The Meaning of the Sun in the Stranger

In the novel, The Stranger, there is the repeated usage of weather, more specifically, the sun and its heat. The sun symbolizes Meursault’s inner conflicts and overall battles. This makes sense because the sun’s appearance is during times of uncomfort and distress, for example, his mother’s funeral.

When we were first introduced to the story we took a questionaire that asked us “If you do not cry at your moms funeral, is there something wrong with you?” I said yes.

During the funeral for his mom Mersault had an overwhelming response to the heat but no response to his mothers death. Mersault desribed the sun as, “All around me there was still the same glowing countryside flooded with sunlight. The glare from the sky was unearable” (16). Mersualt repeats how the sun is bothersome.

Is there something wrong with Mersault for not crying at his mother’s funeral? I’m not sure yet. I think this is how Mersult shows his feelings. Instead of expressing outward expression the things around him feel more intense and he cannot focus. This happens later on in the novel when he kills Arab the man. He is experiencing something uncomfortable, so the sun becomes intense again.

The sun is negative in Mersault’s life whether you think he has feelings or not. It symbolizes his feelings but mybe later on in the novel it can show us when something bad will happen again.

Does Meursault Believe in Passion?

Meursault shows his indifference towards any sort of relationship he has in his life that goes beyond acquaintances. He seems to not care about anyone in life other than himself, which he rarely cares about. This makes him look like a monster to the reader. This view of Meursault isn’t far from the truth. The end of the book shows that he chose to not take the advice of his lawyer. Meursault does not show any kind of remorse or seem apologetic at all therefore he is a monster. He does not deserve anyone’s pity or sympathy. Not only does he show his carelessness when it comes to his own life but also to his own mother and girlfriend. He views them only as shallow memories and “misses” them based on the things that they would do for him if they were still with him. This is ultimately why he faces the indifference of the world itself when he is punished for the killing of the Arab.

Character On Trial

Throughout the back-and-forth between the prosecution and defense, I noticed how odd the trial seemed.
Full disclosure, I am not a lawyer, but even still, something about this trial seemed atypical, unbecoming of a murder case. First of all, only a page or so is dedicated to prosecution of criminal activity (87-88). The diversion to non-criminal affairs is imminent around page 87, when the prosecutor “had to turn to some questions that might seem irrelevant to [Meursault’s] case but might in fact have a significant bearing on it,” whereupon Meursault thinks, “I knew right away he was going to talk about Maman again, and at the same time I could feel how much it irritated me” (87). Later on, there is more discussion that is actually relevant when Raymond is called to the stand. He recounts the relationship between the victim, Meursault, and himself. All the same, take note of the following dialogue between the prosecutor and the defense lawyer.

Prosecutor: “The same man who the day after his mother died was indulging in the most shameful debauchery killed a man for the most trivial of reasons and did so in order to settle an affair of unspeakable vice” (96).

Defense: “Come now, is my client on trial for burying his mother or for killing a man?” (96).

Prosecutor: “Indeed, I accuse this man of burying his mother with crime in his heart!” (96).

The focus on morals in place of criminal activity makes for a strange trial. What is the crime here? The prosecutor may be reaching towards premeditation in his charges. That would make sense, especially considering Meursault was sentenced to death. Chapter 4 better represents a murder trial. Meursault’s motives are discussed. All told, I just can’t get around this oddity.

The Stranger and The Moviegoer: Detachment and Acceptance

In The Stranger, Meursault is very detached from his life and his experiences. He is often indifferent to what happens around him. This is evident when Meursault describes his altercation with the Arab men on the beach, stating that “it was then that I realized that you could either shoot or not shoot” (56). Meursault is clearly demonstrating characteristics of indifference, even in an important moment in his life like this one. This is very similar to the experiences of Binx in the novel The Moviegoer. Binx often daydreams and wanders the streets without a destination, clearly detached from society and his life. Furthermore, Binx uses movies as a way to escape from the trauma and hardships in his life. Clearly, there is a parallel between Meursault in The Stranger and Binx in The Moviegoer.

In addition, both Meursault and Binx only reach satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment once they accept their fates. In The Stranger, Meursault is able to accept his fate, despite being sentenced to death and in jail, stating that, “for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world” (122). Similarly, in The Moviegoer, Binx finds joy by not dwelling on the hardships and things wrong with his life, but by watching movies as a form of escape. There is clearly a link between Binx and Meaursault, as they both are detached from society around them and they are happy once accepting their fate.

