With regard to The Stranger, does Camus' concept of the "absurd" mean that society (a group) will always have values and norms that are different from those of a rational individual?  Trying to...

With regard to The Stranger, does Camus' concept of the "absurd" mean that society (a group) will always have values and norms that are different from those of a rational individual?

 

Trying to understand Camus' "absurd" concept (and what is the preferred course of action for the individual) with respect to individual vs society.

Self-destruction doesn't seem to be a useful message or a moral high-ground.

Thank you.

Asked on by ltn001234

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Camus' perceptions of life and "the absurd" appeal to some, but are rejected by others. I do not see the protagonist's movements as intentionally self-destructive as much as apathetic. Meursault never seems to care about anything. Camus (for me) never makes a solid argument that the norms of society are not based somewhat in the rational—separated distinctly from his sense of "the rational individual."

It is noted in the eNotes introduction, that Camus was greatly influenced by World War II. Camus himself joined the underground resistance efforts against the Nazis. Camus must have been profoundly touched by the events of the war, for at this time he...

...developed his theory of the absurd, which declared that life is essentially meaningless because of the inevitability of death.

My perception is that Camus had seen the ugliest side of humanity and had lost hope. Rather than absurd, life is sometimes harrowing and sometimes exquisite. Note that the definition of absurd is:

...utterly or obviously senseless, illogical, or untrue; contrary to all reason or common sense...

In Camus' The Stranger, Meursault has many opportunities to make something good out of his life. He is not the rule—he is the exception. If Meursault is the only rational one in his world, would not the rest of the world have been living in chaos? There is chaos with Raymond, for example—but time and again, we see Meursault as a young man who is unmoved.

 

Meursault is extremely apathetic about marrying Marie—what surprises me more is her willingness to accept his lack of interest... though while this may seem "absurd," it may really only reflect Marie's desire to have someone—anyone—in her life...even one as uninvested in life as Meursault. For while he does not greatly admire her, he also does not greatly dislike her either.

Marie came that evening and asked me if I’d marry her. I said I didn’t mind; if she was keen on it, we’d get married.

Then she asked me again if I loved her. I replied...that her question meant nothing or next to nothing—but I supposed I didn’t.

“If that’s how you feel,” she said, “why marry me?”

I explained...if it would give her pleasure, we could get married right away. I pointed out that, anyhow, the suggestion came from her; as for me, I’d merely said, “Yes.”

...
She kept silent after that...Then she asked: “Suppose another girl had asked you to marry her—I mean, a girl you liked in the same way as you like me—would you have said ‘Yes’ to her, too?”

“Naturally.”

Strangely, Meursault comes to life only when he kills the Arab: he loses control, overwhelmed by the heat of the beach, the sweat in his eyes, and the amplified sounds around him which seem to make him snap:

Every nerve in my body was a steel spring, and my grip closed on the revolver. The trigger gave, and the smooth underbelly of the butt jogged my palm. And so, with that crisp, whipcrack sound, it all began...I fired four shots more...And each successive shot was another loud, fateful rap on the door of my undoing.

At times, "absurd" may be how life must appear to some, even today. However, once again I don't see this is as the norm of the human condition, but a response to extenuating circumstances. The "absurd" is not condoned by society (as seen with Meursault's execution). Meursault's apathy is never seen by society as heroic or, ironically, as rational.

Sources:

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