“II. Zealots Of Stockholm” – The Existentialist Theme Song

Heathen, it's a struggle just to keep breathing
“II. Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information)” by Childish Gambino

By definition, existentialism is defined a philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will. While we’ve explored the lot of existentialist ideals worked into our readings of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, I believe one of the most profound pieces of existentialist media is Donald Glovers “Because The Internet”, specifically his song titled “II. Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information). The overall story of the song follows Glovers relationships with his parents which evolves into the overall questioning of life and death. Throughout the song many lines allude to the overall existential meaning of the song, such as the final line of the first verse reading “F*ck him, I just really wanna feel something,” making reference to a girl pursuing her own individuality through cheating on her significant other for satisfaction. While I won’t cite the lines in full due to their explicit nature, it’s worth highlighting Glover’s notes of existentialist ideals throughout the rest of the track. During the second verse, Glover makes reference to the un-importance of sexual relationships being heavily romantic, the human race being in a constant race to achieve artificial power, as well as the fragility and insignificance of the human life. While Glover is known for plenty works displaying commentary on the worlds issues through music and film, some of his work being categorized as that of the theater of the absurd/existentialist type deserves more exploration and further attention in the media.

Albert Camus Anatomy of the Philosophy of Absurdism

In the novel “The Stranger,” by Albert Camus, confronts an important issue and uses the singular viewpoint of the narrator Meursault to develop his theme of absurdism. Camus managed to to bring on a subject of humanity that is not often talked about. Absurdity is, in philosophy, the conflict to find meaning to something that essentially doesn’t have a meaning. Meursault shows this throughout most of the novel. In the very first sentence of the novel Meursault starts off by stating, “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I can’t be sure” (Camus 4). Meursault fails to mourn of his mother’s death. Camus perceives life itself absurd, life is meaningless; but even more absurd that humans struggle to find meaning to something that meaningless. There is no meaning to life and therefore people should perceive life in there own way.

Marriage in The Stranger and Trust

The main characters Meursault in The Stranger, and Matthew and Maria in the movie Trust (1990), are all prototypes for the Absurdist hero. All of them live as misfits, ignoring social norms and expectations. This is especially evident in their regard for marriage. While Meursault was willing to marry Marie even though he admitted to her on multiple occasions that he did not love her, he did so with emotional involvement of deciding what to eat for dinner. Not once did he question or wrestle with the idea of marriage; he was okay with it if it was something Marie wanted. He certainly didn’t see marriage as a life-changing decision that needed any deep thought.

Similarly in the movie Trust, Maria was willing to marry her boyfriend more out of convenience due to her pregnancy than any true love for him. She sees him more as a stable provider as he will probably work for his father’s business and have a stable income. When he dumps her, she’s not upset and doesn’t express any real love for him. Matthew too has a strange view of marriage as he offers to marry Maria and raise her baby while only knowing her mostly as a friend and for a short time. None of them take marriage seriously. Although I guess this fits with the Absurdist view that nothing really matters in the end, including marriage.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

In both The Stranger by Albert Camus and the movie Trust (1990), the characters seem unaffected by the norms of the world around them. Meursault of the former appears to be detached and unconcerned with the happenings of society, and the actors in the latter portray their characters with deadpan expressions and unrealistic dialogue. As both of these pieces of media are commentaries on the restrictions of societal norms, the unrealistic and often unemotional appearance of the characters amplifies the social mores that are being critiqued.

In The Stranger, Meursault does not value the things that society tells him to value. The character of the people he surrounds himself with does not concern him, nor does the expectation that one should cry at one’s mother’s funeral. He does not follow the widely accepted way of living and does not care about what people think others should care about. His seeming indifference to the world is received harshly by his peers. During his court case, he is persecuted mostly for the abnormal way in which he acts. Through the harsh contrast between Meursault’s unemotional and uncaring nature and society’s (as shown through the jury) expectations of others, we see the ridiculous nature of imposed societal norms.

In Trust, the actors deliver their lines in a way that is lacking emotion that may make viewers cringe. This muted unrealistic performance of some is matched by heightened unrealistic performance of others in the film. The absurd behavioral patterns of Michael’s father and Maria’s mother compared to Michael and Maria’s subdued and abnormal approach to the world illuminates the strangeness of societal patterns and norms.

