Finding the Meaning in Nothing

When beginning to read The Stranger by Albert Camus, I had a hard time recognizing the point or the purpose of this story. I mean, it’s really hard to recognize considering Meursault’s extremely surface level attitude towards everything, including his mother’s death. During his trial, the director of the home Maman was in said, “He had been surprised by [Meursault’s] calm the day of the funeral” and that “[He] hadn’t wanted to see Maman, [he] hadn’t cried once, and that [he] left right after the funeral without paying [his] last respects at her grave” (Camus, 89). It might just be the way Meursault deals with grief, but to be honest, his inability to express his emotions not only confused me, but made me a little angry.

I think the fact that I was so mind boggled by Meursault’s response to usually emotion evoking events made me neglect what the book is trying to get across: is there any meaning to life? Honestly, I find this to be a frustrating theme. I like things to be very cut and dry, so the fact that I have to use my own opinion and figure it out myself isn’t my favorite part of reading this book. However, as Camus says in “The Myth of Sisyphus”, “Myths are made for the imagination to breathe into them”. In the case of The Stranger, I believe the same applies. We as readers have to breathe imagination into this book and form our own opinions on the meaning of life.

The Art Of “Getting Used To It”

As we continue through Albert Camus’s The Stranger, we see Meursault continue on through his life and eventually end up in prison for killing an Arab. This is a huge twist in the story and Meursault’s life changes drastically. He went from having a routine, a way of life, to ending up in a dark, bug infested prison. As I read this, I thought about how hard it would be for Meursault to adjust to this new experience and new way of life. He was so used to doing things on his own time, without any outside influence about how he acted and what he did. Now, he is thrown for a loop and has little to no control over his actions in prison.

He states that the adjustment was difficult at first, “When I was first imprisoned, the hardest thing was that my thoughts were still those of a free man” (76). He continues on and thinks, “But that only lasted a few months. Afterwards my only thoughts were those of a prisoner” (77). This highlights how he was able to adjust to a new life, adapting the thoughts and actions that he felt helped him in his new environment. Furthermore, he states, “All the time, I often thought that if I had had to live in the trunk of a dead tree with nothing to do but look up at the sky flowering overhead, little by little I would have gotten used to it” (77). I think this is important because he is showing that no matter where he is put, he feels that he is able to adjust and become familiar and “used to” his new place.

I think this is a very important point to make, especially in regards to the year 2020 and what has been going on in our world. No one thought that the entire world would be going through a pandemic and all of the chaos that has emerged from it, but we have gotten used to it. We went from being confused and scared, to every person wearing a mask being normal, and another semester of school from home. While no one was expecting this to happen, and no one is necessarily ecstatic about it, we as humans have all gotten used to it. It is a human adaptation, being able to grow and learn in a new environment, and it is one that I think is very crucial in present times. Both Meursault and people all over the world have been able to “get used” to a big change and make the best out of it.

Feeling Human

In the Myth of Sisyphus, a man named Sisyphus was in the underworld, and lied to the gods saying that he needed to go back to Earth in order to punish his wife for not preparing his body correctly after death. After the gods sent him back to Earth, Sisyphus spent his time enjoying life as a human. The gods noticed that they had been tricked by Sisyphus and decided to punish him with the physical and mental strain of pushing a heavy stone up a mountain only for it to role down as he reaches the top.

Camus argues that while this is supposed to be a torture, it really would be making Sisyphus happy. This argument is considered absurd until you dive deeper into why pushing a stone up a mountain for eternity could ever be a good thing; “the whole effort of a body straining to raise the huge stone, to roll it, and push it up a slope a hundred times over”(Albert Camus) honestly sounds awful. Camus states that the physical act of touching the stone and the feeling of struggle in Sisyphus’ body would be enough to give him a sense of the life he wanted back. It made him feel human in the underworld, which is all he wanted in the first place.

