Looking at the Character of Meursault in The Stranger by Camus
In Camus’s “The Stranger” I will be discussing how the character Meursault utilizes all of the six existential themes: Freedom, Contingency, Individuality, Existence, Reflection, and Passion. I will also address how Meursault utilizes the existential givens of existence: Death, Freedom, Existential Isolation, and Meaning/Meaninglessness. I will then go on to discuss Meursault’s responsibility (guilt) throughout the novel. Finally I will discuss the interaction between Meursault and the Chaplain and it’s significance.
In “The Stranger” Meursault embodies all of the six existential themes. The first existential theme is freedom. Freedom means that whatever happened prior to now does not influence what your next choice in life will be, we are free to make any choice we want. Meursault displays Freedom by just doing as he wishes to do. In part one of the novel Meursault’s mother dies so he attends the funeral, nothing out of the ordinary. While at his mother's funeral, Meursault decides to smoke cigarettes, drink a cup of coffee, and also he fails to cry. This just shows how Meursault is displaying his free will, he does not let the influence of his mother dying effect what he wants to do. The second and the third theme’s Meursault displays together. These themes are existence which is the awareness of our choices, and passion which are psychological feelings that we understand before thinking kicks in. Meursault displays both of these themes at the end of the novel. Meursault wants his life to be here and now, he is not concerned with the here after. Meursault wants the remembrance of his life. Through this thinking Meursault displays Existence and Passion.
The fourth theme is contingency. Contingency basically says that life is unpredictable, prone to chance happenings, also to the unexpected. Meursault displays this theme at the very end of part one of the novel. Meursault is so content with walking back down to the spring unaware that he is going to end up destroying his happiness by shooting the Arab. This is a very unpredictable event because Meursault is just so happy and content with the sun shining on him, then all of a sudden something unexpected happens and his happiness is gone. “I knew that I had shattered the harmony of the day, the exceptional silence of a beach where I’d been happy.” (Page 59).
The fifth theme is individuality. An individual is a single unique member of a collectivity. Meursault lives out his individuality. The strongest display of individuality is at the very end of the novel when Meursault wants a large crowd of people to witness his death, and he also wants them to greet him with cries of hate. “I had only wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.” (Page 123). By being hated Meursault retains his individuality, because if Meursault goes out there begging for...