Monday, September 9, 2013

The Stranger by Albert Camus

Strange philosophical ideas

Albert Camus
The Stranger by Albert Camus is a super short novel, but its substance is heavy.  The main character, Meursault, unsympathetically attends his mother’s funeral, begins an immoral relationship with a female co-worker the next day, becomes involved in his debauched neighbor’s problems, and ends up murdering a man without reasonable motive.

The Stranger is appealing, specifically because it highlights philosophical ideas that express why we are where we are today as a society.  As much as I appreciated the opportunity to read The Stranger, I completely disagree with this philosophy.

To begin, Meursault is honest about the way he views everything; I value that.  But he does not seem human: he is without emotion or empathy; is animalistic in his thoughts; and is disconnected from people.  I wondered if he was not a little mentally challenged or childlike.  

I suppose his story would be acceptable if my speculations were true; but the problem is that this is his attitude.  He does not judge between what is right and what is evil.  He thinks society ineptly seeks logical meaning behind man’s behavior and purpose; yet, he thinks there is no explanation for either.  Society cannot know if there is truly a purpose to life; therefore, there is no reason to care.  Man is like nature, and nature does not care either. 

Grammar-Stage philosophy

A French classic
Meursault only scans the physical world around him.  It reminds me of grammar stage of reading, in which I focus only on main points of the plot or actions of characters - as a child would observe.  There is no deep reasoning or exploration.  So, too, this attitude claims that man can only observe the physical attributes of nature and man, but he cannot know anymore than that.  Meursault comes to the conclusion that life is really rather hopeless, not purposeful or meaningful.  We all die – what does it matter how or when?  All life is equally worthless.

A stranger among us

Meanwhile, society does not understand this, and hence, Meursault is like a stranger within our society.  Moral human beings grieve or love or feel empathy, and those who do not have feelings are odd - a danger to us.

The author tries to make the case that man is irrational for trying to make sense out of senselessness by proving how dangerous Meursault’s apathy is to society.  He does not follow a moral code; therefore he should be removed from society.  Hence, there is a hint of the idea that we should never judge the behavior of others because we cannot reason.

Another soapbox

Our God is a God of order.
I cannot consent to any of this because I believe otherwise.  When I observe the natural world around me, I see a Creator who designed everything to work together in order and with purpose. Everything is integrated into life cycles, including man.  And as for man – he was created in the image and likeness of God. Man naturally has mood and emotion and does not need to be taught how to feel or react to life emotionally.  These are acts that separate us from animals.  

In addition, God created man capable of thinking rationally, logically, and deeply about the world.  Great minds have come before us and did not achieve greatness by being mind-numb imbeciles who never went beyond the grammar stage of their observations of life.  They have proven or reflected order and structure of the world and man’s purpose and significance within their works of religion, art, music, literature, medicine, science, and government.

Isn't “Judge not” judging?

This attitude displayed by Meursault is in the roots of today’s arrogances about morality being ambiguous or not judging others’ behaviors.  Man is called to judge sinfulness, immorality, and to recognize truth, and on and on.  Isn't Meursault also judging by assuming one is absurd for trying to make sense where there is none?  Society is meant to have a moral standard, and when society removes morality from behavior, then we are left with a lack of accountability and disorder, as was the case with Meursault expecting to get away with murder.

Man’s idea of hope is hopeless

Meursault expressed a feeling of hopelessness in life, and he only rids himself of the gloom once he admits his inevitable end. What does it matter if he dies now or in old age?  

This is irrational to me!

Here is his problem: he utterly rejects his only chance for real hope – and that is in forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ.  A few tried to save Meursault, but he chose to hold on to his own ideas about the world. 


The purpose of man: glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
The only true hope is in Christ; one in absolute despair can still experience fullness of life if he has the Truth.  This world can leave man totally empty and low, but if he has salvation through Christ, he will be full and complete and know what it is to have hope in this world.  His eyes are open to the Truth, and he will never fall for false doctrines of man, such as this philosophy that offers nothing but hopelessness and lies.

Absurdism is absurd


Finally, in my research I learned that this philosophy that Albert Camus practiced was called Absurdism, named for man’s absurd and futile attempt to make sense of the world and of human behavior; but I am certain that the only absurdity about it is how anyone could accept such nonsense.

9 comments:

  1. I just finished reading The Stranger yesterday. I absolutely agree with your assessment - Meursault had a very odd view of the world. I found it interesting that the only time he showed any emotion was his argument with the priest at the end.

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    1. That's true. I suppose any talk about "religion" really offended him.

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  2. The Stranger was an extremely interesting novel to me. I found it to be a stance against society, and to most -- a threat. Meursault lives life unlike anyone else. He is indifferent to everything around him, including his own actions and others. Meusault is an outsider to society -- he is a man of no reasoning in a world that strives for answers/reasoning continually. When Meursault kills the Arab the court attempts to understand his reasoning (society) when there is none. He embraces and represents Camus' view of the absurd.

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    1. Kenz, Hi. I liked reading The Stranger, too, because it made me research more about Camus and why he thought like he did. It really made me think. And I just think he's wrong to feel indifferent about people and behavior and life and society and everything. We are rational beings, not animals. That is why humans are held to higher standards than animals b/c we have to take responsibility for our behavior, and we are accountable. That's how I see it.

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    2. Ruth, if someone is different does that make them bad? Mersault does not conform to a society that people like us never question. If we live our lives trying to fit into society and make other people happy, we waste our lives on things that do not matter. Mersault was a believer in Camus' existentialist theory, he did not waste his time on things that do not benefit him in the end.

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    3. I agree with you for the most part. To add, at the end of the novel Mersualt finally comes to terms with being "The Stranger" in society. He hoped that there would be a hateful crowd at his execution. This displays a major theme in the novel; one doesn't appreciate life until faced with death. If he is hated, he will at least be in the memories of his peers longer.

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    4. Unknown, your question is broad and general. Of course, just b/c someone is different doesn't make them bad. But Mersault's/Camus' absurd philosophy about life was selfish and self-centered and arrogant. We don't have to fit into society to live rightly, but there are laws that govern nature and society that we must obey. BTW, there is nothing wrong with being concerned with the well being and happiness of others.

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    5. Ruth, you are missing Camus' point, the absurd is what people do to fit into society. If there truly is no purpose for our lives then we must live how we best see fit. It is absurd to live our lives trying to fit into society and follow the codes set by other people. Just because society wants us to fit in and conform, doesn't make it the right thing to do. Each person must decide for themselves what they want to do with their lives. Camus wanted us to see the absurdity of a life lived trying to conform to society.

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    6. Ryan,

      Here is where I disagree with you. Camus' point was that there is no point to life. I focused on the theme that life is pointless, which is a main idea of the philosophy, Absurdism. To Camus, it is absurd to live one's life like it has meaning and purpose and order. He believes: there is no truth, or right or wrong, and man is not accountable for his natural behavior.

      I do not remember feeling like the idea of fitting into society is pointless was an argument (or a strong one), because it was bigger than that. But if you are saying that Camus believes that man living according to the rules of society is absurd, than of course Camus would believe that. The whole existence thing is absurd to him.

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