I agree with Camus’ argument that this punishment for Sisyphus isn’t really a punishment. I agree that, yes, having the feeling of touch and feeling like being on Earth for someone who always wanted to live would make them somewhat happy. However, Camus also argues that Sisyphus was able to turn his punishment into an everyday task and be content. The only way he was able to live out his punishment in the underworld for eternity was by accepting the absurdity. By acknowledging that the punishment is the way the afterlife is going to be, Sisyphus was able to not be punished.

Rethinking What Really Matters

Life is short so it is important to focus on what matters and let go of what doesn’t. The most important things in life are not our phones, TVs, new cars or big impressive houses and they can not be found at the bank. In reality the most important things in life are on a very short list. The most important things in life are our purpose, time, health and our relationships with others. You can have many material things in life and be a millionaire but nothing will fulfill you like those four things.

Purpose is our why. It was controls and fuels our actions. It causes us to be passionate about things. And it is involved in everything you do in life; work, relationships and our approach to living our lifes. It means living your life in an intentional way and it gives you extra meaning and a deeper sense of self.

Next is time. Everyone has the same amount of time in their day; twenty-four hours. But some people run around stressed complaining that they do not have enough time while others approach life in a relaxed state but still seem to get just as much done. Many people make poor choices when it comes to time management on a daily basis. Each time you say yes to doing something for someone else, you are saying no to doing somthing for yourself. Time is a fleeting resource, once it is spent you cannot get it back so it is very important to be selective with the time you have. This is difficult if you are spending your entire day doing school work for different classes or working multiple jobs. What you can do is find small pockets of time to invest in passions, projects and self care. Though your job may be to care for someone else, it is so necessary to care for yourself along the way.

Third is health. Many people take their health for granted until they have a reason not to. Many neglect to exercise and then find themselves wonderingwhy the struggle to climb up a flight of stairs. It is important to take care of one of the most important things in your life because anything could happen at any moment and take it away.

Lastly, in my opinion the most important aspect of life is your relationships. Many people lead very busy lives which causes them to think they don’thave enough time for relationships. However, that busyness is created by yourself. That means it is important to step away from it and focus on the relationships you are neglecting. Your friends, family and loved ones are what add meaning to your life. You MUST make time for these relationships. Being busy is fine if your busy with the most essential things in your life like your relationships.

Purpose, time, health and loved ones. These are the things that make life more complete so it is important to treat them accordinly

Does It Matter That Nothing Matters?

It has been established that all of those things that give us purpose in life exist simply to distract us from the inevitable: death. We use things like love, friendship, new experiences, happiness, freedom, money, and even our own identities to make our time on Earth feel like it is about more than birth, reproduction, and eventually death. But does it matter? Does it matter that nothing we value really matters?

To believe that nothing matters, while accurate, is demoralizing at best. With that mindset, one might be completely content to spend the rest of their life in bed staring at the ceiling or watching paint dry. While these activities are valid and don’t change the eventual outcome of their life, why would one choose to not go live? Our time here is meaningless, so why not make the most of it? Why shouldn’t we stay up too late or learn about the things we love or challenge ourselves? It may be pointless, but does that make it not valid? If we could enjoy our time alive instead of wasting away, why shouldn’t we? I think that knowing that nothing matters is important for overcoming fear, and to help us find calm and work through problems that feel daunting or life changing. However, that awareness can be balanced with an excitement for life. If nothing matters, it can’t hurt to try for whatever makes you happy. The worst that can happen is failure, and if you fail, it doesn’t matter.