The Verdict

After killing the Arab, Mersault is imprisoned while he awaits his trail. Before and during the trail Mersault is asked to recount the events that took place before the shooting including the funeral of his mother. While Mersault confessed to the crime, it seemed that his character was on trial and not the actual crime.

The prosecutor speaks in great lengths about Mersaults actions at the funeral of his mother. “It was then that he talked about my attitude toward Maman. He repeated what he had said earlier in the proceedings. But it went on for much longer than when he was talking about my crime-so long, in fact, that finally all I was aware of was how hot a morning it was” (101). The prosecution is more interested in his relationship with his mother than they are about the crime that Mersault confessed to committing.

This perception of Mersault being inhumane, a monster, and soulless is ultimately what sways the jury against him. The jury sentences Mersault to be beheaded in the town square. While Mersault did commit a crime, it is hard to believe that if Mersault had different beliefs and a different personality that he would have been judged as harshly.

Don’t Judge

There is a speech Benedict Cumberbatch performed that I often watch over when in need of inspiration. The speech he is performing is between pioneering American artists Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse. In 1960, pioneering American artists Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse met for the first time and became close friends. In 1965, Eva found herself facing a creative block during a period of self-doubt, and told Sol of her frustrating predicament. Sol replied with this letter. The main part of the speech I always focus on is the following,

learn to say F*ck you to the world every once in a while, you have every right to just Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping,…Stop it and just DO!…”

As we recently read The Stranger by Albert Camus my mind kept coming back to this speech, especially toward the end of the novel.

Throughout the entire passage, Meursault in many ways lives his own world. Like I said above I often look to those words in the speech to think to do better in my own life. So why do we often judge how Meursault lives his life? Throughout the novel he undoubtedly, doesn’t overthink, he doesn’t worry and he doesn’t fear. He does what a lot of people in this society wish they could do, JUST DO IT. Whether it was taking care of the Arab man without hesitation, not judging his peers for their abusive lives, or being 100% honest in his romantic with Marie, he doesn’t overthink anything in life, whether good or bad. Speaking specifically to his relationship with Marie most when faced with the question “I love you” just give an unmeaningful response back, the easy way out. But not Meursault. He knew his feelings and is very self-aware. He told her straight up that he didn’t love her. He throughout the novel is entirely self-aware with his decisions and feelings, which is something I respect. I will never understand why most readers’ first thoughts of Meursault is to judge his lifestyle rather than respect it. The average person does not feel the emotions he feels and is nowhere near as self-aware as he is, which is why Meursault’s mindset is one to be respected not judged. 

The Fall of Meursault

Throughout the reading of The Stranger, the idea of absurdism has been scattered throughout the text. Reading part one of the book, Camus focuses on the main idea of Meursault and lets the reader get to understand him. Describing him as a detached man, absurdism is connected deep within the text. Focusing on the big details and events that occur in his life, Meursault just seems to be an odd one in the bunch. Meursault’s failure to mourn over his mother’s casket and instead noticing details such as, “the screws on the casket had been tightened and that there were four men wearing black in the room”(14), shows that he lacks true human emotion. 

Meursault, lacking true human emotions, ties into the ideology of absurdism. Absurdism is the belief that humans live in a purposeless, chaotic universe and Meursault follows along with that idea mainly in part two of The Stranger. Part two mainly focuses on the repercussions of Meursault killing an Arab man and how the world reacts to such an unusual man. Society is not the absurd part of the story, Meursault the character is the absurd part of society. Since Meursault shares no emotions, no meaning for his own life, and the only certainty that he has in his life is a guarantee for death. For instance, when he knew of the death penalty that was to come of him, instead of repenting or acknowledging emotion he only, “to wish that there be a large crows of spectators the day of my execution, and that they greet me with cries of hate”(123). At this point, Meursault could care less about what is to come for him and only wishes that his death is filled with people. 

The Trial of Meursault

On page 63, Meursault goes on trial for murdering the Arab man. But during the trial and the period before it, little, to no investigation of the crime itself is done. Meursault is asked to provide details of what happened and he says everything, including confessing to killing the Arab man. What people take the most interest in is Meursault’s character, especially his reaction to his mother’s death.