Misogyny in The Stranger and Trust (1990)

Both pieces of media, The Stranger and Trust (1990), center around men, these being Mersault and Matthew. These men both have love interests, the love interests being Marie and Maria, with Maria being more of the main character. My main issue is with Marie from the novel The Stranger. In the book, Marie is never a fleshed-out character, despite being an important character for the events within the novel. 

Marie is seen as merely an extension of Mersault, not as a unique individual. Furthermore, most descriptions of Marie are when he is having sex with her or thinking about having sex with her, illustrating that Mersault likely just sees her as a sex object. 

Trust is different in that regard, with Maria being a more fleshed-out character. However, Maria is also an extension of the male main character, albeit in a more subtle way. Maria’s development centers around Matthew, constantly trying to prove to him how smart and mature. Even conflicts with her mother heavily center around men in the story, that being her dad, her (ex) boyfriend, and Matthew. Matthew, on the other hand, has his character development rely not only on Maria but also on the events of his job and conflicts with his father.
 

In the end, Trust  is not a movie that criticizes the misogynistic troupes, leading to said troupes not being challenged and an overall misogynistic mi

Marie is Happy too

Albert Camus’ The Stranger exhibits the way that societal expectations serve to uphold a system in which everyone’s aim is to reach an ideal and is, therefore, never satisfied. These ideals are merely constructs, however; irrational and absurd. Camus asserts that the only way to truly seek happiness is to avoid seeking control over what is random and to embrace one’s agency to determine their own fate. 

Of the characters through which Camus demonstrates the theme of his novel, Marie acts as somewhat of a contradiction. She chooses to follow societal norms, unlike characters like Meursault and Salamano, who are disconnected from judgment and expectations. Marie illustrates what is expected of a romantic relationship when she asks Meursault if he wishes to marry her (41). The motivation behind this as well as her subsequent questioning of whether he loves her seems to be because Marie assumes this is what should happen in a romantic relationship like theirs. The widely accepted image of love that she embodies merely serves to establish a need for perfection in the construction of an expected passion for romance.

Despite striving to follow in the image of society, Marie is the most joyful character in the novel. This is in part because of her naivety, but also because she is the most open-minded and accepting. When Meursault responds to her question, he is contradictingly dispassionate. Marie is not upset by this, but comes to understand Meursault’s seemingly shallow view of her. While one might argue that this only proves her naivety, it also allows her to fully enjoy her relationship with Meursault because she is not overly attached to any one idea or expectation.

Meursault and Matthew: One in the Same?

Upon reading the novel The Stranger and watching the movie Trust, the similarities of two important characters in these two different stories are hard to ignore: Meursault and Matthew. Their own names bare a resemblance (both starting with “M”) as does the names of the women they take a liking to: Marie and Maria. They also both play a significant role in the lives of those around them. Meursault getting Marie to fall in love with him and propose to him, and Matthew showing up in Marie’s life and changing her outlook on her future and what she wants to do with it.

Despite their similarities, they also have their differences. Meursault doesn’t seem to fall in love or have a desire for love with Marie the way that Matthew does towards Maria, Matthew even going as far as wishing to marry her on a whim. Matthew also seems to be more expressive and emotional, showing frustration and anger towards Marie’s mother taking advantage of her. Meanwhile, Meursault lacked the ability to cry at his own mother’s funeral or show any emotion at all.

This demonstrates the various ways that lifestyles can differ from person to person throughout fiction and real life, no two people being exactly the same.

Perspective in The Stranger

One of Camus’ central arguments is that perspective towards events in one’s life determines the meaning one receives from life. Examples of different perspectives are shown throughout the story.

Marie eventually asks Meursault if he wants to marry her and he responded that  “it didn’t make any difference to me and that we could if she wanted to” (p.41). Meursault’s perspective toward his and Marie’s relationship is indifferent. Meursault is not affected by a proposal of marriage; he is not affected in life at all. Futhermore, when asked if he felt any sadness the day of his mother’s funeral, “I probably did love Maman, but that didn’t mean anything” (p.65). Meursault didn’t feel anything after his mother’s death. His indifferent perspective causes him to feel nothing in life, he receives no meaning from the happiness of marriage or death of a loved one. Camus brings to light an important question for us all to examine in our own life: how does our own perspective contribute to the way we feel and experience life?

