Albert Camus' The Stranger Essay

1668 words - 7 pages

Albert Camus' The Stranger

What if the past has no meaning and the only point in time of our life that really matters is that point which is happening at present. To make matters worse, when life is over, the existence is also over; the hope of some sort of salvation from a God is pointless. Albert Camus illustrates this exact view in The Stranger. Camus feels that one exists only in the world physically and therefore the presence or absence of meaning in one's life is alone revealed through that event which he or she is experiencing at a particular moment. These thoughts are presented through Meursault, a man devoid of concern for social conventions found in the world in which he lives, and who finds his life deprived of physical pleasure--which he deems quite important--when unexpectedly put in prison. 

The opening line of the novel sets the tone for Meursault's dispassion towards most things. The novel is introduced with the words: "Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know" (3). Although the uncertainty originates with an ambiguous telegram, it seems that the tone alone could justify changing the meaning of the words 'I don't know' to 'I don't care.' In a sense, in the days following, he only goes through the motions of the vigil and then the funeral; the only emotion he expresses is joy when his bus takes him home and he is able to sleep. At one point, he looks back at the events of the past few days, realizes that he has to go to work, and notes: "that, really, nothing had changed" (24). Despite these reactions, there is evidence that Meursault did indeed love his mother, observed both in his defensive argument at the 'old people's' home as to why she was put there in the first place and in his recollections of the time when they lived together. This fact implies that people (at least here, his mother) do have some effect on his life. It is his lack of concern for following normal social conventions that eventually hinders the impression he makes on others.

Further evidence of Meursault's indifference is demonstrated when he meets with Marie at the beach on the day following the funeral. Marie is a former co-worker "whom [he had] a thing for at the time" (19). Keeping with character, the implication of that description is that he hadn't thought about her since then, until now. The two end up spending a lot of time together, swimming, going to the movies, and even sleeping together, but when asked if he loved her he recalls: "I told her that it didn't mean anything, but that I didn't think so" (35). These words are somewhat surprising given the relationship portrayed here. At the same time, it is important to realize that Meursault actually does care for Marie--however the word used to express that feeling, in a sense, is practically absent from his vocabulary. This notion becomes more evident with his reaction to the principle of marriage, which he regards as basically insignificant: "...Marie came by to see me and asked...

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