Thursday, 29 November 2012

L'etranger, Albert Camus

L’etranger delves into the complexities of human nature through Meursault’s strikingly simplistic view of the world. We are thrown into his cold life, devoid of any real care for anyone or anything, and are given a glimpse into the notions of existentialism, nihilism and absurdism – sound a bit too heavy for your liking? Admittedly, the happiest reader may finish this book questioning the meaning of their own existence, but Camus’ writing of Meursault’s bleak outlook is so hauntingly beautiful, it’s one not to miss.

 Albert Camus has been deemed by many as a proponent of existentialism and L’etranger particularly as an existentialist piece. However as Camus himself rejected this idea, I must raise the question as to whether this novel, famed for its links to existentialism, is in fact linked at all. For those of you who are blissfully unaware of this rather depressing concept, existentialism is based on the idea that human life is irrational and purposeless. This idea is indeed present throughout L’etranger, for example in Meursault’s brash rejection of the crucifix (and therefore Christianity). Christianity depicts a rational order and reason for the universe, and invests human life with higher meaning – pretty much the other side of the spectrum in terms of existentialism. As well as this, Meursault’s focus on the physical world follows the existentialist idea that there is nothing more than physical existence to life, most strikingly his almost comedic attempt at justification for killing a man: “it was because of the sun”. Although these and other elements of L’etranger do support certain existentialist ideas, I feel it is important to note that whilst Camus was writing the novel, he had also begun writing The Myth of Sisyphus, a philosophical essay in which Camus introduces absurdism, which in my eyes, the character of Meursault embodies perfectly. Absurdism focuses not so specifically on life’s lack of higher meaning, but on the conflict between man’s tendency to look for a higher meaning – yet inability to find any. Therefore, instead of reading the character of Meursault as the cold, inhuman character that depresses us all and reminds us our existence is futile (standard existentialism), look at Meursault in a different way. Meursault’s actions highlight the absurd ways of humans, he is criticised for his attitude because we do not understand him, as we continue our absurd chase to find the meaning of life. Many people approach L’etranger looking for answers for these great philosophical questions, but the true beauty of this novel is the realisation that there are none.

Emma Hodgkinson

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