The trial then begins to become an investigation of Meursault himself, instead of a trial of his actions. The lawyer is puzzled by his lack of concern over his mother’s death. The lawyer becomes so frustrated with the situation that he waves a cross at Meursault screaming to him that he must repent. Meursault has no reaction to this and simply agrees with the lawyer, as to not have to listen to his speech about God.

After this confrontation with the Meursault, the lawyer and judge both accept that their efforts to change Meursault are futile and simply acknowledge that: “I have never seen a soul as hardened as your’s”. The judge also refers to Meursault as Monsieur Antichrist showing that they have lost all hope for him and perceive him as evil.

Meuraults Take on Death

During Meursault’s trial, the death of his mom is brought up many times, and his reaction to his mother’s death is used against him. Witnesses are called to question how Meursault acted at his mother’s funeral and was described by many as being cold and disinterested.

People noticed that he did not cry at the funeral and did not want to see his mother’s body. It is also held against him that he went on a date and saw a funny movie with a woman the day after the wedding. Meursault expresses confusion as to why this is being used against him. He does not understand how this has any connection to his case. He also illustrated when his mother passed away that he was not too distressed as nothing had changed. Based on his reaction to his mother’s death and how it was being used against him at trial, it does seem to me that Meursault is not afraid of death or feels sad about anyone that dies.

Meursault seems to only care about a person’s death of it significantly changed his life and how he goes about things. For example, when Meursault shot the Arab man, he was not guilty or sad that he had done so. Meursault realized he had made a mistake as he was now going to go to prison but did not have remorse for the man.

By the way that Meursault reacted to his mother and the Arab man’s death, I believe Meursault does not care about the death of others, and only about the impact and undesirable effect it could have on him. 

A Healthy Observer

Throughout the first part of The Stranger Meursault plays the role of the detached observer. In my eyes, I feel many overlook the fact that Meursault is living a healthy lifestyle. When discussing The Stranger many feel the need to judge Meursault by giving him a diagnosis of a disorder because of the way he interacts. That is straight up the most wrong thing you can do to a character at the beginning of a novel. They try to judge him without giving him any empathy. Readers will judge him for not crying at his mother’s funeral without knowing the true relationship he and his mother shared. I feel there is an abstract point of view no one touches on and that is that the way Meursault lives his life in such organization and normalcy, that in his way is healthy.

Throughout the first part of the book, Meursault will go into this deep Rome of observation. Whether it is a character he meets or just how he feels the temperature in the room is too hot, he is very self-aware about how he feels the world around him is going. There are many points where his brain will go on random sprees of feeling the need to go into great detail about such a little event. Some examples being, when he was randomly observing the movie watchers he noticed things like “They look more serious. They were still laughing, but only now they seemed tired and dreamy.” Another time is when the “robot” lady sat with him at dinner and he was able to describe her every move from the exact tip to the way she was eating. When most analyze his observations they explain them as a way of weirdness and obsession but in my eyes, they are a great skill. I am amazed by the way he can keep in his brain one thing at a time so precisely that he can think and observe for as long as he can.

Another way readers judge Meursault is how lack of care for the world around him. While I agree yes the way he doesn’t seem to care about his mother’s death is very odd to me, I feel there is more than the reader does not know so I won’t be focusing on that piece of it. More of the way he interacts with his peers. Most readers think of it as anti-social ness but I think it is the very opposite. An anti-social wouldn’t follow a lady on a walk after he was interested in the way she ate, an anti-social wouldn’t listen to an abusive boyfriend and be able to not go off on him, and anti-social wouldn’t be able to have a clear structure to the way he feels in his sexual relationship. I feel rather than this showing he is anti-social it more shows how amazing Meursault is at controlling his feelings. I feel that isn’t talked about enough. Every decision he makes in the first 5 chapters he does so easily. He knows he doesn’t love the girl, he knows he is only going to listen to Raymond and not go too far for him, he knows how he feels the lack of need to worry about his mom’s death.

In many ways, while this may not be the popular viewpoint on how to take in the first part of the novel it is a viewpoint that had to be talked about. Just keep in the back of your mind as a reader that maybe he isn’t just weird and uncaring but instead so ahead of his thoughts and feelings that he does not feel the need to barge into anyone’s business but his own.

A Changed Man?

