Meursault and Matthew: An Examination of how Existentialism Varies Between The Stranger and Trust

Meursault seems to care about no one but himself and nothing but his physical needs. I will argue that Matthew is a direct foil for Meursault. 

Matthew loves Marie and fixing radios. He is also passionate in the inverse: he hates his dad and fixing televisions. Yet Matthew is still an existentialist. He makes rash decisions like inviting Marie into his home, and has a blase attitude about death by carrying around a hand grenade “just in case”. As we’ve seen in The Stranger, Meursault holds little value to marriage, expressing to Marie that he would marry any other woman who asked. Matthew, on the other hand, outright proposes to Marie several times, even conceding that he loves her by agreeing that respect, admiration, and trust equal love. 

Had Meursault been at the kitchen table with Trust-Marie’s mother, he would have agreed that he probably would’ve gone for Peg since she’s prettier. I’m a bit worried about Meursault having access to a hand grenade though, so let’s journey away from this plot-crossing. 

I would say that Meursault’s existentialism is “every man for himself” whereas Matthew’s is based more on living how he wants to live by picking and choosing which parts of society he wants to live by. 

Is Meursault a Sociopath or an Existentialist?

The definition of a sociopath is “a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience”. In the story The Stranger, the main character Meursault can be seen as a person with very sociopathic tendencies, such as having a lack of emotion, and lack of remorse, shame, and guilt after the death of his mother and his murder of the Arab. But is he actually a sociopath? Or has he just realized that there is no true meaning or purpose to life and that we are the ones who create our own happiness by accepting that?

As we discussed in class, existentialism is the theory that “existence precedes essence”, basically, we exist the moment we are born, without any purpose or meaning, and we define ourselves later in life through our experiences.

Meursault perfectly fits this description throughout the story as he constantly addresses the absurdity of life with his relationship with Marie, and the lives of the Arab and his mother.

Does Existentialism Suit Me?

As someone who had never previously been introduced to the idea of existentialism, the novel The Stranger and our in class conversations about existentialism have been my only exposure to the topic. Upon learning about this new way of viewing the world around us and all the things that society tells us have meaning, I wondered if this is a belief system that one must adopt or be born into, and if this is something that would either enhance or detract from my life if I applied it to myself. Aside from the grim ending of the novel and Meursault’s existence, the idea of existentialism was not showcased as something completley negative.

While the reader and those around Meursault are taken often back by his lack of emotion, for example the way he does not cry at his mothers funeral, his lack of a desire to find a lifelong partner, and when he turns down a new job opportunity, Meursault himself does not suffer from making these choices. If anything, the way that Meursault looks at the face value of things instead of holding them up as pillars of humanity that hold immense value helps him see the true importance of things in his life and prioritize what makes him happy.

This is not to say that things like friends, family, and religion are not useful and fulfilling parts of many peoples lives, but it does make the point that we must value aspects of our life based on the real benefits they bring us instead of trying to live by what most of society views as “success”. I personally believe that I can take many lessons out of this novel and existentialism as a whole. While I would not call myself an existentialist, I very often find myself not valuing things that society deems important, but after careful examination I have realized are either not for me, or do not bring me happiness in the long run.

Why the Idea of Existentialism is so Absurd

After hearing Mr. Heidkamp’s lecture about existentialism, I didn’t know how to feel. Everything I had ever known to be true in my life was suddenly being questioned. It was hard for me to believe that the things I considered meaningful were simply just lies that humans created to avoid confronting the harsh realities of life.

Having English 1st period, this conversation about existentialism stuck with me for the rest of the day. I was constantly trying to wrap my head around the idea. After thinking long and hard about it, I decided that in no way do I agree with the concepts of existentialism. And here is why: Existentialists believe that the loving relationships people form are not what give meaning to life. In fact, they believe that these relationships prevent people from living at their fullest potential. I find this hard to believe because from the moment we are born, we develop these types of relationships with our mothers and fathers, and with the people we meet as we grow up. No one teaches us to love or to care for others. It is a natural human phenomenon.

