The Stranger Questions and Answers
by Albert Camus

The Stranger book cover
Start Your Free Trial

How has Albert Camus delineated radically distinctive existentialism in The Stranger?

Expert Answers info

Felicita Burton eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2018

write5,614 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

The radical existentialism that Albert Camus offers in The Stranger inheres in the absurdist stance that life is meaningless, rather than meaningful, precisely because it is all there is. Repeated questioning of the meaning of life cannot, Meursault finds, alter the fact that we cannot know what happens after death—not because there is some greater power than human cannot access, but because there is no such meaning.

Camus offer Meursault numerous opportunities for remorse and redemption. While some of his behavior is both illegal and immoral, especially shooting the Arab, other behavior simply fails to meet social expectations, such as appropriately mourning his mother. Meursault is alienated not merely from society but also from himself. After his conviction, his ultimate session with the priest, which could have brought atonement and a hope of forgiveness, culminates first in anger and then liberation; he embraces the absence of meaning—what Camus sums up as the "benign indifference of the universe." Thus, he will leave life happy if others show happiness in his passing, as spectators at his hanging.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

wordprof eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write1,654 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Science

The main distinction from the actual philosophy of existentialism in Camus’ fictive work is his concentration not on the question of whether existence precedes essence (the foundation of the philosophy as explained by Sartre in Being and Nothingness), but rather Camus’ fictional depiction of the difficulty in determining the consequences of one’s actions.  To be sure, some consequences of our choices are apparent and immediate, but many others are not.  From the very first line of The Stranger it is clear that the “facts” on which we base our choices and decisions are not always sound and unequivocal; Mersault’s shooting of the “native,” an act in itself ambiguous and almost unintentional, is an example of the difficulty built into living the “existential” life.  Not only are the consequences “invisible” to the moment, but our actual motives for choosing one action over another are not always steered by a moral (that is, answering to a code of action in the absence of “design”) consideration.  This awareness and fictionalization of the difficulties in living an existentialist philosophy are what make Camus' work "radically distinctive."

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial