EXISTENTIALISM And “The Stranger” by Albert Camus
Existentialism • Main Entry: ex·is·ten·tial·ism • Pronunciation: \-ˈten(t)-shə-ˌli-zəm\ • Function: noun • Date: 1941 • : a chiefly 20th century philosophical movement embracing diverse doctrines but centering on analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad
A Definition of Existentialism • A 20th century philosophy concerned with finding “self” and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility. • The existentialist believes that a person should be forced to choose and be responsible without the help of laws, ethics, and traditions.
“Existence precedes essence…" • Many religions and philosophies of the world give meaning or purpose to life and humanity. Existentialism, however, states that life has no meaning unless people give it meaning.
Existentialism takes into consideration the following underlying concepts: • Human free will • Human nature is chosen through life choices • A person is best when struggling against their individual nature, fighting for life • Decisions are not without stress and consequences • There are things that are not rational • Personal responsibility and discipline is crucial • Society is unnatural and its traditional religious and secular rules are arbitrary • Worldly desire is futile • No matter what choices one makes in life, the ultimate outcome is the same (death).
Existentialism is broadly defined in a variety of concepts and there can be no one answer as to what it is, yet it does notsupport any of the following: • wealth, pleasure, or honor make the good life • social values and structure control the individual • accept what is and that is enough in life • science can and will make everything better • people are basically good but ruined by society or external forces • “I want my way, now!” or “It is not my fault!” mentality
The Rise of Existentialism • A deep sense of despair following The Great Depression and World War II. • The belief that human life is in no way complete and fully satisfying due to lack of perfection, power, and control that we have over our lives. • However, life DOES have meaning. • Existentialism is the search and journey for true self and meaning in life,. • An individual’s judgment is the determining factor for what is to be believed (not religion, not secular world values.)
Famous Existentialists: • Soren Kierkegaard, a religious philosopher • Friedrich Nietzsche, a philosopher • Jean-Paul Sartre, a writer • Albert Camus, a writer
Existentialist Elements in “The Stranger” • Meursault, lives for the sensual pleasures of the present moment, free of any system of values. • Rather than behave in accordance with social norms, Meursault tries to live as honestly as he can, doing what he wants to do and befriending those whom he likes. • He refuses to simulate feelings that he does not possess, and thus he does not force himself to cry at his mother's funeral or to mourn her death too deeply. • Later, when he is involved in a trial, he is condemned for his lack of commitment to the unspoken rules of society. • Meursault says that he is not interested in religion because it is an “uncertainty” and he wants to live with the certainties of this life, even if his only certainty is the death that awaits him.
ABSURD • 1ab·surd • Pronunciation: \əb-ˈsərd, -ˈzərd\ • Function: adjective • Etymology: Middle French absurde, from Latin absurdus, from ab- + surdus deaf, stupid • 1: ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous 2: having no rational or orderly relationship to human life :meaningless
Meursault: The Absurd Hero • Smoking and showing indifference at the vigil for his dead mother, going to the beach and sleeping with a woman the day after his mother's funeral, and forging a letter for his friend Raymond, who is a thug and a pimp. • He is all about pleasures and satisfactions of the moment. • He prefers observing events to getting directly involved • He tells his girlfriend that he doesn't love her but that it makes no difference to him if they get married or not. • He ultimately asserts that nothing really matters, that we all live and we all die, and what we do before we die is ultimately irrelevant. • Meursault recognizes himself in a universe without meaning and without hope.
Existentialism in brief… • Existentialists think about and try to answer the question, "Who am I and why am I here?" I do exist, and what does that mean, if anything? Do I have a purpose in life, or does life have a meaning? One thing that existentialists keep in mind is death -- our existence implies at the same time our imminent non-existence, our impending death. This is also called nothingness -- the nothingness of our life now and then (in the future, and upon our death). Existentialists believe we are aware of this on either a conscious or subconscious level (or a mix of the two). How does that affect our actions, why we act, how we should act? Should we, like Meursault, act according to momentary pleasures or displeasures?
Existence precedes Essence • If we are all going to die, and there is no other "essence," then what is the point of doing anything? Camus's Meursault in The Stranger calls this the "...benign indifference of the universe." The inevitable conclusion of the reasoning that results from this kind of philosophical premise is "live for the pleasure of the moment" - have fun while you can for tomorrow won't be here.
Existence precedes Essence • 1. We have no predetermined nature or essence that controls what we are, what we do, or what is valuable for us. • 2. We are radically free to act independently of determination by outside influences. • 3. We create our own human nature through these free choices. • 4. We also create our values through these choices.
Existentialism, absurdity, and ‘The Stranger” • In The Stranger, Albert Camus characterizes his justification of the absurd through the experiences of a protagonist who simply does not conform to the system. His inherent honesty disturbs the status quo; Meursault's inability to lie cannot seamlessly integrate him within society and in turn threatens the simple fabrics of human mannerisms expected of a structurally ordered society. Consequently, the punishment for his crime is not decided on the basis of murder, but rather for the startling indifference toward his mother's recent death. Even after a conflicting spiritual discussion with a pastor inciting Meursault to consider a possible path towards redemption, the latter still refuses to take upon salvation and symbolizes his ultimatum by embracing the "gentle indifference of the world"; an act which only furthers his solidarity with a society incapable of realizing his seemingly inhumane behavior.