Absurdism in Camus’ Novel

Absurdism by definition is the belief that human beings exist in a purposeless universe. In Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Camus includes his philosophy of the Absurd through his protagonist Meursault. He uses Meursault’s lack of family and personal relationships to isolate the character and further depict his Absurd ideals. Throughout The Stranger, Camus’ ideas are seen through Meursault’s eyes in many ways: his apathy of the death of his mother, the significance of shooting the gun, and the acceptance of his fate in the prison cell.

The book begins with Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. (Camus, 1) Meursault is unaffected and unsympathetic toward the death of his mother because it makes no difference to his own life. Although he attended the funeral, he did not request to see the body which is unusual. Instead of grieving, Meursault sat around, slept, and drank some coffee like it was any other day. He said that “It occurred to me that anyway one more Sunday was over that Maman was buried now, that I was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed” (Camus, 24). The death of his mother did not affect him and nothing had changed because Meursault was isolated from his mother both before and after her death. Camus begins the book this way to provide an understanding of the character and how he differs from society’s standards. Camus portrays his ideals of the Absurd onto Meursault, to the point where he does not understand the significance of human life yet. Meursault’s apathy over his mother’s death contributed later on to the plot,  as the prosecutor used this to prove his point that the murder was premeditated and that death has no great meaning or importance to Meursault.

Meursault did not grasp the significance of life.  When Meursault is at the beach with Raymond and Masson, they confront the two Arabs but Meursault seems to first think about the insignificance of any action that could be done as for human existence. It was then that I realized that you could either shoot or not shoot” (Camus, 59) and it would have the same outcome: irrelevant in the grand scheme of the universe. The loss of a life is insignificant to the universe as a whole so I fired four more times at the motionless body where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace. And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness(Camus, 57). This act by Meursault was a serious detachment from mankind. He had no specific reason to shoot it more than once but in his head there was no difference between one shot and five. This lack of reasoning is crucial to the novel as a whole because this incident could have been an accident or viewed as self defense but Meursault took it to another level to where it could not prove him innocent and resulting in him receiving the death penalty. Meursault does what he wants and does not demonstrate his feelings or thoughts with the exception of his Absurd views on life.  Camus includes these absurdist views in the novel to portray the characters view point and understanding of life which had not yet fully developed.

As the novel progresses, Meursault makes a realization; human life is only understood at the point of death. He never reflects on the meaning of death for him until he is in prison awaiting his execution. He is in terms with death and is ready to accept it. Meursault’s statement I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world (Camus, 116) is stating that he accepts the Absurdist idea that the universe is indifferent to him. Throughout the novel he comes towards this realization but does not fully understand it until he accepts that he can’t avoid his own death.

The Stranger represents the Absurd because of how Meursault’s character is depicted as well as his actions. From not grieving over his mother’s death, to shooting a man without purpose, and accepting his fate in the prison cell all came down to one thing: Meursault’s Absurd ideals.

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