Existentialism and The Stranger
What is the meaning of life? What determines the fate of an individual? It is of these thoughts that the concept of Existentialism was borne. The concepts underlined by this ideology span many mediums, perhaps most importantly through novels, which helped to make it well known throughout the post WWII era. Of these existential novels, one of the most influential would be that of Albert Camus, The Stranger. It is within the covers of this book that the protagonist, Meursault, depicts his own existential philosophy by questioning not only his own personal existence, but also that of a higher being, as well as showing a disdain for anything worldly or superficial.
As previously stated, questioning one's own existence is a phenomena observed by most existentialists, that's to say, believers in the existential ideology. Meursault undergoes this thought process throughout the novel, constantly questioning his purpose in the grand scheme of things. One such instance, wherein Meursault displays his existential thoughts arises when his boss asks if Meursault would mind taking a job in Paris. His boss implies that by moving to Paris, Meursault would have the opportunity to change his life. However, Meursault thinks that, ...people never change their lives, that in any case one life was as good as another... (Camus 41). In this thought, Meursault highlights his existential approach to answering the question presented to him by his employer by showing that, to him, the whole of human existence is meaningless, that one person's life doesn't mean more than any other person's life. Through this thought process, Meursault fortifies his stance as an existentialist.
To continue, Meursault doesn't simply question his own existence, but also that of any higher beings, namely God. Meursault never once believes in a God throughout the entire novel, not even when the belief in God might offer him salvation from an untimely death. However, he does begin to question the existence of God during his time in prison, albeit, as aforementioned, he does not formally admit to accepting God as the controller, the handler of his fate. When the chaplain, who attempts to find a means with which to release Meursault form prison by asking him to submit to God and admit his existence, the text reads that at that point, ...[he] didn't believe in God (Camus 116), effectively ending any chance at his liberation. This not only exemplifies his steadfastness, but his certainty in the nonexistence of God, which serves as further fortification of his existential beliefs and nature.
In addition to his questions in regards to God's existence as well as the meaning of his own, Meursault also shows a great amount of nonchalance towards such things as worldly desires, as exemplified at the end of his trial, during which Meursault is given the ability to have any final say before he is sent to his cell. Meursault ponders this and responds as depicted by the following quote, I thought about it. I said, No. Thats when they took me away (Camus 107). His response clearly shows his carelessness when it comes to his own life, a staple of Existentialism; the belief that, at any given moment, one's life could end without any positive or adverse affect on anyone or anything else. This helps to explain why so little thought was given to his own well-being as well as further strengthening his existential persona.
In essence, Meursault can be described as nothing else but a true existentialist as he not only questions his own existence, but also that of God, as well as denouncing the importance of worldly desires and pleasures. The novel, The Stranger, by Albert Camus, makes it extremely clear that existentialism is not only the theme of the work, but adds to the meaning of the story as a whole. As professor and writer Daniel S. Burt said, ...[there were many] essential questions raised in The Stranger- how do we live our lives, what is the purpose of our existence... (Burt). This novel answers all of the aforementioned questions and more en route to immersing the reading audience in what it means to be an existentialist through the eyes, thoughts, and actions of perhaps the most famous literary existentialist to ever exist, Meursault.