The first lines of The Stranger seem to be very well known in the literary world and rightfully so; “Maman died today. Or yesterday, I don’t know” (3). This is how the reader is introduced to Meursault and throughout the first half at least and even 3/4ths of the book this same indifferent and detached person is what we get. He through life with the understanding that whatever he does, doesn’t matter because it doesn’t really change his life. I think it’s important to note that before going to prison he really only thought about HIS life and how it really didn’t matter how it turned out to be. Because when he does go into prison he starts to have trouble accepting his inevitable death. All he cares about is “escaping the machinery of justice, seeing if there’s any way out of the inevitable” (108).

But soon into chapter 5, We see that Meursault in fact does realize deep deep down under all that hope and contradictory thoughts that “since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter”(114). Only then can Meursault accept that there is no need for hope for his appeal. Yet I don’t think he fully understands and fully accepts his death.

I think it’s his outburst with the priest, when we finally get to see Meursault’s beliefs and thoughts come together. From this encounter he finally understands that the universe and world is also indifferent and that no one persons actions changes anything because the world keeps living without a worry about anyone. He is able to recognize that whatever happened to him, he would be in the exact same position as now. Meursault feels free at the end by his death. He likes that he lived his life his true authentic way without the standards of society influencing anything, as a stranger.

Emotionally Detached or Emotionally Numb?

When Reading The Stranger, I felt as if I was a viewer into the world of Mersault and all the quirky people that interact with him. It feels like I sitting in the corner of the room watching Mersault right before my eyes. The book felt like everything was moving very fast and things often unraveled but tightened up very quickly. The book being wrote in the 1940’s makes a lot of sense for being revolutionary for its time. The content so far is widely talked about today, but I can imagine when this first came out the taboo followed this book around to every book store selling. I am enjoying the book so far but I still have so many questions that have yet to be answered.

The theme or central idea has yet to be revealed, but Mersault’s attitude and the way he looks at life seem to be a recurring idea that circulates. It started with the conversation at the retirement home, where he put his maman. The complete disregard for his mothers death is shocking, the way he is able to emotionally ignore something so heavy is truly frightening for the future of the novel. There is an argument that something so emotional could have such an effect on him, it could be causing this emotional numbness, but not even in Mersault’s thoughts do we see a glimmer of sincerity. We see some forms of emotional reactions later but still none are considered normal or healthy for the situation. One example is when he is invited to Raymond’s apartment for dinner, and he witnesses animal abuse. “i stood their motionless. And in old Salamano’s room, the dog whimpered”(33). The thoughts of disgust are there but the reader still misses the empathy that is necessary to form healthy human emotions.

From what I have read so far it is evident the reader is in for a for an earthquake of tragic experiences as we the reader sit in that corner and gaze at how lightly he takes everything. I am eager to see if something will happen directly happen to him and not the others around him, maybe that will provoke a response out of him. Or maybe something could happen to Marie (the love interest so far), maybe it is the type of love where we will find the sincerity of his feelings for her. Like i said earlier everyone copes differently and this must be his way.

Peaking Thinker, But Still Normal

Throughout the book The Stranger by Albert Camus, Meursault is seen as a kind of strange and detached character. And only through further close reading do readers notice the existentialism connections between Meursalt and his surprising presentness and acceptance of the absurdity of life (including his willingness to give up on some illusions). However, towards the end of the book I think he finally lets go completely and reaches the peak of existentialism that we talk about in class. I think before that he was not fully there yet. When he brings up his Maman, I originally thought it was gonna be about him playing into his bond to her or a profound comment about them and their relationship. Camus instead steers along this questioning path and talks about how Meursault begins to understand his mom, “playing at the beginning again” and how Meursault, “opened myself (himself) to the gentle indifference of the world” (122). I think the realization of Meursault, after the aggressive confrontation earlier, confirms to readers that he truly/fully started to free himself of the burdens of illusions in the book only towards the end. Additionally, it prompts the discussion of how people like Merusault’s mom decide on how they want to live their lives and freely change their path if they desire something different.

