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World Literature Essay

Albert Camus Depiction of Absurdism Through the Perspective of

Meursault in The Stranger

Chandler High School

IB School: 000229
Candidate Number: 000229-0080
Session: May 2016
Word Count: 1,349


Reflective Statement The Stranger

The second interactive oral on The Stranger gave great insight on how the death

penalty, despite how controversial it is in the status quo, wasnt always so. The fact that

something so ethically controversial can be agreed upon in different communities

highlights the power of culture and its influence on individual decision-making.

Specifically in France during the French Revolution, capital punishment was a common

method of punishment for crimes, starting with the creation of the guillotine as a quick

method of execution. This is culturally significant because the paper is set in Algiers, a

city that was a territory occupied by the French; Meursaults death penalty then could be

justified from French cultural influence on the criminal justice system. Even though the

death penalty is a highly controversial ethical issue today, the presentation made the

important point that execution itself was an importance way to show societal catharsis in

the sense that the only way that a murderer can be atoned is if they re taken out of society

as well (which is pretty ironic).

Camus struggles with the death penalty gave us a good understanding of how his

beliefs influenced The Stranger. Camus moral dilemma consisted of the arbitrariness of

the death penalty, represented when Meursault deals with the consequences of murder not

on a factual basis but rather on a societal basis, where he was punished more for

nonconformity rather than murder. This reinforces the notion that death penalty is more

of a social gesture than a consequentially applicable or worthy punishment. This is

further seen in the book where the Arab is not even given a real name, which minimizes

the impact that his death has on the reader. What was truly important was how Meursault

viewed his actions and his apparent apathy.


In the status quo, most people view the death penalty with a great degree of

distaste. Many people are just confortable with prison systems for most individuals.

Camus perspective continues to influence us as a society. His perspective offers the

opinion that the death penalty may not be a needed evil, and only exists because we as a

society feed off of the apparent satisfaction that it gives us. Furthermore, society enjoys

the security that the death penalty provides in the sense that any problem can be

seemingly solved with the press of a kill button.

[Words: 392]


To what extent does Meursaults discourse portray absurdity in Albert Camus The

French philosopher and author Albert Camus The Stranger provides a valuable

articulation of the absurd search for meaning that humans fundamentally have. In this

novel, Camus develops a unique, clear, and deliberate dialogue dealing with the

awkwardness of the position his main character Meursault is in. Meursaults apparent

nihilism through his discourse represents the clear absurdity in doing anything as a

method of producing meaning. Camus therefore proposes that there is no active solution

to resolve the quest for meaning. Unlike existentialists such as Kierkegaard and Sartre,

Camus proposed that self-determination and free will are a facade meant to hide the

inevitable lack of an answer. Camus performance of a historical materialist analysis

reveals that the entire history of mankind has been proceeding toward some Hegelian

concept of meaning, but the fact that there will never be an end means the means of

existence can never be justified. Such interior consciousness is specifically represented in

The Stranger through Meursaults erratic dialogue and absurd confrontations with the

irrational universe.

Camus portrayal of absurdism as a school of thought relevant to all humans

manifests in the portrayal of the absurdity of Meursaults condition. In part one of the

book, Meursault explains to an officer, Im not drunk officer. Its just that Im here, and

youre there, and Im shaking. I cant help it (Camus 37). A distinct factor in the

consideration of the plight of the human is the utter lack of freedom. This lack of

freedom means that some sort of structure that they must operate under institutionalizes

peoples; the problem that then arises is that there is no meaning to living such a life,

because the freedom to go outside those institutional boundaries is nonexistent. When


Meursault articulates that he cannot help his shaking, it serves as a larger metaphor for

humanity; this could be described through the city of Algiers, where the working class

like Meursault was stuck in the cyclic structure of work and home life an example of a

structure that all people are tied to. Camus further analogizes the misrepresentation of

existence as a state of being drunk. This serves to highlight the intoxicative effect of

deriving meaning for most humans where you feel satisfied, but that satisfaction can

never satiate a deeper search for existential purpose. When talking to the examining

magistrate, Meursault explains, that was his belief, and if he were to ever doubt it, his

life would become meaningless. Do you want my life to be meaningless? He shouted

(Camus 69). In this context, the magistrate derives his meaning from his work - in a

situation where his work is not needed or not useful, he feels a lack of meaning. At large,

Camus paints the condition of the magistrate as the condition most of humanity is

constantly dislocating into, where work is the qualification for having a purposeful

existence. The bifurcation between rationality and irrationality therefore would represent

the same significance as the actions of accepting the absurdities of life versus hopelessly

attempting to defy them, as Camus would agree.