Meursault’s Development on The Stranger

When it comes to Albert Camus’ novel, The Stranger, we are given a detailed description of the central protagonist, Meursault. He is described as cold and uncaring. He is welded in a cage that restricts his emotions and makes reality meaningless to him. This is evident throughout the novel, beginning with lost expressions at Maman’s funeral. This goes even further in terms of exacting vengeance on his friend Raymond, resulting in his imprisonment. In the later chapters, he chooses to disregard moral principles and rejects new ideas from the chaplain. When Meursault pleads guilty, we see a distinct change in his demeanor, which shifts from isolation to acceptance. Even as he approaches death, he begins to develop a sense of hope and accepts this new change in his life, displaying happiness.

Analysis of The Stranger

The Stranger by Albert Camus focuses on Meursault, the protagonist, and his development throughout the novel. Considering Meursault’s lack of empathy for others, we are presented with a number of factors. Meursault initially attends Maman’s funeral and displays little to no emotion. Toward the end of the novel, he admits that he did not feel empathy for his own mother during the funeral, nor did he experience any upsetting feelings. He has been described as hollow and devoid of empathy for the lives of others. We are given a description of Meursault’s overcoming and acceptance of what he had done and lost at the end, when he pleads guilty during the trial. When his true nature is revealed, the moral lesson to be learned is revealed. When you take something for granted, the moment it slips from your grasp, you realize you’ve lost something valuable. Only then do you realize that what you had may be nearly impossible to reclaim.

The exact moment Meursault finds happiness.

“And I felt ready to live it all again too. As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself — so like a brother really — I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again” (122).

In Albert Camus’ The Stranger, the main character, Meursault rejects the traditional societal structures that many people value. For example, he doesn’t want to marry his girlfriend, Marie, he doesn’t cry at his mother’s funeral, and he doesn’t believe in God. Meursault believes these relationships create false hope for people that death isn’t certain. People don’t want to face the meaninglessness of death and death itself, so they grasp onto these societal structures to escape it.

In the last chapter of the novel, Meursault rises above these societal structures and realizes the indifference of the world. After waiting in his prison cell, hoping for the appeal to his eviction to come back positively, Meursault finally grasps the certainty and reality of death. “Everybody was privileged. There were only privileged people. The others would all be condemned one day. And he would be condemned too” (121). No matter what anyone did in their lives, they were all elected to the same fate. During their lives, people are never satisfied because they always try to reach greater success.

Through Meursault, Albert Camus argues that one isn’t truly happy until they face the certainty of their death. They can live their lives with meaning once they accept their inevitable fate. In The Stranger, once Meursault accepts his appeal will never come back positive, he spends every waking hour appreciating his last days. The guards were going to take him away to be exiled at night, so he takes peace when dawn comes around knowing that he will live another day.

Once Meursault accepts death, he finds happiness.

Camus’ Theory Applied to Us

Tre B

The Stranger gives us a very unusual perspective on an idea most people think they know the answer to, but according to Meursault and Camus they are doing everything wrong. The idea in question is the answer to life or what is the purpose of existing. To most people things like sports, music, cooking, and family are reason enough to live for because they enjoy having it in their life. Camus’ theory would only work if you were the only person livng on earth because you have no one else to interact with, but because there’s more than one person on earth social interactions and problem will occur no matter what. This means that lifes true purpose isn’t just to feel existence itself and do nothing but take what life gave you and make yourself and those around you the happiest for the time we have to live. If all you did was focus on the future then you would never live in the moment for which you truly said you wanted too. Just because death is inevitable doesn’t mean you should throw away the people or things you that gave you joy even if it’s not forever.

Radical Subjectivity is Unachievable

Existentialism encourages people to aim toward radical subjectivity or, in other words, the development of identity separate from social conditions and influence. Radical subjectivity, however, in its purest form, is simply not achievable. The issue is that people can not avoid being influenced by their environment. Our environment is, after all, a leading factor in what differentiates one person from another. Therefore, to a large degree, people act how their environment has shaped them to act. One cannot act separately or distinctly from their environment because their desire for these actions was, in fact, formed by the environment. It seems to me that the pursuit of Radical subjectivity is nothing more than a lost cause.

