Good Essay About When I Was A Student, I Had Lots Of Ambitions Like That. But When
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Analysis of The Stranger Using an Existential Lens
Albert Camus’ The Stranger is a classic work of existentialism that examines the life and condemnation of a man who refuses to weep at his mothers funeral. Analyzing it using an existential lens is a useful way of understanding the themes and philosophy that Camus was expressing in the novel. The novel addresses many of the qualities of existential philosophy, featuring a character named Meursault who is unique and alone in an indifferent and meaningless world, rejects many conventions of society, and acts to determine his own destiny. In these ways, Meursault is an existential hero, who represents the absurdity of modern existence.
The first sentence of the book is remarkable and memorable. Meursault gets word that his mother has died, and is far from devastated: "Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know. I got a telegram from the home: 'Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.' That doesn't mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday (Camus 3). His mother lived in a nursing home, and the telegram was unclear about the exact time of death, but to Meursault, it does not matter. This is major existential theme. Throughout the novel, Meursault comments on the inconsequentiality of most everything in life.
When he gets back from his mothers funeral, Meursault reflects that everything was the same, he was going back to work, and “really, nothing had changed.” (24). After his mothers death, Meursault is all alone in the world, he has a girlfriend, but he has few connections, ambitions and lives a simple life.
His girlfriend wants to get married, a traditional and conventional concept in society. However, Meursault does not see the point. When she asks him if he love her, he tells her that “it didn't mean anything but that I didn't think so.” (35). This is again, classic Meursault, and classic existentialism. In an absurd and meaningless world, what good are conventions like marriage, when they try to establish some meaning in a world where there is none. Likewise, Meursault is not very concerned about his career, despite a lucrative job offer in Paris. His boss assumes that like any young man, Meursault would be ambitious and want to pursue his career in Paris. However, Meursault does not want it. To him, a meaningless job in Paris, is the same as a meaningless job in Algeria. Meursault senses the confusion and disappointment in his employer:
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.
I had to give up my studies I learned very quickly that none of it
really mattered." (41)
When Meursault tried to create meaning in his life, by attending college, he learned that it was futile. He believes that trying is a waste of time, because nothing matters.
Meursault makes a major decision when he decides to shoot a man on the beach for no real reason. The sun is in his eyes, he feels the heat, and shoots. In an instant, he “realized that you could either shoot or not shoot."(56) Again, he rejects society, by committing murder. In court, the prosecutors confront him with his anti-social behavior, such as not crying at his mothers funeral. He is called “Mister Antichrist” by the judge (71). Because of his uncaring attitudes, more than the murder of the Arab on the beach, he is despised by the crowds. He realizes their hatred is real and "for the first time in years, I had this stupid urge to cry, because I could feel how much all these people hated me." (90) It also during his trial that Meursault does experience something meaningful and important. He realizes that his execution was something different, because “there was nothing more important than an execution, and that when you come right down to it, it was the only thing a man could truly be interested in" (110).
An important part of existential philosophy is taking responsibility for your own and life and creating personal meaning. Before his execution, faced with his own mortality. Meursault discovers a great deal about himself and life. He realizes that the world was meaningless, but he could embrace and accept that reality on his own terms:
As if that blind rage has washed me clean, rid me of hope;
for the first time, I that night alive with signs and stars, I
opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world
I had been happy and that I was happy again I had only to
wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my
execution and that they greet me with cries of hate." (122-3)
The Stranger clearly illustrates many of the seven qualities of existentialism. Camus created the perfect modern existential man. Clearly, the murder he commits is a lot like life. It makes very little sense. He is indifferent to most realities in life, except the prospect of his own death. Even then, he refuses to mount a defense, believing the entire trial to be a farce, much like most of things he experienced in life. The police and judge are polite and cordial to him throughout the trial, even though they think he is a monster and want him put to death. An absurd situation, Meursault accepts his fate and spends most of his time sleeping in his cell. Finally, he is sentenced to death, and finally loses all hope, and at least hopes for a crowd at his death, and they could should at him with hate, because at least that would mean something.
Camus, Albert, and Matthew Ward. The Stranger. New York: Vintage International,
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