Based on the theory of the absurd, The Stranger, by Albert Camus, is arguably one of the most widely interpreted works because of the complex themes that it embodies. The main character, Meursault, is the living epitome of the meaninglessness of human existence. The seemingly detached and impassionate manner by which he contemplates the predicament that he is in belies the nature of his imprisonment. As Albert Camus launches into his philosophy of the absurd, one can also see many different themes emerge. One such theme is that of the inherent goodness of Meursault as evidence of his morality.
Before discussing the details of his goodness, it is important to remember that the book, The Stranger, is also an existentialist piece. The indifference that the character of Meursault shows is a manifestation of the existentialist school of thinking. The indifference of Meursault isolates him from the rest of society and even from the people that he loves. Through the progression of the story we see more and more of the honesty of Meursault which is a channel of expression for his indifference towards certain practices in society.
“Why do you refuse to see me?” he said. I replied that I didn’t believe in God. He wanted to know whether I was quite sure about that and I said I had no reason for asking myself that question: it didn’t seem to matter. (p. 111)
Then the Magistrate stood up, as if to indicate that the examination was over. Only he asked me in the same rather weary manner whether I regretted what I’d done. I thought it over and said that, rather than true regret, I felt a kind of annoyance. I had the impression that he didn’t understand me. But on that occasion that was as far as things went. (p. 69)
These passages show the honesty of Meursault. Rather than lie and get a chance at freedom, Meursault tells the truth and is seen as an outsider through that action. These excerpts also reveal that Meursault has no God. There is no God in existentialism. The life that is given to man is not a blessing it is more of an obligation. The lack of a God then creates a loss of direction. There is no sense of purpose in life, there is no past, no future, there is only the present which Meursault lives because he feels that he is given no other choice.
This is where the inherent goodness of Meursault is all the more evident. Having no past and no future, Meursault lives for the present. There are no flashbacks in the story, the foreshadowing can only be derived from the events, never by Meursault himself. Meursault is shown throughout the story as doing things only in the present. This proves that Meursault is indeed an embodiment of existentialism. Living in the present makes it possible for Meursault to live his life without thinking of it as a blessing. Instead, Meursault views life as an obligation. There is something that Meursault feels that he has to do in life but he is never quite able to grasp what it is that he is supposed to live for in his life.
The final question which remains is whether Meursault is a hero or not. The actions of Meursault are ordinary. His daily routine is no different from an everyday person’s routine. Yet Meursault accepts death for the sake of truth. Though many argue that Meursault did not always tell the truth, take for instance the time when he lied to the police to get Raymond discharged or when he concocted a letter of Raymond, he is only indifferent to the truth. Meursault is not intractable in his respect for truth but in the end he died for the sake of the truth. In this sense, Meursault is a hero.
“As the blind rage washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alight with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. … I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. ” (p. 117)
As the last chapter comes to a close and the last thoughts of Meursault are said, it comes to mind that there is not one single unnecessary detail, not one that is returned to later on and used in the argument. There is a realization that there is no other fitting end for the book. This is explained best by the words of Jean-Paul Sarte, “In this world that has been stripped of its causality and presented as absurd, the smallest incident has weight. There is no single one which does not help to lead the hero to a crime and capital punishment.”