In Albert Camus’s “The Stranger”, the absurdity of life from Camus’s eyes are put on display through the main character Meursault. The sense that the meaning of life is in the human experiences and that things shouldn’t be questioned is the basis of who Meursault truly is as a person. These personality traits reveal that Meursault is a perfect example of an existentialist. From Meursault’s strictly physical way of describing the events he comes into contact with, to his lack of feeling and overall withdrawal from everything in his life points towards the characteristics of a perfect existentialist.
Even his view on life and death, with the view being that life truly isn’t worth living, is a direct portrayal of existentialism. Throughout the novel Meursault is portrayed as the absurd hero; the character that not only doesn’t wish he had another fate, but accepts his sentence and does nothing about it. This seemingly illogical and at times frustrating way of thinking is what drives the entire novel.
Therefore, in “The Stranger”, Albert Camus portrays the main character Meursault as the perfect existentialist, demonstrating that life is not only absurd but meaningless as well.
In the novel, Meursault’s situations are described in a unique fashion in the sense that there is no emotional attachment to any of it; only the physical aspects of every situation are recorded or thought by Meursault, which shows the depth of his existentialistic personality. Throughout the novel Meursault’s physical description of things provide the reader with not only the plot of the story but a deeper look into the absurdness of life that Camus believes in.
For instance, upon mourning the death of his mother, whom he refers to as Maman, Meursault takes in the sights of her funeral viewing, such as his the caretaker’s apparel being dressed in “black with pin-striped trousers”, rather that addressing the fact that his mother is indeed dead (Camus 13). He also describes the stand holding his mother’s casket up for the viewing as “walnut-stained planks”(6).The way Meursault seems to disregard his mother’s death and focus mainly upon the more trivial and unimportant aspects reveals a key point in the life of an existentialist; that human emotions can’t be explained and are therefore not expressed at all. Meursault took what seemed to be a traumatic event in his life, being the passing of a family member, and diminished it into an emotionless ordeal that caused him to miss valuable work days. He even goes as far as to describe the moments when his mother was being buried, by saying that “blood-red earth” spilled over her casket and the “white flesh of the roots” mixed in with the dirt (18). Another time, as Meursault is being questioned regarding the murder of the Arab man, he notes the examining magistrate’s “deep-set blue eyes”, even though the severity of the situation was much more than Meursault acknowledged, and also showing that Meursault truly didn’t care that he was being tried in court as a murderer (64). He also describes the tie his lawyer was wearing one day as “odd-looking” and “with broad black and white stripes” (64). This shows that he truly doesn’t care about his predicament at all and that it’s just another meaningless event in his life.
By only describing the physical aspects of life, Meursault reveals another trait of the existentialist; that he doesn’t care about anyone or anything, regardless of who or what it is. Meursault simply goes through his day doing whatever happens and doesn’t do anything about it to change what is happening in his life. This is the viewpoint that Meursault has throughout the novel; that things just happen the way they happen and they are uncontrollable by anyone, especially himself. This view on life is evident especially when he is dealing with the death of his mother. When his boss reveals a little annoyance towards Meursault that he is requesting days off for the funeral of his mother, Meursault replies “It’s not my fault” (1). This emotionless action and overall detachment from his mother’s death shows the reader that Meursault is a true existentialist; that his lack of emotions extents to even the most sensitive places for most, that being family. Also, when Meursault arrives back at his work from his short leave, his boss questions him about his mother Maman. When asked how old Maman was, Meursault replied “about sixty”, claiming he responded in the way he did as to assure that he wasn’t incorrect in saying her age (25). The fact that he doesn’t remember his own mother’s age is yet another example of how Meursault is an existentialist in the sense that he has no feelings towards anyone, even his family. The smallest amount of care or feeling toward a family member would simply be remembering a birthday or an age, which Meursault obviously doesn’t have, so therefore remembering how old his mother was wasn’t important to him at all. Even after his mother passes he never once wonders why his mother had to die at that time in his life, or even something as significant as why she died. He merely accepts the situation at hand and never questions it, which reveals his existentialism even more. His emotional detachment during the novel frustrates many characters that Meursault comes in contact with. They are unable to come to terms with Meursault’s existentialism as a whole, and therefore struggle with him about this throughout the novel. A main example of this is Marie, Meursault’s girlfriend or love interest throughout the novel. Marie falls deeply in love with Meursault after meeting him shortly after the death of Meursault’s mother. Because of this she proposes marriage to Meursault, to which he replies yes, but not for the reasons Marie was hoping for. Meursault agrees to marry Marie because it was what she wanted, and not because of a love or even a desire for her. This is evident when he says the love in question by Marie “didn’t mean anything”, and that he “probably didn’t love her” (41). This shows how little value Meursault truly holds on life; that even the smallest things such as love are not possible to him.
The true existentialist believes that life is worthless and essentially nothing in the overall scheme of things. This personality trait is also found in Meursault in the novel as he deals with many aspects of life and death. Towards the end of the novel, when Meursault is coming to terms that he will spend a great deal of his life in jail and eventually die, the radical and dramatic view of death that Meursault has is revealed to the reader. His view is that his fate doesn’t matter and that death is unavoidable and will happen sooner or later in his life. He comes to terms with the fact that he will indeed die and is comfortable knowing this, which is a rather unsettling thing for majority of people. Meursault is at ease and comfortable knowing that he will die sooner or later in life. This is evident with his numerous refusals to be visited by the chaplain of the jail. After his third refusal, his reasoning was he didn’t “have anything to say to him” (108). The refusal to see a chaplain not only reflects on Meursault’s religious views, but on his view on life itself and how he did not believe life was eternal. By him refusing to see the chaplain he was voicing the opinion that he didn’t believe in God, which stems back to the existentialistic view that the meaning of life is in the human experiences and not in gods or God. Meursault also had the existentialistic viewpoint of death, which was that it would come soon enough and that life really wasn’t worth much. This is evident when, upon thinking about his appeal, he says that “everybody knows life isn’t worth living” (114). This feeling of both worthlessness and nothingness stems directly back to the existential view on life; that there really was no point in it. Meursault came to the realization that whether a person died at a young age or an old age it didn’t matter; that life would still continue on and sooner or later that person would be completely forgotten by everyone, even the people they called close friends or family.
Throughout Albert Camus’s novel “The Stranger”, the idea of existentialism is portrayed through the main character Meursault. His inability to feel emotions and portray them to others is displayed as a major example through the novel.