The Philosophical Notion of Absurdity in The Stranger, a Novel by Albert Camus

Last Updated: 31 May 2023
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The world we live in is occupied with diverse religions and beliefs referring to how the world operates and the definitions of life itself. People of various cultures all possess different views upon life, yet the importance of the matter is dealing with the individual's viewpoint. People constantly attempt to identify or create rational structure and meaning in their lives, manifesting the view that there is no order or value in human life or in the universe.

Absurdity is the condition or state in which humans exist in a meaningless, irrational universe wherein people's lives have no purpose or meaning. In the novel Stranger by Albert Camus, the main character is immersed in a world that is full of physical and psychological pleasures. Camus's philosophical notion of absurdity depicts absurdity bringing about the irrationality of the universe, the meaningless of human life, the importance of the physical world, and his indifference towards life itself.

Although The Stranger is a fiction novel, it has a sturdy tone of Camus's philosophical notion of absurdity. Camus portrays that individual lives and human existence in general have no rational meaning or order. But, 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.

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Camus does not directly use absurdity in The Stranger, he uses it indirectly throughout the novels progression. Meursault's internal and external worlds do not possess any rational order. He has no reason for his actions, such as marrying Marie, or his decision of killing the Arab. Society is threatened by 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. In part two, society tries to rationalize Meursault's actions. Meursault's lawyer and the prosecutor both attempt to provide an explanation of logic, reason, and the concept of cause and effect. These explanations were unsuccessful, and were made to cover up the idea of the universe being irrational. Therefore the whole trial is known to be an example of absurdity.

A second part of Camus's absurd 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. Throughout the novel Meursault hovers around this realization yet in the end 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. Meursault is only able to achieve happiness is when he reaches this realization. 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.

The Stranger shows Meursault to be interested far more in the physical aspects of the world around him than in its social or emotional components. This interest shows that there exists no higher meaning or order to human life. In the beginning of the novel, Meursault is seen as a detached observer of life who is devoted to appreciating sensation. His physical wants and needs such as smoking, sleep and sex overpower his reason and feeling. He has neither a past nor a future; he lives eternally in the present. His indifference is realized almost immediately, after his mother's funeral he exclaims, "But in the first place, it isn't my fault if they buried Maman yesterday instead of today, and second, I would have had Saturday and Sunday off anyway." (19)

The only guilt he felt was that he didn't feel anything when his mother died. The fact that Meursault's indifference led him outside the "conventional" moral code, was what brought about his death sentence. He was convicted because he admitted that he felt no sadness over his mother dying, not because he killed a man. The only thing that concerned him was his upcoming execution, he had been indifferent about his stay in prison, it was the same as living in his apartment to him. The few hours before his death is when Meursault begins to "live." He realizes the change that is going to take place is permanent and final. There is no room for apathy or indifference. This is when he awakens to absurdity, death is just as meaningless as life. His lack of understanding of change was what had caused his indifference.

Meursault realized that everyone is "privileged" with one unavoidable change in life, and death. He never actually "lives" until change in his life is imminent. Meursault's absurdity achieves happiness as well. He realizes that before he was imprisoned he was happy, he had a good job and a girlfriend and nothing really to complain about. Since he also realizes his absurdity and has a reason for his indifference, he is happy. Once he realizes that life or death will achieve the same thing in his situation, he's not concerned with whether he lives or dies. Camus did not intend to say that those indifferent toward life or those destined to a living hell should be happy, but that everyone should be aware that life is absurd.

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The Philosophical Notion of Absurdity in The Stranger, a Novel by Albert Camus. (2023, May 25). Retrieved from

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