Rather, I think that the concept of Existentialism was created as a coping mechanism for people who are unsatisfied with their lives. It is an excuse to not feel and not care about things that are not going as well as one would have hoped. This seems to be the case for Meursault in The Stranger. Instead of mourning the death of his mother, he acted indifferent about it. Similarly, during his trial, he didn’t seem to care whether or not he was charged as guilty. Throughout the book, we see many instances in which Meursault avoids confronting the emotions he should be feeling. Then, when he is sentenced to death, Meursault explodes and all his emotions come out all at once in the form of anger and hatred.

To me, the ending of The Stranger seems to reveal the inevitable result of existentialism. Although Meursault stuck with his existentialist mindset through the book, his behavior in the last few moments proves that no good will ultimately come out of existentialism.

Is Existentialism Really The Right Way To Live?

 In the story “The Stranger” by Albert Camus throughout the entire story Camus shows Meursault as a nonchalant and non connected emotion based person towards everyone he is around. Meursault does not seem to think too hard about his mother’s death since he feels that he should not have to be so dramatic like every other person in society. This type of ideology is an okay way to feel but when Meursault is asked if he wanted to get married or loves Marie he does not seem to care or even interested in the conversation. This type of reaction from Meursault is almost manipulative since throughout the story he would say he wanted her but when she would want more he would say he didn’t care. In society a person would be looked at as manipulative towards people even if the other person like meursault was just being brutally honest.

Throughout the story, Meursault does not show that he is sad nor does he show the desire to better his own life at work he just feels that life without desire is more meaningful than following social norms. The idea that achieving things in life is pointless kind of makes living uneventful if you can not achieve things in life you really won’t be able to find a true happy version of yourself. If a person lives life as an existentialist they won’t ever truly be happy they would just be breathing with no direction it would only leave you lonely with no peace.

Is Society Hypocritical?

Society today is all for individualism and expression although there are restrictions hidden within that we fail to recognize. It’s almost as if it is an illusion. Over the years we have made boundaries for what you can and cannot feel. If you don’t feel something similar to what you’re “supposed” to, then you are labeled in a negative way. Yes, as the human race we are similar in numerous ways but no one’s background and experiences are exactly the same, so why do we limit our emotions? We isolate people who feel something real and the worst part is no one even recognizes it.

From the first few paragraphs it is extremely clear that Meursault is not your typical guy. This was based on his attitude and actions towards his mother’s death. Right there the reader plays into society’s stereotypes of what is and isn’t emotionally acceptable. Readers lack that realization that there are various layers to this natural stereotype such as gender roles, age and race. Author Albert Camus confirms this distant pattern with Meursault throughout, as he is emotionally detached from not only his relationships with other characters but life itself. As I was reading, I found myself constantly criticizing his decisions and thoughts. Even in class the next day my fellow classmates were making statements along the lines of “I would have done” and “he makes no sense”. I also felt this way, until part two, when gained consciousness that there is absolutely nothing wrong with how he is feeling. The way he lives isn’t ideal but he makes it work. With the lack of knowledge we have about his past, we as reader can’t assess why he’s so detached. Overall, we need to learn how to accept that sometimes our emotions are just out of our control.

Existentialism in the Trial

I think that one of the most interesting parts of The Stranger, is the trial. The main focus of Meursault’s trial is how he reacted to his mothers death, not that he killed a man. Meursault is being convicted since he is an existentialist, he is living how he wants to instead of following societies constraints. Killing a man is unimportant to his trial even though that is the only crime that he committed.

I think that this is a very interesting point because it shows how society views those who do not fit into its norms. If you do not follow the societal norms then you will be punished which is why Mersault is executed. He did not cry at his mother’s funeral and after it he went to watch a movie with Marie. When someone who is supposed to be important to you dies, such as your mom, society expects that you mourn for a long period of time. Everyone is supposed to be sad when an immediate family member dies and while I agree that this is a very sad time I think that everyone has different relationships with their family. I believe that family, friends, and happiness are some things that do give a meaning to life however existentialism does have a point in that everyone has an individual way of living life. I think that a valid question could be whether Meursault was wrongfully convicted since his trial was primarily based off of his feelings towards his mother. I think that this is also something to be considered in our justice system. Do societal norms have an impact on how people are tried? I am unsure on the answer to this questions but I do find it interesting that Meursault’s entire trial was about his mother instead of the fact that he killed a man.