What are some examples of internal and external conflicts in The Stranger?

1 Answer | Add Yours

akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Camus suggested that his entire premise of The Stranger was the exploration of a realm where the individual experienced a simultaneous collision of internal and external conflicts.  Camus suggested that "In our society any man who does not weep at his mother's funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.' I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game."  The fundamental conflict of the individual against the social expectation, a type of matrix in which there is meaning assigned, lies at the basis of Mersault's characterization.

This collision of internal and external conflict be seen in different points in the text.  For example, when Mersault is in prison, it is a representation of the external conflict that exists between himself and the socially acceptable world that is predicated upon conformity and unilateral acquiescence.  This moves into a more intense realm when Mersault confronts the Chaplain.  Committed to a restorative notion of the divine, the Chaplain fundamentally wishes for Mersault to submit to the divine and accept a transcendental notion of existence.  Mersault rejects this:

Nothing, nothing mattered, and I knew why. So did he. Throughout the whole absurd life I'd lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in my future, across years that were still to come, and as it passed, this wind leveled whatever was offered to me at the time, in years no more real than the ones I was living. What did other people's deaths or a mother's love matter to me; what did his God or the lives people choose or the fate they think they elect matter to me when we're all elected by the same fate, me and billions of privileged people like him who also called themselves my brothers? Couldn't he see, couldn't he see that? Everybody was privileged. There were only privileged people. The others would all be condemned one day. And he would be condemned, too.

In this excerpt, there is the obvious external conflict between Mersault and the Chaplain.  This can be seen with his premise of "nothing mattered" confronting the Chaplain's premise that there is meaning and function in the world.  This represents an internal conflict, as well because Mersault recognizes that there is an inescapable condemnation to being in the world.  This is a reality that binds him and in the moments before his death, there is an internal conflict that exists within him to confront the meaninglessness of his life, but also to confront the fact that a part of the reason he is in this position is because he "didn't cry at his mother's funeral."  The force with which he grabbed the Chaplain is a reflection of the internal conflict that Mersault experiences, one that recognizes his own replaceability in the world ("Marie now offered her lips to a new Mersault.")  It is in this regard where internal and external conflict converge.

It is difficult to find separate examples of internal conflict because Mersault recognizes the nature of existence from the start of the narrative to its conclusion.  From Mersault's inability to remember when exactly his mother died to the howls he expects to hear at his execution, Mersault does not experience regret or remorse, the typical components of internal conflict. Rather, his sense of internal conflict is one that converges with an external one that does not fully understand the manner in which he appropriates the world and his place in it.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,992 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question