The Dangers of Existentialism

The Stranger, written in 1942 by Albert Camus, portrays existentialism as dangerous and unproductive through the protagonist, Meursault, who is a caricature of existentialism. Throughout the story, Camus reveals that Meursault is apathetic to most if not all people he encounters. This indifference to the world leads him into murdering a nameless Arab in cold blood. After being sentenced to death by guillotine, Meursault comes to terms with his death and accepts it while finally understanding the “gentle indifference of the world”.

At this point, the reader may feel that Meursault’s existentialist or possibly nihilistic views allow him to live his final hours in happiness. And although that may be the case, the reader has to pause and remember why Meursault is facing his execution; Meursault’s own nihilistic views resulted in him murdering a person due to realizing that he “could either shoot or not shoot”, and that it did not matter. Meursault himself does not know why he shot the man, which hints at his lack of self analysis. At this point, Camus is demonstrating the most exaggerated form of existentialism, which is nihilism, along with the most extreme situation possible, murder, practically telling the reader that existentialism leads to nihilism which destroys any morality in a person, which eventually results in him commiting murder.

In the second part of the book, Camus describes in detail Meursault’s existentialist views allow him to come to terms with both his incarceration as well as his execution. Meursault asserts in his head that he “was always right”, and clearly shows that he has no remorse for his actions. Unable to come to terms with his mistakes, Meursault has deluded himself into happiness as well as a sense of victory over society. In the second to last sentence of the book, Camus reminds the reader that Meursault was happy before his incarceration, revealing that Meursault does not need existentialism in order to feel happy, implying that his existentialism only led him to sadness and suffering even though he himself cannot realize it.

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