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The stranger

Camus' The Stranger

Research papers on Albert Camus' existential novel The Stranger show that it is related to the depths of the irrationality of existence Camus presents. Get help understanding Camus' novel by ordering a custom written research paper from Paper Masters.

Camus is usually related to the theme of the absurdity of life, which was a part of the existential philosophy predominating Western philosophy and literature in the 1950s. Existentialism was centered in France and Camus, being French himself, was one of the founding fathers and great existentialist leaders of the movement. "The Stranger" is Camus' quintessential example of existentialism and the main character of Meursault represents the theme of alienation through the absurd that is prolific in Camus work and the existentialist movement. Camus feels that the absurd is found in every day conversation and contact with ordinary people, as well as in literature. According to Cruisckshank, there are four parts to absurdism: routine, sense of time passing, dereliction, and isolation. All four can be seen in the assertion that Meursault's alienation is due to the fact that he embodies the absurd.

"The Stranger" is set in Algeria. The main character is named Meursault. Meursault is the "stranger" of the novel's title. He is estranged from society, and he incurs society's animosity for being estranged. This main character does not rebel against society's conventions and expectations of him. Rather he simply puts them out of his life entirely to live apart from society. Even though Meursault does have friends and does engage in normal social activity such as spending time in a bar, he is nonetheless essentially unaffected by society. He is present in body, but he does not participate emotionally or mentally in society. Meursault is the quintessential example of what Camus would consider to be an absurdist hero. However, this absurd hero status is the ultimate reason why Meursault is the an example of an alienated man.

It is in the part of "The Stranger" dealing with Meursault's trial for murder that the absurdity of society is represented by Camus. The absurdity and emptiness of Meursault's life is not contrasted with society. Rather, it is but a part of the absurdity of life that society as a whole is not free from either. The jurors stand for society as a whole. They represent the absurdity of society in judging Meursault on the basis of his relationship with his mother and his estrangement from society. Meursault had a poor, emotionless relationship with his mother. With respect to society, Meursault does not have the same feelings about basic elements of society--including its value--as the jurors. Basically, the jurors show their prejudice toward Meursault rather than try to judge him for the crime he is accused of on the basis of the evidence and the relevant law. Thus, the perspectives and behavior of the jurors reveal the absurdity in society.

Overall, Camus's "The Stranger" is depressing. It is difficult to relate to the main character Meursault in any way. He had such a lack of feeling that he wasn't even interested in putting up a strong defense against the accusation of murder made against him. Not only was he estranged from society, but he seemed estranged from his own self also. He had no interest in life. Meursault confirms this toward the end of the novel after he has been condemned to death when he tells the priest that he is not disturbed about his coming death because by the nature of life which is absurd, he is destined to die before long in any event. He has been living as if he were dead already, Meursault tells the priest. But I couldn't look to society either as an alternative to the absurdity and emptiness of Meursault. Society was irrational and hopeless in its own way as Camus portrayed it. As Camus implies, accepting society and conforming to it means accepting its absurdities. So there is no escape from absurdity. Although I couldn't relate to this point made by Camus, it did make some sense to me. If Camus does have a valid point, then the estrangement of Meursault is not incomprehensible; although it is difficult to relate to it.

Meursault's attachment to the routine is the first criteria of Crisckshank's definition of the absurd. Meursault illustrates this in the following statement:

Then he asked me if I wasn't interested in a change of life. I said that people never change their lives, that in any case one life was as good as another and that I wasn't dissatisfied with mine here at all. He looked upset and said that I never gave him a straight answer, that I had no ambition, and that that was disastrous in business. So I went back to work. I would rather not have upset him, but I couldn't see any reason to change my life. Looking back on it, I wasn't unhappy. When I was a student, I had lots of ambition like that. But when I had to give up my studies I learned very quickly that none of it really mattered.

The previous statement is an excellent summary of the elements of absurdism in the character of Meursault.His attachment to routine, his isolation and the dereliction of interaction with society set him apart.The theme of The Stranger can be summed up in the ending words "I learned very quickly that none of it really mattered".Whether Meursault was a victim of society or a martyr, he certainly was the epitome of alienation.

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