The Descent

In Albert Camus’ short essay “Myth of Sisyphus”, he compares Sisyphus’ punishment to the life of an average worker. It is a repetitive and grueling job that one is required to perform. Camus claims however, that the difference between the two is Sisyphus’ realization of his own fate. After pushing a large rock up a hill hundreds of times just for it to fall back down again, Sisyphus experiences the joy in knowing his own torment. However “tragic”, as Camus says, this myth may seem, Sisyphus understands why he is punished and that although it will never end, he is still superior to his torment. Comparing this to an average worker today may seem irrational, however I find the similarities between the two to be interesting. It is true that typically, the average worker of today is performing very repetitive tasks, not as exaggerated as Sisyphus’, but the same concept nonetheless. What is even more interesting, is the difference between them. On his descent, Sisyphus’ realization completely shifts his mindset and view toward his grueling task. Workers today, don’t typically have such a realization and think more “realistically” based off of society’s standards. Due to his grasp of “reality”, Sisyphus decides that his fate belongs to him and despite his punishment, he is no longer tethered to the pain it brings him.

Existentialism in life and death

Albert Camus explores the mindset of an existentialist throughout his novel, The Stranger, through the character of Mersault. He is a textbook example of an existentialist. He doesn’t believe in love or have ambition or a desire to help others. He forms really no opinions of his own. His mindset is really, it is what it is, that life is random or absurd.

I read another work about existentialism by philosopher who is one of the most famous existentialists, Jean Paul Sartre. In his play, Huis Clos or No Exit, he perpetuates the idea of existentialism quite effectively through three main characters who all happen to be dead. This novel perpetuates a different philosophy of existentialism than The Stranger does. It perpetuates the existentialist notion that, “Hell is other people.” 

The Stranger perpetuates the notions on how existentialist view life whereas Huis Clos educates us on how existentialists view death, and or hell. Both of these novels help their readers understand existentialism on a deeper level through character experiences and are thus for the best method to learn about this philosophy.

Meursault just upsets me.

Usually when I read a book for English, I find it to be a challenge to connect to or get invested in the story. With “the stranger,” I read about Meursault and his words and actions irritate me. Everything in his life is handed to him, everyone he meets with goes out of their way to be nice and positive. But




That’s what bothers me, nothing matters to him. This come from part one, part two hasn’t changed mu opinion yet but my examples come from part one. Maman dies, yet his life continues as if nothing happened. Basically just “well, it is what it is.” and moves on. This is just an inhuman response, and I don’t get it. Then, he meets Marie. Simplifying a bit here, but, go swimming, make breakfast, Marie says “will you marry me?” and Meursault just says “Sure ok, if you want to.” His boss offers him a promotion in Paris. Again, he doesn’t accept or decline, just shows no interest what so ever. People around him are nice and treat him well, but it all does does not matter. However, because of my strong dislike of the main character I’m the most invested in a class novel in a long time.

Superficial Relationships

In Strangers, the protagonist Meursault meets with several other characters in the story but his relationships lack any emotional connection. Meursault relationship with his mother, her friendship with Raymond, and romance with Marie are passionless and surface level.

At the start of the story, Meursault discovers his mother has died. It states, “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: “Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.” That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.” (3). Meursault isn’t focused on her death but more obsessed with which day she has died. Meursault’s lack of reaction presents the absence of a emotional connection to his mother.

Throughout the story, Meursault’s non-existent emotional connection with others is juxtaposed with other passionate bonds between characters. During the virgil, his mother’s friends in the home grieved for her. Meursault’s superficial relationships is compared with the tender relationship between his mother and Thomas Perez from the home.

Although residents from the home weren’t usually allowed to go to the funerals it is written, “But in this case he’d given one of mother’s old friends–Thomas Perez–permission to join the funeral procession.” (13). While Meursault reacts to his mother’s death passively, Thomas Perez was so close to her that he was allowed to be at the funeral.

Then it describes their relationship, “He told me that my mother and Monsieur Perez often used to walk down to the village together in the evening, accompanied by a nurse.” (15). Thomas and Meursault’s mother’s relationship is passionate and emotional. They have an emotional connection that Meursault doesn’t have in any of his relationships.

