Morality, Nihilism, and Absurdism
Albert Camus’ novels, The Stranger and The Fall, compare the philosophical theories of nihilism and absurdism, claiming that even though life may lack meaning, morality is still important and everyone, regardless of their philosophical believes, should value it. In this paper, morality is the code of conducts accepted by an individual for his own behaviour. Nihilists believe that life is entirely meaningless, but absurdists believe that even though life is meaningless, a person will spend his entire life searching for meaning. Camus’ novels suggest that nihilism and absurdism are interconnected ideas with similar effects on an individual’s morality. In The Stranger, Meursault is a nihilist who does not think it is important to be moral or behave in a way that benefits others. Conversely, Clemance is an absurdist, who tries to find meaning through other’s judgements of him. He manipulates people in order to achieve his goals; however, this manipulation proves that he does not value personal morality. A comparison of the novels The Stranger, which explores nihilism, and The Fall, which focuses on absurdism, suggests that morality is the most important aspect of life, even if life has no intrinsic meaning.
In The Stranger, the main character Meursault is a nihilist who believes that life has no meaning. Instead of searching for meaning, Meursault lives detached from the people around him and does not care about his life, family, or friends. Meursault’s relationship with Marie proves that Meursault does not care about other people or value what happens in his life. For example, when Marie asks Meursault if he loves her, he replies that “that sort of question [has] no meaning, really; but I suppose I didn’t” (*). This causes Marie to look upset, but Meursault feels neither empathetic, nor guilty for what he said. Later in the novel, Marie asks if Meursault would marry her, to which he responds that does not care whether he marries Marie or any other woman (*). Meursault’s nonchalance about marriage comes from his belief that there is no meaning to life, and therefore no reason to value anything that happens in it. When Marie claims that marriage is a serious commitment, Meursault simply says “no” (*). Thus, Meursault’s relationship with Marie proves that he is a nihilist, as he puts no value into his relationship and does not care whether she is in his life or not. After all, without Marie’s actions, Meursault would not have pursued her because, since life is meaningless, putting effort into it would be a waste. Meursault is a nihilist because he places no value in his life or the lives of others, and lives emotionally detached from the world.
Meursault’s relationship with Marie proves that he has no empathy for other people, but his behaviour during the murder and his trial shows that he also lacks morality. Meursault’s amorality stems from the lack of value he places on his own life – and by...