Three Themes in the Stranger by Albert Camus

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In the novel, The Stranger, author Albert Camus confronts some important issues of the time, and uses the singular viewpoint of the narrator Meursault to develop his philosophy and effectively weave together themes of absurdity, colonialism, and free will. Through the progressive disruption of Meursault’s life and his characterization, Camus presents the absurdity of the human condition along with the understanding that a person can actually be happy in the face of the absurd. Camus also intentionally sets the story in the colonized country of Algeria, and hints at the racial tensions that exist between French-Algerians and Arabs. Indeed, these issues of race and colonialism pervade the events of Meursault’s life and help lead to its eventual downfall. Camus also plays with the idea of free will by contrasting Meursault’s apparent indifference to the world around him and the social morality to which that world is bound.

The notion of absurdity is an ongoing theme throughout the novel and is manifested in Meursault’s unusual psychology of emotional indifference and his condemnation for it later by the courts. The reader is immediately stricken by Meursault’s flat and unemotional response to the death of his mother: “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-etre hier, je ne sais pas. J’ai recu un telegramme de l’asile: ‘Mere decedee. Enterrement demain. Sentiments distingues.’ Cela ne veut rien dire. C’etait peut-etre hier.” (pg.1) Meursault’s characterization remains monotone throughout; his only pleasures are immediate, physical, and fleeting: the taste of a café au lait, the warmth of sun and water, or the touch of his fiancée Marie. In Meursault, Camus describes an absurd state of existence reduced to immediate sensations. One such sensation, consisting of exhaustion, a hot blast of wind from the sea, and temporary blinding by the sun,...
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