The following example essay on “”The Stranger” Chapter 2″ is an analysis of a literary work by Albert Camus. In this particular novel Camus gives an expression of this philosophy through the “quintessential existential hero” of the story Mersault.
Though a piece of fictional literature, “The Stranger” is an embodiment of an actual philosophical movement that took rise in the 20th century, existentialism. This term was given to writers and philosophers of the time, including Albert Camus, who dared question the absurdity of the universe.
Existentialism is the belief that no outside force mandates everyday life, that regardless of luck, fate, or religious beliefs we are all condemned to the same ending, death.
It is the sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world. (Solom 2) It makes sense then that Camus would write the setting of this novel in 1942, subsequent to the First World War and towards the end of the imperialist era, since it was a period in history of despair, angst, and alienation.
Camus wants him to depict to readers what it would be like to exist oblivious to feelings and the standards of ethics and morals set by the general populace, he gives Mersault the task of living a life numb to society as whole. As the story progresses and comes to an end the reader comes to question just how successful Camus was in his intent to create a character set apart from the world, he doesn’t. Quite on the contrary, the conclusion of the novel reveals a Mersault, whose indifference can only be compared to that of the world, bringing them together instead of apart.
As a product of the intellectual climate of that age, Mersault is a character that gives the impression of a man who leads a simple life, doing what he wants, free of the guilt or faults he would face if he did take into consideration the judgment of his peers. He goes to no lengths to pursue a lifestyle that the culture during that period would consider appropriate as is shown by his lack of ambition to advance economically, grow in his faith, and his indifferent attitude to reality in general. He deems it to be the same whether he marries Marie or not (Ward 40), if he kills the Arab or if he doesn’t (Ward 56) because he feels certain that we are all condemned to the same fate, an inescapable death that marks all things equal.
Throughout the text Mersault continues to demonstrate in his straightforward and short sentences, as well as actions, that all he wants is to isolate himself from society and what it expects of him. This is shown through his choice of sending his mother to live in a home and refusing to see her remains upon her death. Time and time again he basis his decisions on his physical needs over his emotional ones. Just as he does during his mother’s vigil when he decides to smoke and drink coffee despite his hesitation on 1
whether it is proper or not. “He offered to bring me a cup of coffee with milk. I like milk in my coffee, so I said yes…. I drank the coffee. Then I felt like having a smoke. But I hesitated, because I didn’t know if I could do it with Maman right there. I thought about it; it didn’t matter…” (Ward 13) Even after the funeral he goes on displaying a sentiment of unattachment as he states that his own mother’s death marked no real difference in his life. “It occurred to me that anyway one more Sunday was over that Maman was buried now, that I was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed.” (Ward 23)
At first the reader might be fooled into believing that Mersault really is a man who is isolated from the world, but careful observation brings to light that in actuality he is externally very sensitive and aware. When he denies seeing his mother’s remains he recognizes that his detachment is unacceptable. “He said, “You don’t want to?” I answered, “no.” He was quiet, and I was embarrassed because I felt I shouldn’t have said that.” (Ward 6) When he was committing murder against the Arab he knew that “he was knocking on the door of unhappiness”, meaning that he was familiar with the notion that there would be consequences but continued in his criminal act anyway. (Ward 57)
His consciousness of his surrounding environment is especially translucent during the trial. It is during his judging that he reveals his understanding for the condemnations placed upon him. He acknowledges that he is being trialed not for killing an Arab, who in those years was the minority in occupied Algiers, but for his very character. He knows that what the jury sees is a heartless man who seems to hold no care for anything or anyone including the woman responsible for his very existence. “They had before them the basest of crimes, a crime made worse than sordid by the fact that they were dealing with a monster, a man without morals.”(Ward 86)
When Mersault’s sentence is announced and his execution confirmed is when the truth finally reaches the surface. He turns down his right to appeal, admits his fear of reaching the terminal point of his being, and places no interest in the chaplain’s feeble attempt to embed in him a belief in repentment and the afterlife. These are all signs that finally he is brought face to face with the certainty that is death, his awareness of the human condition is intensified.
For the FIRST time he truly is certain about his own life and forthcoming death. This epitome is what enables him to completely rid and empty himself of hope, thus allowing him to at long last open up “to the gentle indifference of the world.” (Ward 116) Whereas earlier Meursault wanted to be isolated from the world, he now felt like part of it.
It was upon the arrival of death that he saw the relation between his indifference and that of the world, who doesn’t seem to notice when one of its inhabitants dies. He felt a sort of kinship through this established connection between the two, “finding it so much like myself – so like a brother, really -” and satisfied with the result of his life hoped that “there be a large crowd of spectators” on the day of his execution to greet him with “cries of hate”. (Ward 117)