The story The Stranger by Albert Camus introduces a character named Meursault, who some could argue is just passing through life and not caring about the attributes such as love, religion and family that people would say makes life worth living. In the story, there is a constant mention of the sun. The sun’s brightness and heat seems to be described in key moments, such as Meursault’s mother’s funeral and the moment on the beach where he decided to go back to the man that was following Raymond. The sun acts as a spotlight on this emotionless, empty character to face reality. It seems as if Meursault makes all his key decisions because of the blinding of the sun beating down on him. It’s inescapable, (unlike everything else in his life.) Meursault felt trapped by the sun’s beams : ” …”Strained every nerve in order to overcome the sun and the thick drunkenness it was spilling over me”(57). The sun’s power allows Meursault to shoot and kill the man. In the beginning of the story, there are multiple mentions of the brightness of the room Meursault was sitting in with his mother’s friends mourning her. The lights and sun makes him see the world in its real light. He sees his mothers friends sad over her in that moment, as well as makes a decision to kill the man on the beach under the spotlight of the light. He can’t hide from it, its always present over him. Kind of like society’s norms and expectations on what makes live worth living.
Existentialism is a theory that emphasizes the importance of free will and determining your own fate. A fate that is not determined by social constructs such as family, love, religion, and gender. Existentialists believe that society should not restrict an individual’s life or actions and that these restrictions inhibit free will and the development of that person’s potential.
When it comes gender, society usually puts emphasis on the MALE/female binary. We are socialized through our families, our education, and the media to believe that certain characteristics make up these two genders. This binary that is forced upon us in not an accurate representation of our community as gender is a spectrum and not everyone’s gender identity matches with their birth sex.
However, how a woman looks and acts is drilled into our brains since birth. Society sets standards. If you meet them or rebel against them is theoretically your own choice. Rebelling against society’s standards is easier said than done. With our constant exposure to the portrayal of gender whether through the people we interact with the movies we watch, at some point both working to fit the stereotype and working to defy it, our choice is not purely our own.
As a young woman, I have debated this choice. Do I stray from the mold? Is it even my choice?
From a young age, I identified as a “tom-boy”, which is the six-year-old versions of refusing stereotypical gender roles. I would not let an article of pink clothing touch my body, because it was too “girly”. Later, I choose to reclaim this “femininity”. I wore pink. I did my make-up. I thought it was my choice to reclaim these “feminine” habits. However, through the view point of existentialism, this choice was not free will. It was heavily influenced by society and its archaic gender roles.