Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Irrationality of the Universe
Though The Stranger is a work of fiction, it contains a strong resonance of Camus’s philosophical notion of absurdity. In his essays, Camus asserts that individual lives and human existence in general have no rational meaning or order. However, because people have difficulty accepting this notion, they constantly attempt to identify or create rational structure and meaning in their lives. The term “absurdity” describes humanity’s futile attempt to find rational order where none exists.
Though Camus does not explicitly refer to the notion of absurdity in The Stranger, the tenets of absurdity operate within the novel. Neither the external world in which Meursault lives nor the internal world of his thoughts and attitudes possesses any rational order. Meursault has no discernable reason for his actions, such as his decision to marry Marie and his decision to kill the Arab.
Society nonetheless attempts to fabricate or impose rational explanations for Meursault’s irrational actions. The idea that things sometimes happen for no reason, and that events sometimes have no meaning is disruptive and threatening to society. The trial sequence in Part Two of the novel represents society’s attempt to manufacture rational order. The prosecutor and Meursault’s lawyer both offer explanations for Meursault’s crime that are based on logic, reason, and the concept of cause and effect. Yet these explanations have no basis in fact and serve only as attempts to defuse the frightening idea that the universe is irrational. The entire trial is therefore an example of absurdity—an instance of humankind’s futile attempt to impose rationality on an irrational universe.
The Meaninglessness of Human Life
A second major component of Camus’s absurdist philosophy is the idea that human life has no redeeming meaning or purpose. Camus argues that the only certain thing in life is the inevitability of death, and, because all humans will eventually meet death, all lives are all equally meaningless. Meursault gradually moves toward this realization throughout the novel, but he does not fully grasp it until after his argument with the chaplain in the final chapter. Meursault realizes that, just as he is indifferent to much of the universe, so is the universe indifferent to him. Like all people, Meursault has been born, will die, and will have no further importance.
Paradoxically, only after Meursault reaches this seemingly dismal realization is he able to attain happiness. When he fully comes to terms with the inevitability of death, he understands that it does not matter whether he dies by execution or lives to die a natural death at an old age. This understanding enables Meursault to put aside his fantasies of escaping execution by filing a successful legal appeal. He realizes that these illusory hopes, which had previously preoccupied his mind, would do little more than create in him a false sense that death is avoidable. Meursault sees that his hope for sustained life has been a burden. His liberation from this false hope means he is free to live life for what it is, and to make the most of his remaining days.
The Importance of the Physical World
The Stranger shows Meursault to be interested far more in the physical aspects of the world around him than in its social or emotional aspects. This focus on the sensate world results from the novel’s assertion that there exists no higher meaning or order to human life. Throughout The Stranger, Meursault’s attention centers on his own body, on his physical relationship with Marie, on the weather, and on other physical elements of his surroundings. For example, the heat during the funeral procession causes Meursault far more pain than the thought of burying his mother. The sun on the beach torments Meursault, and during his trial Meursault even identifies his suffering under the sun as the reason he killed the Arab. The style of Meursault’s narration also reflects his interest in the physical. Though he offers terse, plain descriptions when glossing over emotional or social situations, his descriptions become vivid and ornate when he discusses topics such as nature and the weather.
More main ideas from The Stranger
Essay on Indifference in Albert Camus' The Stranger
807 Words4 Pages
Indifference in Albert Camus' The Stranger
In Albert Camus novel, The Stranger (The Outsider), the main character Meursault displays a unique indifference to his surroundings and the world around him. It takes him a degree of time to come to terms with his indifference, but when he does he feels truly free from society's constricting bonds. He leads an apathetic lifestyle that is characterized by his constant lack of a definitive personality. Meursault wanders through life as if in a drunken stupor, living the life of a pleasure seeker. When he accepts his death he is relieved of the pressure of dealing with guilt and with relationships towards other people.
Meursault's guilt plays a large role in the novel as far as his everyday…show more content…
Meursault deals with others people as if they are only there to please him or they are just taking up his time. As evidenced with his relationship with Marie, Meursault was merely using her for sex because that is what he wanted from her and at that time in his life. He lives from pleasure to pleasure with Marie; he only looks forward to seeing her when he knows he can have sex with her. When visiting day rolls around at the jail he is not as enthusiastic about seeing Marie as you would think he would be after not seeing her for several months. Because he knows he can't have sex with her, it totally cheapens the moment while she talks to him. Meursault drifts off into space basically ignoring her. For Meursault there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for him if he talks to her, the thrill is gone and thus the pleasure has dried up for him.
When Meursault deals with Raymond, he just plays along with the idea that he is one of his close friends. He only humors Raymond in doing the favors such as writing the letter for him and just hanging around with him. Meursault doesn't view Raymond as an annoyance only an acquaintance. The force that caused the two to meet formally was Meursault grumbling stomach that caused him to agree to come for a bite to eat in Raymond's apartment. What keeps Meursault aware that Raymond is one of his friends, is Raymond keeps reminding him. "So we're pals,