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“The Stranger” by Albert Camus – The Meaningless Past

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Indifference in Spades

We’ve all more or less had bouts of indifference in life, periods during which we felt down and didn’t care one way or the other for the world around us. The degree of indifference varies from person to person, but we all exhibit in our daily lives because after all, we would be real emotional wrecks if we really tried to care about everything happening around us; it is in our nature to only care for a certain number of things and commit ourselves to them.

In Albert Camus’ The Stranger, we get to see a rather extreme case of indifference, that of Mr. Meursault who seems to care and feel nothing for anyone, not even himself. This classic in modern literature beings as Meursault attends the funeral of his own mother, where he expresses very little remorse, if any. He returns home, and for the next few weeks he lives his normal life, occasionally seeing a young lady by the name of Marie.

One day, he accidentally becomes involved in a dispute between his neighbour, Raymond, and a girl who may have caused him some harm. Soon after, Meursault and Raymond have an encounter with the girl’s brother and his friend on the beach where one of them cuts Raymond on the arm with a knife.

It seems the whole thing is resolved, until later in the evening when Meursault decides to take a walk with the revolver in his pocket and stumbles on one of the Arabs from before lying in the shade. Somewhat inexplicably, he decides to shoot him multiple times. And so begins the second half of the book, focusing on the trial, but more importantly, on Meursault’s thoughts in relation to his sentencing and what he’s persecuted for.

Albert Camus’ Struggle with Meaninglessness

The Stranger is definitely a book like few others out there, starting with the main character himself, an archetype you certainly aren’t going to see often out there. He is not relatable in any way, unfeeling, uncaring, remorseless, and is definitely guilty of murdering a man in cold blood. He isn’t the kind of character you root for, but as he explains his way of thinking further and further, the reader can’t help but understand some of his reasoning.

His strange way of justifying his alien behavior, his take on the meaninglessness of any action in the grand scheme of things does a good job of slowly drawing the reader in, making us more and more interested in his somber perspective on life. The beauty of it is that ultimately, whether or not you agree with what he has to say, much of it does make sense and holds weight.

The whole story itself definitely isn’t an uplifting one, but rather a study of the human character in relation to the powerlessness we feel before the infinitely large universe where we are nothing but specks of dust, both in time and space. It’s goal is to provoke you to think deep and hard about your own nature, about the ultimate significance of your actions, the meaning your existence could have, if it has any indeed.

Does the past really have any kind of importance?

The Stranger by Albert Camus (Front cover)

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Is there really any point on dwelling on what we did, or should we follow Mr. Meursault’s example and only look to the present, that which is happening now and therefore the only important thing in any given moment? There are more than enough topics for reflection to keep you occupied for weeks, if not months or even years… after all, many are the questions without any concrete answers.

A Character Study for the Ages

The novel may definitely be a short one at just over a hundred pages, but it makes the most of it and is a very engaging study into the real meaning of our actions. It deserves its place as a classic of modern literature and is the kind of book you can study again and again, always extracting something more out of it.

If you are looking for philosophical stories that explore the most complex parts of human existence, then The Stranger is a book you absolutely need to add to your collection.

Albert Camus (Author)

Albert Camus

(November 7, 1913 – January 4, 1960)

Albert Camus was a French author, journalist and philosopher who contributed to the rise of absurdism as a philosophical point of view. In 1957 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, with The Myth of Sisyphus being his best-known work of writing.

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