The Idea of Existentialism in The Stranger

The Idea of Existentialism in The Stranger

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Existentialism is defined as "a philosophical theory or approach that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining his or her own development through acts of the will”. In other words, existentialism it emphasizes individual freedom. Throughout The Stranger, the amount of existentialism views is abundant. The use of Mersault’s experiences covey the idea that human life has no meaning except for simple existence. The idea of existentialism in Albert Camus' The Stranger reflects through Mersault's life experiences with his relationship with Marie, the death of his mother Maman, the murdering of the Arab, and Mersault's trial and execution, all these events show that Mersault’s life of no meaning.
The death of Maman in The Stranger conveys an example of existentialism. The phlegmatic and unattached response to the death of his mother shows an excellent example of Mersault’s existentialism; he accepts life or death without looking for a deeper significance. Mersault receives a telegram from the home notifying him of his mother’s death, “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know. I got a telegram from the home: ‘Mother Deceased. Funeral Tomorrow. Faithfully yours.’”(Camus 3). When he gets to the home he does not even want to see the body, instead of mourning he sits back and relaxes drinking coffee and smoking. Mersault seems more concerned about taking time off of work to go to his mother’s funeral that he has nothing to do with, than the actual death of his mother. The first thought of his day is about work, “As I was waking up, it came to me why my boss had seemed annoyed when I asked him for two days off…”(Camus 19). Mersault does not show any emotion at all while at the nursing home that Maman lived. He is just there because he feels as if he has to be. Everything about the weekend seems to annoy him events like the vigil, the funeral, and some Maman’s friends, in particular to the sobbing woman at the vigil.
Another aspect of the existentialism portrayed in The Stranger is that Mersault focuses mainly on physical sensations with his relationship with Marie. Mersault believes that life has no meaning other than existence itself; so what is the purpose to love? He does nothing more than think of Marie’s physical features like her hair, smile, skin, and laughter. Mersault runs into Marie on his way to the beach for a swim and soon after he already describes her physical attributes, “ I helped her onto a float as I did, I brushed against her breasts”(Camus 19).

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When Mersault describes Marie he does it so vulgarly, “I wanted her so bad… You could make out the shape of her firm breasts . . . ”(Camus 34). When Marie asks Mersault to marry her, his answer seems merely apathetic. Mersault admits he does not love her, but says he will marry her if it makes her happy. Mersault’s relationship with Marie depicts the philosophy of existentialism.
Mersault’s murder of the Arab on the beach portrays an example of existentialism in The Stranger. The senselessness of the murder makes it a good portrayal of the idea of existentialism. When on the beach, the Arab draws his knife and holds the blade up to Mersault, but it truly does not bother him. Instead, the intense heat and light that shoots off of the Arab’s knife seems to irritate him the most “The scorching blade slashed at my eyelashes and stabbed at my stinging eyes”(Camus 59). As this overwhelming irritation, Mersault says, “My whole being tensed and I squeezed my hand around the revolver” (Camus 59). This shows Mersault’s not only a stranger to his life experiences, and nature. The sun acts against him for the first time, and causes Mersault to lose control. Most of Mersault’s actions have no real motives. Mersault shoots the Arab because of his discomfort with his surroundings, but in any situation he consciously makes the choice of murdering the Arab. Taken into the police custody, Mersault feels as if this whole process of questioning seems like a joke or a game to him, “I was lead into a curtain room… I had read descriptions of scenes like this in books and it all seemed like a game to me”(Camus 63-64). This has no ultimate meaning to him, which portrays an excellent concept of existentialism.
Mersault does not seem to get too concerned about his trial and execution. It is not a matter of concern to Mersault that he will be found guilty since he does not care about his life to begin with. Mersault is more annoyed than nervous, “I knew right away he was going to talk about Maman again, and at the same time I could fell how much it irritated me”(Camus 87). Inside the courtroom he saw a lot of people he knew called up to witness stand. “I felt a stirring go through the room and for the first time I realized I was guilty”(Camus 90). Similarly to Mersault’s thoughts of his mother’s death, he feels no difference between life and death. Mersault finishes off the novel with, “ . . . For me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with hate”(Camus 123). He is relieved that death is coming his way, so he might have a freedom from isolation and utter loneliness.
In conclusion, the existentialism shines through Mersault’s life experiences with his relationship with Marie, the death of his mother Maman, the murdering of the Arab, and Mersault’s trial and execution. All of these events truly shaped Mersault into a person who believes his life has no meaning, and that there is no difference between life and death.

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