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.