The Value of Life in Camus' The Stranger (The Outsider)
In Albert Camus' existentialist novel “The Stranger,”the alienation of Meursault from society conveys to the reader the theme of the novel: In light of the lack of a higher deity, all promise of value rests in life itself. To express this theme, Camus develops Meursault’s persona, satirizes many institutions, alludes to religion, and creates many moral and ethical questions.
The universal nature of these questions reveal why “The Stranger” remains relevant to society. The novel is divided into two parts: Part One, in which Camus develops Meursault’s character and Meursault commits the murder; and Part Two, wherein, as a result of his trial, his solitary confinement, and his sentence to death, Meursault undergoes an emotional progression which culminates in his epiphany at the end of the novel.
Early in the “The Stranger,” Meursault is a man who is clearly in opposition to his society. He is indifferent, apathetic, wholly materialistic, andlacks any emotional capability. One means by which Camus develops this persona is through developing the persona of other characters. Each secondary character in Part One is a contrast to Meursault. Raymond’sanger, Marie’s passion, and Salamano’s possessivenessare intended to shape this contrast, and show thatMeursault is apart from society.
In Part One, Meursault also reacts to society indifferent ways, showing his ostracization from it. At his mother’s wake, he is not overcome with sadness- he smokes and complains of back pain. When faced with the situation on the beach with the Arab, he states: “It was then that I realized you could either shoot or not shoot,” a rather indifferent reaction which shows his lack of comprehension of the possible consequences of his actions.
Because he is a man in opposition to his society, Meursault oftentimes finds himself in ironic situations. For example, his sentence to death is theonly thing which makes him content- due to his realization, exemplified by this statement of his inthe final chapter: “I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.” It is ironic that the night following his mother’s death, he goes out with a woman to see a comedy (we know it is a comedy due to Camus’ allusion to...