Existentialism can be perceived many different ways. Existential things are often absurd and confused in an unpredictable world. People who are existential have the feeling of alienation. They have the freedom of choice and responsibility for their actions. Though the author, Albert Camus, did not think his novel, The Stanger, was existential, it was considered to be the decisive piece of existential thought. This book exhibits absurdity, confusion within one’s world, and also alienation.
The Stranger has many absurd scenes that contribute to its existentialism. The book begins with the death of Maman Meursault. Monsieur Meursault, her son, does not show any emotions toward his loss. As people were mourning and crying at the vigil, Meursault isn’t. He sits there watching the others cry, especially one woman that he “… didn’t know who she was. I wished I didn’t have to listen to her anymore” (Camus 10).
It was strange that Meursault wasn’t crying when he lost his mother but people he didn’t know were crying. He does’t even want to listen to the cries. Then as the cries subside, Meursault thinks about everything beside his dead mother. He is thinking “… finally she shut up. I didn’t feel drowsy anymore, but I was tired and my back was hurting me. Now it was all these people not making a sound that was getting on my nerves” (11).
Meursault doesn’t want to listen to the cries and once the cries were gone, he doesn’t like the silence. He’s focusing on how he feels and his surroundings. At many wakes, people are extremely upset and numb, only focusing on their loss. Meursault reacts opposite than most people, he seemed indifferent. The next absurd scene occurs the next day when Meursault sees Salamano. Salamano and his dog take two walks daily and “… he beats the dog and swears at it. The dog cowers and trails behind… When the dog wants to urinate, the old man won’t give him enough time and yanks him… If the dog has an accident in the room, it gets beaten again. This has been going on for eight years” (27).
Have you ever been hit or forced to fight when you don’t want to? If this has not happened to you then think about how you would feel if someone forced you to fight someone else. You would probably feel pretty terrible, getting hurt just because this person wants you to fight someone all for their entertainment. This is what some cruel humans do to animals like dogs usually pit bulls. Dog fighting ...
Salamano repeatedly abuses his dog day after day. If Salamano hates his dog so much like he shows, he shouldn’t have kept it for the past eight years. After losing his wife, Salamano should have more love toward the dog because he hasn’t anyone else. The dog is the only thing Salamano has left and he treats it very badly. Once the dog dies, Salamano is very upset and “His life had changed now and he wasn’t too sure what he was going to do” (45-46).
If the dog had been treated better, then maybe it would have lived longer. It is strange how Salamano shows so much hatred toward his pet, one would think that he couldn’t wait until it dies. But when it really does die, Salamano is quite upset and doesn’t know what he will do next. Last, when Meursault finds out he is getting executed for killing the Arab, he responds with “…I had only to wish that there will be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate” (123).
It is weird how Meursault wants people who dislike him at his execution. People who are dying generally would like people who they love around them, not ones who hate them and want them to die. Aside from these examples, there is more absurdity in The Stranger.
Besides absurdity, another aspect of existentialism that The Stranger demonstrates is confusion in an unpredictable and absurd world. Monsieur Meursault is brought to his dead mother in the mortuary where he is introduced to a caretaker. He is confused once he gets there, thinking “…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. I offered the caretaker a cigarette and we smoked” (8).
Misery Loves CompanySalamano and his dog have a strange relationship. They are always together and even look similar, but Salamano is constantly beating the dog. One would think that since the dog was Salamano's only companion then he would treat it better. Salamano and his dog symbolize the absurdity that occurs in our everyday life. Both the dog and Salamano have reddish scabs and the dog has " ...
Then when he is still in the mortuary, “I think I dozed off for a while… I’d had my eyes closed, the whiteness of the room seemed even brighter than before. There wasn’t a shadow anywhere in front of me, and every object, every angle and curve stood out so sharply it made my eyes hurt” (9).
