A Life Less Ordinary

Why is man born into this world? He could be here to fulfill some impossible dream, a divine mission; or he could disregard all these pretenses and simply understand the fact that he is here, and make every moment of his life his own. Albert Camus attempts to lend insight into these concepts from an Existentialistic viewpoint in his novel The Stranger. He tackles various themes of Existentialism in this story of which he termed "the nakedness of man faced with the absurd": the unpredictable outcomes of one's actions in an irrational world, existence of a human being as defined by Existentialism, and the effects of society's excessive rules.

Camus states directly in his novel that in this irrational world, one's actions often have unpredictable and bizarre consequences. Meursalt's display of indifference at his mother's funeral eventually costs him his life when the prosecutor of his murder trial uses this action as powerful evidence to convict him as a cold blooded murderer. Meursault says to his lawyer, " ... none of [my mother's death has] anything to do with my case"(65), only to face the scorn of his own lawyer. Little does Meursalt know that his straightforward attitude will bring about his own death. In the same sense, Meursalt also cannot predict that the prosecution will also use his helping out a friend, Raymond, as a tool for proving his sin. Some time before his trial, Meursalt helps Raymond write a letter, knowing that Raymond is using this letter to trick his cheating girlfriend into humiliation. Surprisingly, the prosecuting attorney summarizes this act as "the basest of crimes, a crime made worse than sordid by the fact that they [are] dealing with a monster"(96). Even an event this trivial is called "the basest of crimes" by the attorney, only because he wishes to convict Meursalt. Similarly, Meursalt does not know that getting together with an old girlfriend, Marie, would bring him accusations of "starting up a dubious liaison." Why, he is just doing what he wants to do. The unexpected consequences that Meursalt's actions bring serves as reminders that the world is irrational and often absurd.

Second, this novel deals with Existentialism, the act of pure existence, not for society or anyone else, but for one's own sake. Meursalt is one such individual who refuses to conform to society, an ordinary man who is absurdly forced to the guillotine. As a son facing the death of his mother, he finds he does not experience much genuine regret at her death, although he loves her. He refuses to pretend he does, just for the sake of appearances. As a man, Meursalt's actual act of murder is apparently brought on by none other than the oppressive, irresistible force of another of nature's forces--the sun. He is neither cold blooded or revengeful. He is just a man questioning his existence, realizing that life isn't everything that he had previously thought it to be. Indeed, Meursalt is a true Existentialist--a man who makes his own choices and determines to be who he is, instead of being who society expects him to be. Though considered a murderer, Meursalt concludes before his execution: "I felt that I had been happy"(123). What else is more important?

Lastly, Camus maintains that society often contains unnecessary rules and regulations, producing unwarranted stress upon free individuals. For instance, Meursalt is condemned by society because he shows a lack of sensitivity at his mother's funeral. People testify against him because of this character trait, and he is reduced verbally to "a man without morals"(96) by the prosecutor of his murder trial. Even his own lawyer dwells on this fact, all because Meursalt's reaction towards his mother's death is unconventional, unheard of, and intolerable in the society. Further, Meursalt's distinctive personality inevitably causes him to be categorized as an outcast of society, a freak, someone who should be extinguished for the "well-being of society as a whole." Meursalt sums up his eccentricity best: "My nature [is] such that my physical needs often [get] in the way of my feelings"(65). This certain trait accelerates Meursalt's march toward doom. Moreover, Meursalt does not believe in God. Not believing in God is perhaps the most damnable sin in society; and atheists are considered to have sold their souls to the devil. The governor confronts him about his lack of religion and a priest hopes to redeem him. Yet Meursalt's indifference soon disgusts these people. Furious, the governor says to him: "I have never seen a soul as hardened as yours"(69), and the priest says to him: "Your heart is blind"(120). What would it matter if Meursalt is only a human being with a different point of view? It wouldn't, because there should be no preexisting guidelines for human beings.

Why is Meursalt called a "stranger" or, more accurately, an "outsider"? He isn't what society would call an "outstanding citizen." He seems cold and indifferent, and his actions are more often strange than predictable. One thing leads to another, and before he knows it, Meursalt commits a murder, and is considered an outcast by society. Meursault reaches the point where he only seems truly content when he is close to nature, communing with real, tangible reality, represented by the time he spends swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. He views the absurdity surrounding him with a calm, observing heart, and when he dies he feels he is leaving a world that "now and forever meant nothing to [him]"(122). What is left to explain about this man's story? There is no need to analyze, for Meursalt's life is just as simple as that, a soul drifting in this often senseless and suffocating world.