The Paper of the Absurd: A Literary Analysis of The Stranger
By: Michael Lovett
Advanced Placement English Language and Compositions
13th of December, 2010
In Albert Camus’ existential novel The Stranger, the pointlessness of life and existence is exposed and expounded upon in such a manner that the entire foundation of spirituality is shaken. The concept that drives this novel is one coined by Albert Camus himself, the “absurd”. Under the absurd, life is pointless and holds no meaning. One lives merely to fulfill the obligation of living. Also, every possible action conceivable is governed by the static tools of chance and coincidence. The dynamic character, Meursault, is the primary outlet that Camus uses to apply this concept. He, Meursault, lives out a relatively normal life of indifference until the pivotal climax of the novel changes him. It is at this point that he acknowledges the absurdity of his situation and begins the inevitable acceptance of his own futile existence.
Throughout the beginning of the novel, one can’t help but to notice the indifference and “listless detachment” (Oxford Companion 101) of Meursault. From the very first page, we begin to realize the depth of his lack of feelings: “Maman died today. Or Maybe yesterday. I don’t know” (Camus 3). It is obvious that after his own mother dies, he shows no sentiment (Magill 346). Shortly after the funeral is complete, he grabs the hand of a woman he once knew and quickly forgets the incidents of his tragic loss. The depth of his indifference flows throughout the entire novel. “I said I didn’t think anything except that it was interesting” (Camus 32), “I told her [Marie] that it didn’t mean anything” (Camus 35), “For some reason, I thought of Maman. But I had to get up early the next morning…and I went to bed without any dinner” (Camus 39). As one can tell, Meursault has an abundance of nothingness as it relates to feelings. He feels nothing Michael Lovett 3
for anyone including his loving girlfriend, his only mentioned friend, his own mother, or even himself (Schellinger 1289, Brombert 121). He attempts no thoughts at explaining the universe or anything of the nature. He simply plays the role of man as the personification of “cosmic indifference” (Books Abroad 234). He cares for nothing and expects nothing to care for him. He in his entirety is the perfect example of one in the early stages of the absurd. He recognizes that life has no meaning but he hasn’t reached beyond that point. Thus far, the only true way to describe Meursault is a man of nihilistic beliefs (Girard 519).
Behind the scenes of Meursault’s life, the tools of chance and coincidence are shaping his future, for the good or bad, one cannot be sure. One series of coincidental happenings proves themselves to be the most devastating of all. Meursault happens to hear the rumors of a man named Raymond. Later that day, he happens to bump into him in the hall. Raymond happens to have food in his apartment and Meursault was a little hungry. They both went up and ate and Meursault happens to notice the bandage on Raymond’s hand. Raymond happens to ask Meursault to write a note that was designed to socially destroy Raymond’s cheating mistress. Meursault’s indifference prevails and he doesn’t mind writing it. The note was a success and these two people happens to become friends. Raymond’s friend happens to invite the two for a weekend on the beach and Meursault happened to be free. The three men happens to take a stroll down the beach together and bump into the Arabs that Raymond has a problem with. Raymond happens to slip Meursault his gun so he can take the Arab on, man to man. Raymond wins and the Arabs flee, coincidently down the beach. The three men head home but Michael Lovett 4
Meursault happens to want to stay. He happens to forget the gun in his pocket and walks down the beach. He happens to bump into the Arab that Raymond hit. The two stare...
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