Another part of the book I would like to comment on is the times where Meursault does not just come across as this existentialist being and instead more like a normal person living and thinking. When he is waiting for his sentence to be acted upon he describes that he must distract himself and tries to look at the sky and find something interesting about it (112). The stressful waiting situation Meursault is in has put his reactions to the forefront and I think they exemplify that he does not feel nothing about death and instead is trying to process his fate anxiously. As humans I think we all have been in extreme situations that get us on edge and I think it is important that we acknowledge Meursault as a human and not just the ideas of believing in nothing at all. The anxiety he has while waiting as he describes hearing himself breathing, “like a dog’s panting” illustrates the normal behaviors he has, like anyone else would while waiting for their looming fate (113). And other times throughout the book when he wants ways to waste time whether to distract himself from his emotions or use it as an excuse to feel nothing, I think most everyone has a part of themselves that feels this way at times. Although it might be a flying thought that people want to dismiss, it still occurs at times when we simply wish something would end quicker so maybe we stare at a clock to waste time. The normal tendencies in Meursault are interesting to note and I think do not diminish his other strange actions but combine as a whole to form this complex character. And I wonder if in existentialism death is another illusion to diminish or if it is to be accepted as an absurdity of life. 

The Stranger and No Longer Human

As I’ve been reading The Stranger by Albert Camus this last week or so, I have constantly been reflecting and comparing it to a previous book I´d read this summer, No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai.

Through further inspectional and revisiting of No Longer Human, I’ve found that the two books, especially the characters, are both opposites and somewhat parallel. 

The main character in No Longer Human, Oba Yozo, is a more sensitive and emotional person but feels no joy, only an overwhelming feeling of estrangement. While Meursault the narrator of The Stranger is very nonchalant and emotionally dull. However, both of these characters bring about a feeling of unease and emptiness to the reader. An aspect of these two characters that binds them together is their indifference to other people and life itself.

To grasp this better, the following are both books opening lines:

“Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.”

The Stranger

¨Mine has been a life of much shame. I can’t even guess myself what it must be to live the life of a human being. ¨

No Longer Human

Both these lines pull the reader in through uncomfortability, from the get-go they leave the impression of being an outsider and mentally peculiar, not being normal. 

The two books have the same destination, or rather these two characters have the same outlook on life but have different ways of getting there. I think this line from No Longer Human Shows their similar mental state well, “Now I have neither happiness nor unhappiness. Everything passes. That is the one and only thing that I have thought resembled a truth in the society of human beings where I have dwelled up to now as in a burning hell. Everything passes.”(169) Oba is a reflective person, Meursault just accepts his belief, “I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.”(122) Meursault feels too little and finds life meaningless and on the flip side, Oba Yozo feels too much, too inferior, that he finds life meaningless.  

 The approach to this mindset though is a stark difference, Meursault does not show or feel emotions. Oba cannot feel happiness, he is stuck in a deep depression to the point that nothing matters. By this same principle, Meursault sees nothing wrong with his nature, Oba understands that he is not normal, thinking of himself as other or not human, he’s a “clown”, acting in a way acceptable by society (laughing and joking around).

Both the Stranger and No Longer Human illustrate that life isn’t full but futile, by following abnormal figures through a span of time and observing the experience and insight they gain as rejects from society.

The Death Penalty Debate

Sense forever, our society has been debating the idea if the death penalty should be abolished or not. Some feel that some people deserve to die and not even get the opportunity to be in prison and others feel that killing someone is wrong if we are punishing them for likely killing someone too. Plus, you are really just giving them the easy way out. As we follow the journey of Meursault on death row we really get to see up close what this looks like. For me, it was hard to read. Usually when you hear about someone who is on death row you have no connection to them and don’t know anything about them. After reading The Stranger I feel like I got to know Meursault and it was hard for me to watch him sit in cell and fear his death no matter the crime he committed. The prosecutor in the court case argues that they should use the death penalty by saying “I felt this painful duty made easier, lighter, clearer by the certain knowledge of a sacred imperative and by the horror I feel when I look into a man’s face and all I see is a monster”(102). This argues one side of this argument about the death penalty being used on monster who shouldn’t deserve to live. However, Meursults defense attorney makes another argument to defend him by saying that Meusault “was already suffering the most agonizing of punishments- eternal remorse”(105). This is another view some people have. They believe dying is easy and spending your life in prison and feeling eternal remorse is worse. I think The Stranger does a really good job of showing both views up close. I just think it hits home and feels more real when you actually feel something for the person on death row, in this case Meusault.

