The Value of Life in Camus' The Stranger (The Outsider)
In Albert Camus' existentialist novel “The Stranger,”the alienation of Meursault from society conveys to the reader the theme of the novel: In light of the lack of a higher deity, all promise of value rests in life itself. To express this theme, Camus develops Meursault’s persona, satirizes many institutions, alludes to religion, and creates many moral and ethical questions.
The universal nature of these questions reveal why “The Stranger” remains relevant to society. The novel is divided into two parts: Part One, in which Camus develops Meursault’s character and Meursault commits the murder; and Part Two, wherein, as a result of his trial, his solitary confinement, and his sentence to death, Meursault undergoes an emotional progression which culminates in his epiphany at the end of the novel.
Early in the “The Stranger,” Meursault is a man who is clearly in opposition to his society. He is indifferent, apathetic, wholly materialistic, andlacks any emotional capability. One means by which Camus develops this persona is through developing the persona of other characters. Each secondary character in Part One is a contrast to Meursault. Raymond’sanger, Marie’s passion, and Salamano’s possessivenessare intended to shape this contrast, and show thatMeursault is apart from society.
In Part One, Meursault also reacts to society indifferent ways, showing his ostracization from it. At his mother’s wake, he is not overcome with sadness- he smokes and complains of back pain. When faced with the situation on the beach with the Arab, he states: “It was then that I realized you could either shoot or not shoot,” a rather indifferent reaction which shows his lack of co...
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...gently indifferent.” What are the moral andethical implications of such a realization? For Meursault, it will serve only to content him for the brief time he will remain alive. However, for society the implications are much greater. If, indeed, theworld is indifferent, this means several things- our existence has no inherent meaning; there are no higher powers governing our existence; and finally, if our existence is to be worthwhile, we must find our own reasons for it. When Meursault realizes this, he does not want to die, nor does he want to kill himself. This means he recognizes that all promise of value rests in life itself.
"The Stranger" is relevant today, and will remain relevant, due to the breadth and impact of the moral and ethical questions it raises. In order to raise these questions, Camus must create an “absurd hero” who is in opposition to his society
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