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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Essay on Camus' "The Stranger"

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In Albert Camus’ The Stranger, the author conveys his existential beliefs through the conflict of his main character, Mersault. This conflict is grounded in Mersault’s difference from societal norms, hence, the “stranger”. He feels isolated because of his abnormal behavior. His actions and choices stem from his view on life, which he believes is meaningless. He reacts by withdrawing from emotion and living his life unconsciously. The resolution of this conflict reveals Mersault’s convictions and forces the reader to judge him.


Mersault believes that the universe is a collection of random, indifferent events. He reacts to the absurdity of this existence by feeling neither pain nor joy, by unconsciously accepting the life that he has no control over. He shows no emotion at his mother’s funeral, much to the chagrin of the other attendees. This lack of sorrow would prove to be his eventual downfall. In the field of romance, he again avoids emotion and opts for indifference. When Marie asks if they should marry, Mersault replies, “it didn’y make any difference to me and we could if she wanted to” and that he would have accepted a similar proposal from another woman because marriage wasn’t a serious thing, nothing really is.


Even after killing the Arab, he acknowledges that he “didn’t feel much remorse for what he’d done,” at his murder trial. Interestingly , the prosecutor seems to focus intently on Mersault’s reaction to his mother’s death. Here in lies the conflict. Mersault is a stranger to society. His reaction to the meaningless of life is out of the ordinary to society, and for this they choose to punish him. Mersault is presented with a choice conform to society’s wishes by engaging his feelings and expressing remorse or remain true to himself by persisting in the face of absurdity.


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“…I was sure about me,…sure of my life and sure of the death I had waiting for me. Yes, that was all I had… I had been right , I was still right, I was always right.” Mersault remains true. But the conflict remains unresolved in the mind of the reader. The reader must decide where Mersault and his decision lie in their minds. He can be viewed as the existential hero. A man that remained true to his beliefs and himself. He can be seen as the antihero, standing for nothing. He can even be seen as the villain. A man who believes in nothing, feels nothing, and regrets nothing. Mersault resolves his conflict before the novel’s end, but Camus places the charge of the final conflict resolution in the hands of the reader.





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