The Theme of The Stranger and Real Life

I think that the theme of The Stranger is that although the rejection of society’s values can be very detrimental to the survival and success of an individual, by rejecting cultural values we are given the opportunity to create our own values, and in so doing impose order on an absurd world and achieve true fulfillment. This is shown various times throughout the novel. Meursault, through his breach of his society’s command to not murder, puts his own values and desires above those of his society and is imprisoned and set to be executed. However, he accepts this as a necessary consequence of his actions by accepting his execution and time in prison. And he decides that, even though he has died because of it, he is happy that follows his own values and rejects the chaplain’s attempt to impose values on him.

This is all well and good, but how should we apply this insight into real life? I think we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath-water; that is, I don’t think that we should reject all cultural values; or even that creating our own values is the only way to achieve true fulfillment. My parents, for example, have followed societal values, but they’re fulfilled (I think). Rather, I think life is better lived when we just question our values. We don’t have to copy Meursault and ignore all societal values, but we should emulate his questioning of the daily values we take for granted.

The Handmaid’s Tale and The Stranger Comparison

In Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, central ideas are shared with Albert Camus’s novel, The Stranger. In her novel, Atwood depicts a totalitarian society in what was the United States, where women are property of the state and their sole purpose is to procreate.

While their plot, characters, and messages are different, both The Handmaid’s tale and The Stranger illustrate individuals who are given the illusion of autonomy when in reality they have none. Atwood illustrates this through the main character, Offred, stripped of her own name, who, throughout the novel, was given opportunities of normalcy in her secret meetings with the Commander, visits to the brothel, and relations with Nick. While these midnight rendezvous feel like a breath of fresh air to Offred, it is simply a step up from her normal oppression. In the authority allowing her to “rebel” in small, controlled manners subconsciously discourages Offred from going entirely against the system.

This false autonomy is similarly present in the Stranger in the characters’ mirage of distractions that bring meaning to their lives, such as family, religion, and love. Characters are under the impression that they have total control over their lives and their sources of meaning, but it becomes completely absolved in Mersault’s narration. While they have the freedom to choose, for the most part, what they spend their time doing, they have no choice or say in the inevitable end of their lives.

Women in The Stranger and Trust

Women in The Stranger are typically being acted upon instead of making their own decisions. The main character is Meursault, a man who views love and relationships as insignificant. Because of this, women are repeatedly portrayed in negative lights. Raymond’s mistress is painted as a cheater and weak because she is repeatedly abused by him. Women and dogs are repeatedly paralleled in the text, suggesting to readers that they are seen as less human than their male counterparts.

In the movie Trust, a woman, Maria is the main character. Most of the scenes center around her and the experiences she has over the course of the movie. She begins the movie in a “Stranger” sort of portrayal. A promiscuous unmarried, pregnant woman who has been rejected and ostracized from everyone in her life. However over the course of the movie she starts to make more choices that make her a more well rounded character. She takes it upon herself to change her lifestyle, become more educated, and more independent. Trust shows that women are able to break out of the binary Camus introduces in The Stranger and participate in a world where they have more agency.

The Myth of Meursault

Camus’ argument about Sisyphus is about the existential outlook on life. He references the myth as a way to connect how Sisyphus pushing a boulder for eternity demonstrates how some people are in control of their fate, while others are merely a pawn in it. Before being condemned to push the rock, Sisyphus was able to see the beauties of the world, like the sparkling sea and smiles of the Earth. And when the rock descends to the bottom, it reminds man of the joys of life and depresses him further, this is how the rock wins. But in contrast, Sisyphus’ motivation to go down to the bottom and try again, knowing it’s pointless, shows how strong-willed he is. Camus argues that everyday people have the same conditions as Sisyphus, but Sisyphus is happy because he knows the extent of his life and can therefore recognize himself as the controller of his destiny. As Camus says, “his fate belongs to him.”

When you examine Camus’ essay on Sisyphus alongside The Stranger, it would be difficult to figure out which one came first if you didn’t know already. The stories are interconnected because Meursault’s story is one where he was in control of his fate, and Sisyphus took control after laboring aimlessly for 10,000 years. If it were a competition, Meursault would definitely have the bragging rights since he figured it out way faster. Meursault was proactive instead of reactive to his surroundings, and didn’t succumb to the expectations of his peers. And overall, I feel the most powerful takeaway from Camus’ writing was its emphasis on autonomy, and how when humans eliminate outside distractions and embrace our own values is when we can truly dictate our destiny.

Trust. Does Maria Embody Meursault Tendencies?

Trust, the 1990s comedic, dramatic, and crime filled movie displays many complex characters. Maria Coughlin, one of the main characters in Trust embodies similar tendencies to Meursault, the main character in The Stranger. One may argue that both Maria and Meursault are raging existentialist. One may argue that both are thriving in their given environments. Is it fair to categorize both characters as extreme philosophical thinkers or do they just co-exist in society? As I write this, I would argue that Maria and Meursault both embody existentialism and what it means to question constructs. However, I would love to hear your thoughts on this multiplex question.

Thoughts on “Myth of Sisyphus”

I interpreted “Myth of Sisyphus” as Camus stating that the human condition is ever-changing. To be unhappy in a situation like Sisyphus, Camus asserts that one must be conscious of an unfavorable condition and think of things in a negative light. Throughout “Myth of Sisyphus” Camus’ draws parallels to workmen noting how they spend every day doing the same tasks but their fate isn’t considered absurd in turn questioning the validity of Sisyphus’s punishment. Camus then goes on to explain how Sisyphus is in charge of his own destiny and despite being banished to continuously push a rock up a mountain where it will ultimately fall back down, he continues to push it back up. By pushing the rock up the mountain again and again Sisyphus is making his own fate in turn making the action purposeful as he continues to strive to do the impossible. In the end, Camus’ argument is that it’s not about the action it’s about the mindset one holds towards an action that makes it absurd or fulfilling. 

Where do I stand?

I mostly agree with the conclusion Camus’ makes about the human condition. While there are genuinely poor conditions and situations that, no matter how you look at them, are unfavorable there are a lot of situations where the mindset affects the outcome of things. In many aspects of life, you can either give up when something is too complicated or you can preserve and manipulate things so that they are more favorable or attainable to you.