Existentialism and French Power

In Albert Camus’ 1942 novel, The Stranger, Monsieur Meursault is impartial and indecisive. Little is important to him, he takes most things lightly. He doesn’t care about job promotions, marriage isn’t an important decision, and he doesn’t grieve the death of his own mother.

Despite not really caring about anything, Meursault seemingly has everything. He’s fortunate to have a career and a home. Money doesn’t seem to be an issue for him. He has plenty of friends and neighbors. Until his trial and imprisonment, Meursault is definitely doing okay.

But what allowed for Meursault to be so successful? Maybe it is that he was a Frenchman living in Algeria. In the 1940s in Algeria, tensions were rising between Arab citizens and French pied noirs. These Algerian citizens were treated almost as second class citizens in their homeland, while French people, like Meursault lived lives of privilege.

Meursault likes swimming and days at the beach. He’s fortunate enough to be able to enjoy those things. So it’s interesting that Meursault, an existentialist, rejects systems of power, even though it is a system of French colonial power that allows him the pleasures he enjoys.

2 thoughts on “Existentialism and French Power

  1. Josephine D

    Such a good point! It’s a lot easier for someone to be existentialist when life is easy for them. After all, humans have a natural self-preservation instinct, and when we’re in immediate danger or suffering or dying, it’s really hard to override that instinct and just accept our fate. Sure, Meursault ultimately does this, but it’s not until he’s already been an existentialist for a long time. His existentialism was born and bred out of privilege: out of his having the basic necessities of life and more handed to him and taking his own survival (and even modest comfort) for granted. It holds firm when his life takes a turn for the worse, but that’s because it’s already had a chance to solidify. If Meursault’s whole life from the time he was born had been a struggle to survive, he probably would never have adopted an existentialist worldview. Life would have felt meaningful and precious because he had to fight so hard for it.


  2. Lauren d.

    I think this is a really great point! He does seem to have a lot of relationships and good things going for him when he does not show any interest in his life. I do agree that it is strange that he is so against life when he is benefiting so much from life.


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