Sun as Foreshadow to Murder

During the sixth chapter the diction about the sun foreshadows Meursault’s murder of the Arab man. At the beginning of the chapter Meursault says “The day, already bright with sun, hit my like a slap in the face” (47). Meursault is then on annoyed at many little things that are going on around him like Raymond’s outfit and then there is a mention of the Arabs watching them get on the bus. Then on page 52, “The sun was shining almost directly overhead onto the sand, and the glare on the water was unbearable”. Soon after they encounter the two Arab men but because of the use of the word unbearable and that Meursault does not heavily denounce the sun yet is foreshadow to the the men escaping. On page 55 Meursault says, “By now the sun was overpowering. It shattered into little pieces on the sand and water” and when Meursault takes Raymond’s gun to head to the beach, “There was the same dazzling red glare” (57). Meursaults language about the sun becomes more and more intense as he nears the murder. Then during the scene when he is fighting the Arab man he describes personifies the light as cutting into his forehead and the light is crashing down on him, cutting and stabbing into his eyes (59). This intense, vivid imagery about the sun foreshadows Meursault shooting him. The sun plays a role in foreshadowing Meursault shooting the man but could also play a role in killing itself.

Repetitive life

In Camus’s short essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, Cumus argues that a human’s life is similar to sisyphus’ life. You get up, go to a job you’ve been working at most of your life, and do the same thing every day. I disagree with this argument because I don’t believe everyone leads a repetitive life. For example, a man might go to work, and go home to his family at night. He might play with his son or daughter, talk his wife, do chores, but every day will be different and will require different actions. Another example is a personal habit. Say a young boy’s habit is to play baseball, and play it everyday religiously. Every day that boy plays baseball he might hit a home run, strike out every chance he gets, or make every single clutch play. But, every single game he plays is different, and he is always improving his craft forcing change in his actions over time.

In all, The myth of sisyphus represents the torture of repetitiveness. I believe that nobody chooses to lead a repetitive life because people are always changing.

what is love

Meursault is infatuated by Marie but he doesn’t love her. He doesn’t believe in love. He knows he likes having her around and he enjoys her company but love is a no. He makes it clear that he doesn’t believe in love because he doesn’t love his mother. Some may think that is harsh but thinking like Meursault it makes perfect sense. He feels life is meaningless and random. He enjoys what should be enjoyed with the thought of everything being temporary. He goes with the flow of life. He doesn’t invest too much emotion in situations that aren’t his. He views love as fictional.

Smile at the Little Things

Albert Camus brings up an interesting viewpoint of the meaning of life in his argument within “Myth of Sisyphus”. While reading, I reflected on his proposal for why Sisyphus is actually content with his punishment by the Gods. Sisyphus is punished by the Gods with the task of pushing an enormous stone up a hill, all for it to fall back down, and thus Sisyphus must start again. At first, I believed that this would be an extremely challenging and horrible punishment because the person works so hard to complete something but can never quite finish the task. As a perfectionist and goal-oriented person, not being able to successfully bring the stone up the hill without it rolling back down would strike up an excessive amount of anxiety and anger to myself mentally.

What I had not thought about before Camus’s synopsis was that he mentions how his punishment includes several of the wonderful amenities Earth provides including the stone and hill. I believe that Albert Camus argues that since Sisyphus can control his punishment, embrace his fate, and recognizes the amazing objects Earth provides us, Sisyphus is happy.

This allowed for myself to reflect on all of the amazing things that surrounds my everyday life and all the little things I take for granted. The small cherishes of accomplishing and experiencing life.

Although this is not exactly what Camus was stating or trying to prove, my reflection brought me to the ponderous question; what is the meaning of life? I could state all the big and small things that I live for including: family, friends, my future, love, etc. But I have realized that the meaning of life is subjective. Everyone is living for different reasons. It may be because of faith. Or money. Or even living to find the meaning of life. Everyone is living for their own reasons and meaning of life.

So that leads me to think why live for meaning in life in any construct you choose to live if it all ends the same? Death.

But for now, I will embrace my life and cherish everything in my life to the best of my capability.