Camus literary representations of absurdism and historicism of the time period

offers a solution to the absurdity presented in Meursaults life. The solution that Camus

represents through Meursault was an acceptance of the absurd universe and embrace of

the certainty in life, which is only offered in the present. Meursault's catharsis becomes

apparent when he states, I opened myself up to the gentle indifference of the world.

Finding it so much like myself - so like a brother, really - I felt that I had been happy and

that I was happy again (Camus 123). The act of being comfortable in an apathetic


universe is a solution in the sense of refusing to recognize the troubles of society, but it

does nothing to solve inherent problems. In a sense, Camus solution to resolving

absurdity selfishly refuses to delve into the realm of attempting to solve actual issues.

Camus argument comes into to play in the sense that absurdism is inevitable and that a

collective refusal can serve as a methodology to fix absurdity as a mechanism of

oppression. The important historical context to Camus claim is the setting of the novel.

During the time of the novel, Algiers, which is the capital of Algeria, was under French

occupation. This colonialist stigma did two things: first, it stigmatized Arabians as we

saw with the general disregard of the life of the Arab, and second, it created an

atmosphere of dismay that encompassed and created a population of downtrodden people.

This cultural understanding then explains Camus quittance from attempting to challenge

higher institutions of power. This quittance of Camus is specifically represented when

Meursault states, one never changed his way of life; one life was as good as another, and

my present me suited me quite well (Camus 28). This paints a failure of Camus method

in the sense that pretending to be content just reinforces the oppressors motives to

oppress; it leaves intact the hierarchies of power that subsume any revolutionary

potential, a seemingly irrational approach to resolving an absurd universe. Another

important aspect is the literary candidness with which Camus writes the concrete claims

without much warranted analysis from Meursault is just another representation of

absurdity inherent within the realm of reason.

From the literary candidness mentioned above it is clear that Meursault realizes

the one concrete thing apart from our absurd existence is the physical world. Camus

description of the physical world draws a stark distinction as compared to the description


of anything else it is the only thing that Camus considers absolutely real. Furthermore,

the physical worlds indifference develops the absurdity of life as human rationality

means nothing in the fire of the universes inherent randomness. This is seen when

Meursault states, They all shook my hand - as if that night . . . had somehow brought us

closer (Camus 12). Meursault calculating dialogue is gauging the unreasonable side of

human beings by showing that reason in itself is incapable of explaining human nature. In

Camus interior consciousness, purpose explains why we do anything; however, in

instances such as social relationships humans are sometimes motivated by reasons other

than purpose. This then explains the conditions of people like workers who are bound to

wages that are akin to purpose. Generally, the position of a human becomes marginalized

when put under absurd conditions - and these conditions are not always a product of

simply existing but rather societal oppressions and frameworks. This was all

substantiated when Meursault stated, I had no soul, there was nothing human about me,

not one of those normal qualities which normal men possess (Camus 63). Meursaults

acknowledgment as abnormal clarifies the dehumanization that absurdism articulates;

people like Meursault are socially seen as abnormal because they dont conform to

some sort of standard; in comparison, normal men, who do conform, are socially seen

as rational. Camus projects his stream of consciousness when he delineates Meursault's

being from the men considered normal.

Camus stream of interior consciousness works as the most effective literary

device in order to convey the dialogue of Meursault from a absurd and deliberate

perspective. Meursault embodies Camus interior conscious as a rational being posited

among a very irrational world. Camus techniques hint at the development of the


irrational world to be under institutional and powerful superstructures. Specifically,

human beings are reduced to bodies that should only contain meaning meaning that is

not to be found, but rather created in order to satiate a more temporary thirst. The

articulations above explain why Meursault cannot fundamentally change how the world

works, but he can change how he relates to it. Under Camus methodology, Meursault

embraces acknowledgment of the absurdity of existence, and continues to live under that

system with a higher level of fundamental satisfaction. The product of Meursault's

development becomes his realization of the meaninglessness of life. Similar to what

Camus wanted to think, Meursault represented the solution to such an absurd reality and

existence. Many themes paint the image that simply existing cannot produce real change,

just a realization of absurdity can.

[Words: 1,349]


Works Cited

Camus, Albert. The Stranger. Trans. Chris Van Allsburg. Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
1986. Print.