Now, if you believe that many of the things that most people value, such as family, morality, and relationships, are merely social constructs but also think radical subjectivity is not wise to pursue, you are in a tough spot. What I would recommend is just embracing the social constructs despite your lack of belief in them. This is no small task, but I believe the conditions of life will be better for everyone if you embrace the systems. I am not saying you have to always agree with the majority of people, but maybe attempt to buy into a few values that many people would claim to have meaning and you personally feel drawn to. This is at least a more desirable path to take than radical subjectivity. I will not go in depth but radical subjectivity would lead to some morally dark areas, especially if everyone attempted to pursue it. So as counter-intuitive as it may seem, participating in the systems of society is your best bet.

Why Meursault Is Content

Meursault should be distraught by the end of The Stranger. After months in prison, he is about to be executed by guillotine with no way out; but he isn’t. In fact, he is perfectly at peace on the night before his death. The reason why Meursault is content is found in Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus”. According to Camus, Sisyphus is happy because his fate is one that he created out of his own free will, and his fate wasn’t imposed on him by someone else. Similarly, in The Stranger, Meursault finds peace because he created his own fate. He realized that he could have done things differently, but it wouldn’t matter because he would inevitably die regardless of the actions he took (121). Ultimately, Meursault finds peace because he realizes that he is in a situation that he created out of his own free will, and because it doesn’t matter that he’s about to die because it would have happened anyway, with the only difference being the where and when.

unadulterated human, Meursault is the least human human

An old Chinese curse goes along the lines of, “May he be blessed to live in interesting times.” Insinuating that times of danger and uncertainty are the most creative times in history. However, I disagree, a simple life is a life worth living. Children when they are born are endowed with a fundamental sense of fairness, right, wrong, and justice. And while they lack the cognitive functions to see the nuances of these issues it’s still a point worth making. Meursault’s life and characterization go against his base human biological state, exemplifying his general lack of moral compass or lack of acknowledgment of said compass. While Meursault is a human, he does miss a certain part of being a human, the innate sense of accountability that almost all humans feel, and this transgression is shown rather brutally. While the court, trial, and justice system is not the perfect example of this innate sense of right and wrong endowed on children, it serves as a sort of caricature of it. Meursault is almost an observer, and when he is yanked out of his orbit and brought down to reality, he is forced to confront the fact that he is not quite like the others. A simple life is often a life living, but too simple of a life seemingly strips away an innate human aspect.

The Importance of Family “Trust” and “The Stranger”

Family is a constantly recurring theme in both the film “Trust” and Albert Camus’s “The Stranger”. In both”Trust” and “The Stranger” family is seen as a value that many side characters hold highly while the main characters, Maria and Meursault, either dislike or choose to disregard. In “Trust” Maria is constantly being pulled into a traditional family dynamic by her mother, who wants her to live at home and provide by doing chores and participating in the family. Matthew also constantly urges Maria to participate in a traditional family dynamic by asking her to marry him and raise her child with him, despite it not being his child. In “The Stranger” Meursault is told by Salamano that he should be upset that his mother died and he no longer has a family. He is also urged by Marie to marry her and participate in the family in that way. Meursault disregards both these conversations and feels as if he is not wrong for feeling nothing toward his mother and her death. He is later prosecuted on the basis of this and made to seem cold-hearted for not caring about his family. Maria similarly is made out to seem like a bad person for getting an abortion, as represented by when the nurse discusses how her car is vandalized, there for ending her traditional family. Both characters later have their family destroyed in some way. Meursault, who realizes how his mother was content with her newfound family, Perez, and Maria who has Mattew physically pulled away from her by police.

Morality differences in “Trust” and “The Stranger”

When we watched the film, “Trust” after reading Camus’ “The Stranger”, I think myself and a lot of my peers were probably struck by many of the parallels that seemed to exist between the book and the film. After all, the movie has a very mundane and depressing tone for a lot of its duration, just like “The Stranger”, where lot of events seem to happen that would be best explained through an absurdist world devoid of meaning. For example, at the beginning of the movie, Maria’s dad just suddenly collapses and dies. It is explained as a result of many problems her dad had, but it is presented in the movie as a totally inexplicable, random event that happens to occur at just the right moment for Maria’s mother to unleash all of her wrath onto Marie. The whole film takes on a gray, monotonous sort of feeling while details like Matthew having a grenade and a baby being kidnapped seem to be presented rather bluntly; there are things that just happen or exist and are portrayed in a rather straight forward way not unlike moments in “The Stranger” where domestic violence and murder are also described as something that just sort of happens and is experienced by Meursault; not in a particularly emotional way, just as a reality of the absurd world he lives in.

