Existentialism in Camus' "The Stranger"

Essay by MythrasA+, May 2004

download word file, 5 pages 4.3

Downloaded 105 times

Existentialism is often defined as a philosophical movement or tendency, emphasizing individual existence, freedom and choice. As a result of the diversity of positions associated with this term it is impossible to define precisely. There are, however, basic themes common in existentialist beliefs. As is evident through the root of the word, exist, there is a stress on definite individual existence and freedom of choice. Developed between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this ideology influenced literature greatly. A prime example of the incorporation of certain aspects of existentialism is witnessed in Albert Camus's The Stranger. The use of existentialism within his work assists in the development of his characters; it determines how they will act and respond to their surroundings. The aforementioned actions are often unique due to the influence of existentialism. Meursault is the major character in The Stranger. He is considered the personification of existentialism, the existential hero if you will.

He is emotionally indifferent to others and, as the prosecutor of his case words it, "a coolly calculating monster." Meursault is alienated from society throughout the tale as he accepts individual responsibility for his unique progression.

Throughout Camus's The Stranger there are references to an event that occurs at the outset of the novel and exhibits ideals inherent to existentialism: the death of Meursault's mother. His insensitivity is introduced through the emotions, or lack thereof, that he displays upon news of the death of Maman. He seemingly cares not for his own mother as is shown in his opening statements: "Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know. I got a telegram from the home: 'Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.' That doesn't mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday." He is more concerned with the time of the death rather than the fact that...