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Existentialism in The Stranger

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Introduction

Existentialism in The Stranger It was Camus who first introduced the idea of absurdity into the realm of existentialism. To him absurdity springs from man's relation to the world and to exist as a human being in society is inexplicable and wholly absurd. The philosophy of 'The Outsider' is a philosophy of the absurd. Its protagonist, Monsieur Meursault; a middle class bachelor with a painfully simple life, is viewed as indifferent in the eyes of society. He does not care and is not ashamed of it. But his indifference is not one of callousness but stems instead from the 'benign indifference of the universe' in relations to his own existence. Camus has wittingly created his main character as a reflection of his own moral axiom: that life is absurd and nothing else matters besides ones own conscious existence. Meursault is a stranger, an outsider, one who is at constant odds with the absurd society he inhabits. Yet the circumstances he faces mold his perceptions of society and life and shape his consciousness, compelling him to come to terms with his own philosophy of life and to finally make peace with himself. In the early part of the book, the reader sees a Mesault devoid of a spoken consciousness and one who feels total adversity towards society and vice versa. Camus has juxtaposed his character against the norms of society to bring out his stark differences through the usage of Meursault's uncanny ability to register cold, hard facts. ...read more.

Middle

He finds society absurd and it is through this experience that the reader comes to sympathize with Meursault's point of view and evaluates the absurdity of society. While being held, the prison guard converses with him: 'But that's the whole point of it', he said; 'that's why you fellows are kept in prison.' -I don't follow.' - 'Liberty,' he said, 'means that. You're being deprived of your liberty.' It had never before struck me in that light, but I saw his point. 'That's true,' I said. 'Otherwise it wouldn't be a punishment.' Meursault finds this all completely baffling to the point that he has to talk with the warden to find out that prison deprives one of freedom which totally defeats the initial purpose of putting him in jail. While society tries to enforce its ideals on its Meursault, he acts in honest aloofness. In a conversation with the magistrate, "In the same weary tone he asked me a last question: Did I regret what I had done? After thinking a bit, I said that what I felt was less regret than a kind of vexation. But he didn't seem to understand." The magistrate wanted to hear that Meursault felt guilty and sorry for what he had done. Instead, Meursault feels annoyance rather than regret, to the frustration of the magistrate. Faced with these challenges, Meursault attempts to make sense of what is happening around him and through it, tries to understand society. In his cell, he makes a conscious effort to 'learn' about his new surroundings, "I made a point of visualizing every ...read more.

Conclusion

Meursault develops such a rational consciousness that it becomes his moral dogma, his immovable truth. This sudden outburst gradually forces the felt but unspoken philosophy of his existence to emerge into the open, and to finally express itself in words. It was necessary too for it gave him a new sense of direction: I, too, felt ready to start life over again. It was as if that great gush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed so brotherly, made me realize that I'd been happy, and I was happy still. Meursault at last finds peace within himself. Alienated from society and life itself, he finds honor in death, taking nothing from this world with him, for it gave him nothing. The only hope he gains burgeons from his newly found consciousness, which will carry him into the unknown. Thus, Meursault's journey towards discovery and demise can be seen as a celebration of the human consciousness, grounded in the human spirit and its ability to overcome the absurd, to triumph when failure seems so immanent. Meursault finally realizes his estrangement from society and disregards what society thinks about him- as long as he is happy with who he is and what he had done. At the end of it all, Camus' fundamental principle is revealed: Apart from ones own conscious being, all else is otherness, from which one is estranged. ...read more.

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