Despite these similarities, an interesting difference I saw between the two, especially towards the end of “Trust”, comes in the form of how some of the morals or ethics shown in both. Something I found striking is that although Matthew is a very smart guy and can fix all kinds of electronics, part of the reason he keeps quitting/has difficulty coming to terms with his job is because he sees it as unethical. The company he works for makes defective products so that they will get clients to come back and pay for them to be fixed. The company wants Matthew to keep his head down and just do his job, but it becomes clear that Matthew feels strongly against this so much that he keeps quitting. When reflecting about this moment I thought this showed an interesting divergence from “The Stranger”. If this were Meursault’s job, in my opinion, Meursault would absolutely not care if he was scamming people or not. We see that Meursault barely has a moral pulse throughout the entire book, for example when writing the letter for Raymond or when murdering someone.

In contrast, in “Trust”, the movie actually ends with Matthew and Marie sharing a genuine moment at the computer-repair shop where their love for each other is evident and Marie saves Matthew from his own suicide attempt. Marie and Matthew don’t really have much in terms of power or money to gain by loving one another, but over the course of the movie they seem to find that they really do genuinely love and understand one another. Meursault doesn’t really ever feel that emotional towards other characters, usually valuing people in a more materialist sense. While the movie ends in uncertainty for Marie and Matthew, it is clear that they have broken through the mundane world with their genuine emotions for one another, creating a world between the two of them that is dynamic enough to dispel any ideas about an absurdist existence. Ultimately, one story features a man arrested, contended, and alone on death row with another also arrested but clearly discontented and wanting to be with Marie. Despite many of the apparent similarities between the novel and the film, “real”, emotional, love is responsible for revealing some very stark differences between “Trust” and “The Stranger”.

Existential Women

In the 1990s film Trust, Maria is unable to truly reach radical subjectivity until she is no longer pregnant. It is almost impossible for her to detach herself from the world around her when she has something inside her depending on her to live. Her high school boyfriend is easily able to make her pregnancy a non-problem for himself because he is not physically attached to the pregnancy. While Maria has to put the baby into consideration until she decides to abort it.  She could not just decide to ignore the pregnancy or decide that it didn’t matter because sooner or later she would need to give birth or have an abortion. Pregnant women like Maria have to go further than their male counterparts to be radical subjects.

Belonging Vs. Individualism

The Stranger complicates ideas about whether it is right or wrong to conform to societal norms, how it affects others’ lives, and how individuals experience the consequences of their choices. The use of a character such as Meursault, whose lack of belief puts him at the furthest end of non-conformity to social norms, allows Camus to test questions about individuality and belonging by placing Meursault in different moral venues and examining the consequences of his actions.

Meursault’s relationship with Raymond demonstrated how non-belief can be harmful to others. On the other hand, Meursault’s relationship with Marie demonstrated how non-belief could be beneficial to others. The court scene showed the community’s moral judgment of his character, and the pre-execution scene showed the impact of his stance on himself. Hence, Camus does not offer one right answer to the conflict between belonging and individuality, rather, he uses a story to pose questions for debate and exploration. Through offering a series of moral encounters, Camus forces the reader to reflect upon their own stances to make a judgment on Meursault’s character.

Theme in “The Stranger” Goes Beyond Existentialism

In Albert Camus’s The Stranger, Mersault experiences what many can’t wrap their heads around, the idea that nothing matters and all concepts in society are really social constructs worth nothing. The theme of Camus’s The Stranger is that life is what you make of it and experiences throughout life only have meaning if meaning is given to them. Meursault’s character represents this idea as he navigates through different, dramatic life experiences in an unconventional way. The reader learns about Mersault through his relationships, like his mother and Marie, as well as his experience in prison. By putting little value into these experiences, it could actually be a good thing, because he lacks pain. Although some might criticize him and say a life lived like this is sad and that the highs and lows are what bring meaning to life, one could also argue that simplicity and stability are the keys to happiness. Emotional highs and lows often bring overwhelming thoughts and feelings, causing distress, but Meursault’s life reflects a life of peace, and therefore, happiness. This mindset is also reflected in “Myth of Sisyphus” because Sisyphus lives a life of happiness even though he is forced to live a life many would deem boring and painful. By accepting his life for what it was and getting used to it, he finds peace in the cards that were dealt to him.