The Constant Funeral Face

In part one of The Stranger, it becomes clear that the main character is not like the common main character. Camus’ Meursault differs from the stereotypical idea of a main character, lacking morals and emotions. Meursault disconnects from the world through his not pessimistic view of the world, but his “who cares” view. Putting together possible explanations as I was reading through the pages, I found a quote that, to me, was a correct way to view his personality. “Marie made fun of me because, she said, I had on a ‘funeral face’”(47). Some readers may look right over that comment, however it stood out in particular. 

Throughout the previous chapters and the following chapters where that line takes place, it can be easily inferred that Meursault doesn’t understand and lacks knowledge about his surroundings. He walks into every room with a straight face and just agrees with what others around him are saying. Meursault struggles to locate his own emotions towards events, people, and places. Meursault acts as if he has no meaning or explanation to the everyday activities that he involves himself in, he just does them without any justification. 

Immediately after starting the first chapter of part one, I could pick up that Meursault was not a character in books I have read about before. Following his mother’s death, he had no reaction whatsoever. The first thought and concern he had was whether his boss would be mad at him for leaving work. Whether he is just an unemotional person or leaning more towards lacking morals and social cues, it still didn’t sit well with me. 

From the ending of part one, Meursault killing the Arab was just the beginning for the world and his “friends” to understand his lack of meaning and morals. 

Who is Meursault?

In the novel The Stranger we are introduced to the character named Meursault is someone who does not seem to make true emotional connections and is emotionless for most of the story. An example of this behavior can be noted after Marie, Meursault’s girlfriend, asks him if he wants to marry her, “I said it didn’t make any difference and that we could if she wanted to. Then she wanted to know if I loved her. I answered the same way I had last time, that it didn’t mean anything but that I probably didn’t love her” (41). Meursault’s behavior is interesting because he doesn’t seem to have or even want to have an emotional connection and makes that evident. His mannerisms are interesting as well because he consistently describes what he’s doing, whether that’s waking up in the morning after spending the night with Marie as he “rolled over, tried to find the salty smell Marie’s hair had left on the pillow”(21) or following a girl home whom he did not know.

It’s interesting that he does this because it allows us (the readers) to see how he views things and his thought processes behind some of his actions. From this we can conclude that he thinks in a more realistic but also beautiful way. In Chapter 2, while Meursault is at home watching the events taking place over the balcony, he describes, “…the passing clouds had left a hint of rain hanging over the street, which made it look darker…The sky changed again. Above the rooftops the sky had taken a reddish glow, and with an evening coming on the streets came to life”(23). Meursault is a very descriptive when he talks about a person or thing that he sees, and this allows the reader to see how beautifully he sees the world, which sparks the inference that his mindset (being more closed off from people and living in the moment) allows someone to see the beauty of the world and the beauty of life really. However, in Meursault’s case, though he sees the world with such beauty, he also does not refect any emotion towards anyone which seems confusing. Meursault is a complex character and his view of the world, for the most part is interesting, while he does not seem to be interested in emotional connections, to the point where he kills a man.

Living to Live

Throughout Albert Camus’, The Stranger, Mersault struggles deriving the true meaning of his life. He at first struggles with conforming to social expectation and what people say the meaning of life is. Throughout the novel we see Mersault’s attitude towards Marie as emotionless and disconnected, but towards the end of the novel we get a true insight into his feelings, “I had been looking at the stones in these walls for months. There wasn’t anything or anyone in the world I knew better. Maybe at one time, way back, I had searched for a face in them. But the face I was looking for was as bright as the sun and the flame f desire – and it belonged to Marie” (119). This seems to show that Mersault felt more that just a physical attraction to Marie and one could even say he loved her, but as we approach the end of the novel Mersault’s confrontation with the priest seems to shatter his attachment to any socially expected means of life and his attachment to the idea of love. After becoming annoyed with the priest Mersault says, “I..told him not to wast his prayers on me…. None of his certainties was worth one hair of a woman head. He wasn’t even sure he was alive because he was living like a dead man…we’re all elected by the same fate” (120-121). His confrontation with the priest caused him to realize the only meaning to life was living because everyone died in the end, regardless of what they did during their lives.

I personally agree with this outlook on life. The compliance to the falsified meanings of life such as success, money, power, religion, or love seem to cause more pain than they do happiness. People try to achieve these things before they die, often focused on the past or future. This disconnect from the present moment causes them to miss the experiences right in front of them, and in the end then only thing you really have before death is what you have done and experienced.

