Imprisonment vs Existentialism

After reading The Stranger and thoroughly discussing Meursault’s style of narration throughout the novel in class, I think most can conclude that Meursault has many traits of that of an existentialist.

After murdering the Arab in Part I of the novel, Meursault is taken to prison, where he must stay as he awaits his trial.

Throughout the entirety of Part I, it very clear that Meursault feels almost essentially nothing, and the reader lives the story through almost solely his observations and concrete events.

But as you dive deeper into Part II, we begin to get into Meursault’s brain and thinking process. For example, Meursault has the desire to smoke cigarettes while in prison, and “couldn’t understand why they [prison guards] had taken them away when he didn’t hurt anybody. Later on he realized that too was part of the punishment” (Camus 78).

Through the example of Meursault’s desire for cigarettes, the reader is able to see the his seemingly indestructible existentialist ideals deteriorate as he is in isolation and has lost essentially all of his freedom.

Existentialist ideals focus around that all of our learning comes through our experiences. While in the company of others and having freedom in doing whatever he pleased, Meursault was able to hang onto his existentialist ideals firmly. But as soon as this freedom was taken from him when he went to prison, we being to see the cracks in Meursault’s character as he is isolated from other people and the free world.

Existentialist base their entire off of freedom, and once this is taken from them, their character often changes and their normal dis attached tendencies seem to slowly fade away, as in the case of Meursault.

Works Cited:

The Stranger by Albert Camus

2 thoughts on “Imprisonment vs Existentialism

  1. Annie W

    I also thought it was very powerful when Meursault’s existentialist personality broke down and thought it was very telling of what Camus wanted to point out to the audience. However, I disagree when you say that his cigarettes broke down his existentialist personality. He eventually says that not smoking “wasn’t a punishment anymore,” and I think that through the prison taking away his freedom he became even more existentialist in the way that he was able to make himself content with very little.


  2. Monty E

    I agree with your idea that prison cracked Mersaunt. The main part of existentialist thinking, as you said, is freedom from social constructs. I think prison is a hard place to be free from societal control and expectations, even for Mersaunt. I think this was purposeful by Camus, to show how societal constructs can break anyone, even Mersaunt.


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