The Passing of Time (and Character)

The Stranger written by Albert Camus is largely a stream of consciousness into a character Meursault. Things happen in the plot, events that would change someone’s life permanently, but the narration is so distant that it brings the focus away from the plot and to the mind of the character.

With Meursault as well as Camus’ portrayal of Sisyphus in “The Myth of Sisyphus”, the characters that are attached to existentialism aren’t philosophers; they are unaware of the exact nature of what distinguishes them from others. Sisyphus goes from sad to happy in his respective story, which is a little simpler of an interpretation of the philosophy despite its being much more difficult to read. Meursault is more complicated in that he isn’t necessarily happy or sad, or important even in his own head. He finds some enjoyment in daily activities like eating and napping, and finds conversations interesting, but he feels neither doomed nor enlightened.

For a lot of the story, Camus seems to throw problems and events at Meursault to see how he reacts.

A lot of time passes in the first and second chapter of part II. And for the most part, Meursault’s lifestyle is stagnant. The eleven months that pass of his questioning have virtually no effect on his mental state, and his five months in prison only act as a rehab from things like going to the beach and smoking, and then he becomes adjusted and lives what to him is a complete life, with brand new daily activities:

“So with all the sleep, my memories, reading my crime story, and the alternation of light and darkness, time passed” (80).

I think that losing track of time is less of an effect of prison and more of the natural consequence of an existentialist philosophy, personified by Meursault’s circumstances. Meursault values life for the sole purpose of being able to live, but there’s no reason for him to value time. There’s evidence that Meursault has abandoned parts of his life just to lead a simpler life, and this chapter shows that he also has the ability to abandon time. So, where Camus threw a prison sentence at Meursault, he discovered something new about how Meursault wants to live life.

The following is my favorite quote from the story (so far).

“At 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).