In Albert Camus's "The Stranger" and "Exile in the Kingdom," and specifically in "The Renegade," what is the role of the desert?

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Albert Camus's works are philosophical allegories that explore, primarily, human evil and inherent sin nature. The three works chosen here all have overarching themes of violence, desolation, and despair—a commentary on Camus's own life, which was marked by existential angst, multiple failed marriages, and much personal turmoil. In "The Stranger," Meursault murders an Arab man in the desert after a prior conflict. In "The Renegade," a former missionary is abandoned in the desert with his tongue cut out after attempting to assault a woman. Both of these situations display violence and use the desert landscape to explore it.

Camus's utilization of the desert explores the idea of moral destitution and solitude. These men in the stories have no life morally (there is nothing blooming or good in them morally), and they are alone without help and without guidance from an outside moral source. This is a reflection of Camus's existentialist beliefs that the world is fraught with evil and there is no salvation or anything good to be found.

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The French authors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were particularly fond of the "paysage moralise" device often attributed to Dostoyevsky, the practice of reflecting the psychological state of the protagonist in the landscape in which the action takes place, the "moral landscape."  In Dostoyevsky's case, Raskalnikov's attic room in "Crime and Punishment" is a reflection of the stunyed, pressing world in which his crime is committed; in Camus' "The Stranger," the desolate desert region of Algeria serves to underline the lifeless atmosphere in which he commits his crime, and also is indicative of the absence of "meaning" or "structure" of existence, in the existential philosophy.  Seen in this light, it is easy to understand the desert setting in the other novels as well. 

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