A Hero Within
Albert Camus’ The Stranger follows the life of Meursault, an Algerian man, who is also the protagonist and narrator of the novel. Divided into two parts, the narrative offers a comprehensive, albeit detached, account of Meursault’s life before and after he commits a senseless, apparently unprovoked slaying. As Meursault starts off as removed, emotionless man without a care for his friends and family aspects of Camus’s philosophy of the “absurd” can be uncovered. On the surface, Meursault’s apathy and indifference signify not a failed man, but an fully, self-aware absurd one however; it is not until Meursault is faced with the absurdity of the human condition during his murder trial and subsequent death sentencing that he truly develops into the “absurd hero”. At the core of the Camusian notion of the “absurd” is the claim that there is a fundamental struggle between what one wants from life and what he or she actually receives (Handout). What one naturally seeks from the life is meaning and/or rational order yet, what he or she ultimately finds is pandemonium (Handout). One can search the universe far and wide and never find the answers he or she so anxiously yearns to discover. This constant search for meaning is known as the human condition. The human condition is the natural longing to impose meaning and order in a world without it. The basis of the absurd human condition is the conflict between one’s desires for significance or meaning and the unresponsive, callous world they eventually encounter. According to Camus, this is essentially the “absurd”. The “absurd hero” could then be characterized as an individual that fully accepts and embraces this absurd condition. Upon first glance one might believe Meursault lives his life in the manner of a man completely aware of the absurd. At the start of the novel readers discover that Meursault’s mother, who resides in a nursing home, has recently passed away. When recounting his mother’s death, Meursault says, “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know” (Camus 3). At her memorial, to the shock of everyone around him, Meursault fails to convey any remorse or sorrow for his mother’s death. In fact, Meursault is seemingly irritated by his mother’s friend’s cries (11). While preparing for work the following day Meaursault states, “… Maman was buried now, that I was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed” (24). It is obvious that the death of his mother holds no substantial importance for Meursault and he refuses to pretend that it does. On this occasion, Meursault is rejecting the human condition. He is not desperately searching for the implications of his mother’s death because knows it would ultimately be a futile attempt. He is aware that life cannot supply the answers to his questions so he simply does not ask them. Thus, he remains unfazed by his mother’s passing and swiftly moves on with his life. This is not the only instance where one can see Meursault seemingly reject the human condition and take it as a sign of his awareness of the “absurd”. During Meursault’s entire relationship with a former colleague named Marie Cardona his refusal to seek out the importance of the events and relationships in his life becomes painfully obvious. Early on in their relationship it is evident that it is strictly physical for Meursault. He does not describe Marie in the manner one would expect of a caring partner. Rather, he merely views her as a sexual object and he is instantly aroused whenever he sees her on several occasions (Camus 35). Like Meursault, Marie also relishes in physical contact. She embraces Meursault in public on numerous occasions and also takes pleasure in sexual activity (43). However, unlike Meursault’s physical affection for Marie, Marie’s physical affection for Meursault signals a much deeper sentimental and poignant attachment. For Meursault, their relationship lacks any real significance and he makes no attempt...
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