lives his life in a way that he could he have changed if he wanted to but it would have still been the same old song and dance.
Death although it temporarily affects people does not linger, and people eventually move on. Although Meursalt had a strained relationship with his mother and seemed to be apathetic he not only concludes that this applies to him, but to everyone in the world. This epiphany is what largely convinces Meursalt to go live his life as he forms a relationship with Marie and starts to gain some experiences. He still seems to be apathetic as when Marie asks him if he loves her he says no and this relapse is the thought process in which he killed the Arab.
These example define the theme of indifference of the universe and how it plays a large factor on how people decide to live their life. Existentialism ideas pop in and out of our lives very often and control the way people think. Albert Camus played upon these themes and put them into text to help us read and truly comprehend them. Free choice, responsibility, and indifference are all around us, and although some may be more important than others they still help keep our id in balance (Sigmund Freud).
Free choice is our conscious mind and what is the most important thing to us, especially as Americans. Free choice is our input to society, whether be good. Responsibility helps keep free choice in check, as all actions have a cause and effect. Indifference of the world has a subliminal input in our lives that may not be shown in everyday life but at certain parts of life. These three ideas are large parts of our lives and how we choose to live it every single day.
Subject: Albert Camus,
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 9 November 2016
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