What is Camus's message in The Stranger?

Quick answer:

Camus's message in The Stranger is that life is absurd. He communicates this message through the protagonist, Meursault, who lives his life according to the belief that his world operates without order, reason, or meaning.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Stranger, Albert Camus presents life in an absurdist light. Absurdism holds that life is meaningless and that the universe, rather than being benevolent or hostile, is indifferent to human life. The struggle between humanity's attempt to find inherent meaning in life and the fruitlessness of that search is a major part of most absurdist art and literature.

In The Stranger, Meursault is one who has accepted the absurdity of life by the end of the novel. He rejects the idea that there is some higher moral order to the universe (represented by the priest who comes to visit him before he dies) or that life has a purpose. Even his murder of the Arab man is something he views as absurd, since he had no motive for killing him. The whole sordid affair is absurd, much like Camus's presentation of existence itself.

Meursault becomes an outsider because of his absurdist outlook. Other characters believe there is a higher moral order and that everything in life has a rational explanation, such as the people in the courtroom. They are all horrified by Meursault because he represents such an alien view—one that directly challenges their own. So, an additional message of the novel is that the absurdist philosophy is a minority view that most people are unwilling to accept because they crave meaning.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Who is the stranger in The Stranger by Albert Camus?

The eponymous stranger in Albert Camus's novel is Meursault. Meursault is a stranger in various senses. The most obvious way in which he is a stranger is that he himself is French and of Mediterranean origin, but he is living in North Africa, in French Algeria. However, as Camus describes him in the novel, it is not that Meursault is a typical European man who finds it difficult to survive in a colonized North African culture. On the contrary, he "hardly partakes" of the traditions of his own European culture. At the beginning of the story, when his mother dies, Meursault attends her funeral and does not cry. Camus remarked, when writing about the book, that this marked Meursault out as a stranger in any culture; because he did not weep at his mother's funeral, he was not a person who behaved in the way in which most societies expect people to behave. He is a stranger, then, not only in Algeria, but as a member of the human race.

This is clearly shown during the trial, when Meursault sh0cks the courtroom not only with his evident lack of grief over his mother's death, but with his refusal to give a reason for his crime—the only motivation he can come up with is that the sun was in his eyes. Meursault similarly shocks the priest with his disinterest in the comforts of religion, and by the end of the novel, his acceptance of life's absurdity has made his status as a stranger in society complete. In place of human companionship, hope, or religious feeling, Meursault has, in his final hours, gained a sense of kinship with the "benign indifference of the universe" itself.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is Camus' The Stranger?

The Stranger is a French novel by Albert Camus, set in French Algeria. It has been popular for many years since it was first published in 1942. The protagonist is a lonely and unhappy young man named Meursault who is out of step with the rest of society somewhat like Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky's novel Crime and Punishment. Meursault is an iconoclast, a rebel, a defiant individualist, a complete outsider. He might also be compared to Alceste in Moliere's play The Misanthrope and even to Holden Caulfield in J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.

The story mainly deals with Meursault's murder of an Arab, his trial, his awaiting execution in solitary confinement. Camus was strongly opposed to capital punishment, and some of the best scenes in his novel deal with the emotions of the young protagonist while he is awaiting death by the guillotine.

Since The Stranger is such a famous and critically acclaimed novel that it is often assigned reading in literature classes, and there is considerable coverage of it in the eNotes Study Guide and Homework Help (see reference links below). It is interesting, thought-provoking, truthful, and easy to read.

 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on