Is Existentialism Deterministic?

In “The Myth of Sisyphus”, Albert Camus argues that Sisyphus, the hero of the absurd, is happy in his supposed punishment to eternally push a boulder up a hill. He reasons that in order for the punishment to be real, Sisyphus must be conscious of his own condition. Since Sisyphus continues to press on regardless of the futility of his task, Camus reasons that Sisyphus must therefore be content with his fate. “[A]ll is well” (20) and Sisyphus can find fulfillment in the endless task of rolling the boulder up the hill and watching it fall back down. He is therefore happy.

According to Camus, “If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is, but one which [the absurd man] concludes is inevitable and despicable” (20). The crux of the existentialist viewpoint as endorsed by “The Myth of Sisyphus” is that life is full of random violence, the most brutal of which being the inevitability of death. We are therefore free from any obligation to any societal constraints or illusions imposed upon us, since the inevitability of death means that none of it matters. This seems to result in the conclusion that people freed by existentialism can now act out their own lives with a free will as radical subjects. As Camus writes in The Stranger from the perspective of Meursault, “I had lived my life one way and I could just as well have lived it another. I had done this and I hadn’t done that. I hadn’t done this thing but I had done another. And so?…Nothing, nothing mattered, and I knew why” (121). An absurd hero controls their own fate.

Determinism, or the idea that all things that have and will happen are inevitable consequences of the ‘initial event’, seems to be clearly incompatible with the concept of ‘radical subjectivism’. Free will is defined in this blogpost as the inverse of determinism, that each person is ultimately free to act outside of the influence of their environment. This idea is clearly expressed in Baron d’Holbach’s article “We Are Completely Determined”, in which he explains that if science is to be accepted as being fundamentally true, then free will can be concluded as an illusion made up by our minds to provide the veneer of control. According to d’Holbach, “Man’s life is a line that nature commands him to describe upon the surface of the earth, without his ever being able to swerve from it.” Free will is an illusion created by the complexity of the mind, where one is “unable to unravel all these motions…and supposes himself a free agent.”

The structure of this argument is curiously similar to those made by existentialists to destroy societal notions, but it would seem a lack of free will would contradict the idea that once one was free from societal notions, they could now be master of their own fate – under the doctrine of determinism, that person was always going to become an existentialist, and the actions they take now as a ‘radical subjectivist’ were already predetermined by the fundamental laws of the universe.

To resolve this seeming contradiction, there must be one of two conclusions made about determinism and free will:

  • The world is deterministic and our belief in free will is an illusion. However, this illusion is acceptable as a substitute for real free will in our actions as individuals.
  • The world is not completely deterministic.

The first conclusion would be unacceptable to any self-respecting illusion-breaker. If existentialism and its conclusions about the human condition are taken as a fact, in a deterministic world, we still do not really control our fates. The second conclusion is exceedingly difficult to prove, but its existence as the only other option means that if we are to understand Camus as being correct and Sisyphus to be happy, then d’Holbach must be wrong. Existence precedes essence and necessitates freedom of will.

The Journey is what Matters

I disagree with Camus’ argument about the constant pain in the human condition, mostly because of the extreme view he takes. To a certain extent, I do believe that life is full of suffering and the facade of hope and love is what keeps people going. However, Camus takes the stance that life is somewhat worthless, and when you die doesn’t matter.

This is seen in Camus’ novel, The Stranger, as he opens with the infamous line “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: ‘Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.’ That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday”(1). One interpretation of the quote is that it doesn’t matter what day Maman died, but on a more personal level it could mean it doesn’t matter that Maman died at all. This meaning would show that Camus doesn’t value life much, if at all, and he doesn’t value the experience of living simply because all life ends with death.

Not only is his point of view downright depressing, it also makes many aspects of life meaningless if it doesn’t matter when you die. Camus was an absurdist, and he believed that love is just a facade of life that keeps people living, but is truly worthless. But without love, there is no emotion in life, and with no emotion life would be meaningless.

This I strongly disagree with, because I think what you do with your life is what matters, not the end result. The feelings in life and what you do with the short time you have is what is most important. Therefore when you die would matter because being blessed with a long happy life is quite the opposite of dying early without enjoying life itself. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey”. Overall, it doesn’t matter that life will end with the pain of death, it matters that you live your life with emotion and love.