Meursault is confused to whether he can smoke so he does and then he is confused again as to where he was and his surroundings because the room seems brighter. Then, as he and Raymond are walking back the beach house, an Arab is sitting motionless. Once Meursault takes a step forward, the Arab pulls out a knife which reflects the sunlight into Meursault’s eyes. Sweat and sunlight burns and blinds his eyes so “The scorching blade slashed at my eyelashes and stabbed at my stinging eyes…My whole being tensed and I squeezed my hand around the revolver. The trigger gave…” (59).
Meursault kills the Arab. He disturbes the happiness and harmony he feels at the beach. Meursault isn’t happy he killed the Arab, only depressed because he breaks the silence and harmony. Third, a lawyer comes to talk to Meursault about his mother and the lack of sensitivity at the funeral. He asks if Meursault loved his mother and Meursault thinks “I probably did love Maman, but that didn’t mean anything” (65).
People love or dislike their family. Meursault was unsure if he truly loved his mother but he believes he probably did. Last, Marie visits Meursault in prison and while talking to him she says “‘You’ll get out and we’ll get married!’” (75).
After Meursault’s appeal is denied, he says “For the first time in a long time I thought about Marie. The days have been long since she stopped writing… It also occurred to me that maybe she was sick, or dead… Anyways, after that, remembering Marie meant nothing to me. I wasn’t interested in her dead” (115).
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Meursault used to love Marie, was going to marry her and then he could care less if she was dead because she meant nothing to him. There were other parts of The Stranger that represented confusion, making this novel existential as well.
A third and final aspect of existentialism brought forth in The Stranger was the sense of alienation. Not only does Meursault alienate himself, Maman does too. Meursault describes “When she was home with me, Maman used to spend her time following me with her eyes, not saying a thing” (5).
Instead of talking to each other, they isolate themselves and do other things. The Arabs alienate themselves too. They don’t worry about Meursault and Raymond entering the beach, they continue to lay on the beach in their greasy overalls. “The one who had attacked Raymond was looking at him without saying anything. The other one was… watching us out of the corner of his eye” (55).
Nothing happens between them; they just keep their distance and don’t do anything to each other. Also, when Meursault is in jail, he forgets a lot within the past five months. He is still the same emotionless person. “My reflection seemed to remain serious even though I was trying to smile at it… it still had the same sad, stern expression… But at the same time, and for the first time in months, I distinctly heard the sound of my own voice. I recognized it as the same one that had been ringing in my ears for many long days, and I realized that all that time I had been talking to myself” (81).
For all the time that Meursault has been in jail, he has been alone so much that he doesn’t realize when he’s talking out loud. He simply thinks that it is in his head. Last, Meursault would listen to people talking about him in court and his “…lawyer kept telling me ‘Just keep quiet- it won’t do your case any good’” (98).
Meursault gets alienated by the people in court and isn’t allowed to participate. He feels like “Everything was happening without my participation. My fate was being decided without anyone so much as asking my opinion” (98).
The people of court pushed Meursault away from their decision of execution and wouldn’t let him say what he thought of the situation. “… I couldn’t quite understand how an ordinary man’s good qualities could become crushing accusations against a guilty man” (100).
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Meursault couldn’t defend himself during court so his fate was left for other people to decide. Meursault, Maman, and the Arabs were all alienated at one point or another. All the alienation between the people made the novel existential.
The Stranger exhibits absurdity, confusion within an unpredictable world, and alienation. All of which are existential aspects, therefore, making Camus’s novel existential. The novel was very absurd in many parts including Meursault’s emotionless reaction toward the death of his mother and how Salamano treats his dog. The killing of the Arab and Meursault’s mixed up feelings toward Marie are both parts that started from confusion in an unpredictable world. Many characters were alienated during the novel including Meursault not cooperating in court and in jail when he realized he was talking to himself. All these characteristics led to the belief that Camus’s novel, The Stranger, is existential.
Camus, Albert. The Stranger, trans. Mathew Ward. New York: Random House, Inc., 1988.