Choice and Individual Freedom in The Stranger (The Outsider)

Choice and Individual Freedom in The Stranger (The Outsider)

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Choice and Individual Freedom in The Stranger

 

      Camus's The Stranger is a grim profession that choice and individual

freedom are integral components of human nature, and the commitment and

responsibility that accompany these elements are ultimately the deciding factors

of the morality of one's existence.  Meursault is placed in an indifferent world,

a world that embraces absurdity and persecutes reason; such is the nature of

existentialist belief, that rationalization and logic are ultimately the essence

of humanity, and that societal premonitions and an irrelevant status quo serve

only to perpetuate a false sense of truth.

 

      Meursault's virtue, as well as his undoing, lies in his unique tendency

to choose, and thereby exist, without computing objective standards or universal

sentiment.  His  stoic, de facto existentialism is a catalyst for endless

conflict between his rationalization- and logic-based existence and that of

others, which focuses on an objective subscription to "the norm" ; such is

evident in heated discussions with the magistrate and prison minister, who are

seen as paragons of invalid logic and the quixotic, quasi-passionate pursuit of

hackneyed conformity.

 

      No windmills are slain1 in this simulated existence; absurdity of a

different ilk dominates the popular mentality, one which would alienate a man

based on his perceived indifference towards the mundane, and try, convict, and

execute a man based on his lack of purported empathy towards the irrelevant.

Attention to the trial sequence will reveal that the key elements of the

conviction had little to do with the actual crime Meursault had committed, but

rather  the "unspeakable atrocities" he had committed while in mourning of his

mother's death, which consisted of smoking a cigarette, drinking a cup of coffee,

and failing to cry or appear sufficiently distraught.  Indeed, the deformed

misconception of moral truth which the jury [society] seeks is based on a

detached, objective observation of right or wrong, thereby misrepresenting the

ideals of justice by failing to recognize that personal freedom and choice are

"...the essence of individual existence and the deciding factor of one's

morality.2"

 

      The execution of Meursault at the close of the novel symbolically brings

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forth outpourings of emotion, as Meursault confronts his nothingness and the

impossibility of justifying the [immoral] choices he has made; he realizes the

pure contingency of his life, and that he has voided, in essence, his own

existence by failing to accept the risk and responsibility that the personal

freedom of an existentialist reality entails.

 

Bibliography

 

1  From Don  Quixote (1605, trans. 1612), a satirical Spanish novel by Miguel de

Cervantes Saavedra.

 

2  Soren Kierkegaard, Nineteenth-century Danish philosopher, on "Moral

Individualism and Truth."

 
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