What does Camus say about justice, society, and religion in The Stranger?

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In The Stranger, Camus could be trying to say that justice, society, and religion are determined by the choices of humans. According to him, the tangible actions of concrete people create their meaning, not an abstract God. The world is basically indifferent, and once one embraces its apathy, they can, like Meursault, feel happy.

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When it comes to religion, Albert Camus’s The Stranger comes across as dismissive. After Meursault’s murder, the magistrate interrogates him. The magistrate asks him point-blank if he believes in God. Meursault, in Stuart Gilbert’s translation, supplies a one-word response: “No.” Meursault’s reply astonishes the magistrate. For the magistrate, God is who gives all life, including his own, meaning. “Do you wish my life to have no meaning?” he asks Meursault. Meursault doesn’t see what his “wishes” have to do with meaning.

Through the exchange between Meursault and the magistrate, Camus might be saying that it’s not religion that confers meaning, it’s humans and their actions. Society and justice are comprised of concrete people, not an abstract God. It’s the actions of people that determine the meaning of an individual life, not a separate God. As he’s about to die, Meursault makes peace with his lot. “I’d acted thus, and I hadn’t acted otherwise,” he muses. “I hadn’t done x, whereas I had done y or z.”

The emphasis on choice makes it possible to claim that Camus is issuing an existentialist critique. Meursault’s predicament is a result of choices that he made freely and willfully. He opted to irreverently react to his mom’s death. He then decided to return to the beach and shoot the man. His actions subjected him to the judgments of society and justice, which, in turn, chose to punish him.

The absence of an omniscient force like God and the stress on arbitrary human behavior doesn’t deprive Meursault of happiness. For Meursault, the apathy of the world is good; it creates meaning. When Meursault embraces “the benign indifference of the universe,” he finally feels like his true self. He suggests that he’s free and pure.

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