Society and Themes of The Stranger by Albert Camus Essay
Its main character, Meursault, is a young man with quite a blasé attitude toward the trivial things in life and is generally disinterested with the contrived conformities that society imposes on people. Even-keeled and even affable, Meursault enjoys interaction with people a great deal; in fact, he thrives on it. But since he sees all things as mere absurdities, he bores with the things of this life very easily. This is a guy who's truly detached from his emotions; as such, he has difficulty feeling, expressing, or even identifying the existence of emotion within himself. Seen through his eyes, there is no grand purpose in life. There is just existence and the experiencing of that existence. He has passion for nothing and lacks convictions of any kind. Regardless of what occurs in his life, "It's all the same to me" he says. In today's Western culture, Meursault would almost certainly be categorized as having been afflicted with Dysthymia, a condition whose effects are known all too well by many young people.
The Stranger begins as Meursault hears word of his mother's death. He makes plans to go to the home for senior citizens where she had lived for a few years to fulfill the duty of attending her burial. Meursault is noticeably lacking any feeling one way or another about his mother's death, and he is generally disinterested with the whole affair, more or less pressing through it begrudgingly. Unbeknownst to him, this lack of sympathy will actually come back to haunt him and ends up contributing to his demise. When Meursault returns home from the funeral procession, he continues to live moment-to-moment as he always has. The choices he makes from here on out have a spontaneous vigor, but they only serve to worsen his fortunes even more. There are unplanned consequences for Meursault's actions in the near future.
As the story moves on, Camus further demonstrates that Meursault isn't really a misfit, as some readers have come to mistakenly believe. Nor is he the product of an indifferent society; rather, he is an original thinker, a free spirit, and an individual who deliberately marches to the beat of his own drum. He doesn't consciously make a choice to be an outcast from society, nor is he rejected by society. He is merely a regular guy who accepts whatever the moment brings, goes about his life unconcerned with trivialities, and doesn't allow the uncontrollable circumstances of life to move him one way or another. He's at ease with that which is, and will continue to be, unknown. Meursault has faith in nothing except that which he experiences and senses. To him, the beauty of life is its absurdity; the illogical events of life and the lack of explanations behind them are embraced without fear or wonder.
From the opening gates, The Stranger champions existential themes, and Camus is very effective in delivering this philosophy with poignant virtuosity. Among the advocates of Existentialism, Camus (along with Sartre) was one of the most important existential authors and thinkers of the 20th century. Well-known for his spirited, concise, and austere style, Camus was soon recognized among erudite circles around the world as a major literary figure. His belief that life's/mankind's condition is absurd clearly identified him with the Existentialists. He was a proponent of the idea that life, in-and-of itself, is meaningless; thus, life's meaning is solely dependant on whatever meaning we attach to it. Camus' writings are chock full of classic representations of Existentialism, which are embodied in the fictional personas or characters he writes about. The Stranger is no exception, as it plainly represents classic Existential themes.
In fact, Meursault himself IS Existentialism manifested to its core. Camus takes great effort to focus on Meursault's uniqueness, indifference, and isolation in a hostile environment. Meursault is unconcerned with notions of morality. For him, the issue of right and wrong is quite relative to each individual's perspective on the matter; but more to the point, Meursault doesn't see things in the context of being moral nor immoral. In fact, he has no use for morality really; consequently he is decidedly amoral. There are no particular categorization, limitations, or boxing-in of possibilities. Indeed, for him, one man's horror is simply another man's delight and vice versa, nothing more, nothing less. Furthermore, because of the fact that Meursault sees the world in these terms, he is absolved from feelings of guilt or remorse. He's able to exist in almost any situation with the same nonchalant, careless manner and laissez-faire point of view on life. His modus operandi represents freedom of choice, regardless of societal principles or views of those choices, with an acceptance of accountability for their consequences.
Though I enjoyed Camus' writing and lucid style, I did find much of the story to be pointless; which is precisely the point actually. Yet, I personally don't find much pleasure in delving into the type of premise that Camus chooses to explore with his philosophy on life; but that doesn't diminish the book itself. It's certainly an important read and much can be learned from it; in particular its themes are deeper understood once you've begun reflecting on it. If you're new to the Existential perspective, The Stranger is a good place to start getting acquainted with it. Even if you don't agree with the philosophy of Existentialism, you'll learn to understand it better and see things from a different perspective. As I see it, having a broad understanding of many things is key to developing an astute intellect and sound discernment.
Take the time to enjoy this book for what it is. Just don't expect a fairy-tale ending.