The Stranger by Albert Camus is regarded as one of the prominent works belonging to the genre of Absurdism. Camus’ “The Stranger” was published in the dark days of the World War II, during the Existentialist movement, along with the essay collection "The Myth of Sisyphus". Meursault is the protagonist of Camus' "The Stranger", (Camus) who conveys Camus' ideas of independence, freedom and life. Meursault is a representative of absurdists who believes that the world was meaningless, absurd, and indifferent. This novel unravels the story of Meursault, who is emotionally detached to his surrounding living beings. He is an anti-hero, who is accused of murder of an Arab and is prosecuted for his failure to show proper feelings for his deceased mother.
Camus has given two different and contrasting personas for Meursault, in the two parts of the text. In the beginning of the novel, we find Meursault who is indifferent and detached from his relationships and society, where as in the second part we see a changed Meursault and an intellectual Meursault. Meursault, in the first part, is a mere commentator of the incidents that goes around him. But, in the second part, he tries to delve deep in to the meaning, existence and value of human life. Meursault, in the first part, is depicted as a being that lack emotions and is distanced from the society. In the second part, we see the protagonist reflecting on the past incidents of his life and being frightened on the thought of the executioner and the blade. The separation of the book in to two parts, therefore, becomes significant as it bridges the evolution of the character of Meursault.
Towards the Part II of the novel, not only Meursault is different, he also perceives distinct ideas on natural phenomenon like death. We find the novel beginning with the theme of death, which is also one of the prominent themes of the novel. We see death in various forms throughout the novel whether it is the announcement of death in the beginning of the novel, or Salamano’s old dog in a decaying state, the murder of the Arab or the execution of the protagonist. The universal phenomenon of Death, as a central theme in any absurdist novel, is a tool to acknowledge the various attitudes of individuals. We see the opening of the novel with the commentary of the detached protagonist, “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know. I had a telegram from home: ‘mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely.’ That doesn’t mean anything. It may have been yesterday” (Camus para. 1). Death in “Stranger” is presented as an inevitable mystery that makes all the living creatures equal. No one can survive death and hence no being is privileged than the other. In the beginning of the novel, if we see Meursault is indifferent to death and is unaffected by it, then in the beginning of the second part, we see him frightened by the thought of getting beheaded by the executioner. But in the end of the novel, we can see that the thought process of Meursault has so developed and morphed to the present situation that he accepts death. “I wasn’t unaware of the fact that it doesn’t matter very much whether you die at thirty or at seventy since, in case, other men and women will naturally go on living, for thousands of years even. Nothing was plainer, in fact. It was still only me who was dying, whether it was now or in twenty years’ time. At that point the thing that would rather upset my reasoning was that I’d feel my heart give this terrifying leap at the thought of having another twenty years to live” (Camus para. 4). Religion is yet another common theme in any of the absurdist novel, which revolves around the idea that religion is merely a constitution to provide meaning to the meaningless existence in this world. It is the religion that offers the possibility of an afterlife to the believers. But according to the absurdists, believing and accepting religion is an escape from the inevitable death. By believing in an after-life people will fail to live their life to its brim. Life will become equivalent to death in such a condition, which is expressed by Meursault as “living like a dead man” with reference to the chaplain. In “Stranger”, though we do not see Meursault as condemning religion, we do see him rejecting the religious practices of men like the chaplain and the magistrate. “Nothing, nothing mattered and I knew very well why. [The minister] too knew why. From the depths of my future, throughout the whole of this absurd life I’d been leading, I’d felt a vague breath drifting towards me across all the years that were still to come, and on its way this breath had evened out everything that was then being proposed to me in the equally unreal years “I was living through…As if this great outburst of anger had purged all my ills, killed all my hopes, I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world” (Camus para. 7). The protagonist even challenges the social construct called religion even at the face of his imminent death by saying that he will not “waste his last minutes on God”.
Meursault of Camus’ “Stranger” is not only emotionally detached but also is distanced from the women. Though he admits that he likes the company women, he is not intended in keeping any relations with them. We can see that he is unaffected by the death of his mother. He ignores the suffering of Raymond’s ex-girlfriend, who is brutally beaten. Also, he does not love his girl friend, Marie, though he enjoys her company. Moreover, Meursault’s relationship with Marie clearly depicts his interest in himself and his selfish concern of achieving physical satisfaction.
Camus’ Meursault is an anti-hero who does not believe in God but is unable to lie. The irony in the novel stems out when he realizes his freedom after being imprisoned. He faces death with his joyful awareness of the impending last moments of his life and he hopes for the angry shouting of the witnessing crowd and a dramatic ending of his life.
Camus, Albert. The Stranger. Amazon.com. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://www.selfknowledge.org/resources/bookreviews/stranger.htm>