Absurdism and "The Stranger" by Albert Camus
Albert Camus was a contemporary writer who lived in French Algeria during the 1940s. His philosophy, which was an extension of the philosophy of existentialism, explored the seemingly random meaninglessness of life.
Absurdists believe that it is futile to examine the meaning of life, since live has no meaning. Life to an absurdist is random and looking for meaning is a waste of time, since there is no inherent meaning in life. Camus best describes this in his work "The Myth of Sisyphus". In this work he describes man's life as a series of daily boring work such as rolling a rock up a hill, as Sisyphus did in the Greek myth. Sisyphus was doomed to roll the rock uphill, only to see it roll back down the hill. He had to continue to do this task for the rest of his life as punishment. In our own lives Camus insists, we roll rocks up hills too and each evening they roll back down so the next day we must do the same thing. Boring and monotonous work schedules, chores, house cleaning and the like are what comprises the days of men and women. There is no meaning to this, only dull drudgery.
Camus states that for one to obtain any freedom in an absurd universe, he or she must recognize absurdity. If one faces this realization then they can understand that the universe is never absolute, and this can free us of expectations. No expectations= Freedom! If one has a belief in this philosophy then does one not believe in God? No, says Camus. If we live with an absurdist view, then there really is no meaning ascribed to a belief or disbelief of a higher power. It is not necessary to speculate, as life and the things that we believe in or understand have no meaning anyway. Camus does believe that it is us who create the meaning in those things we enjoy in life, and for him this was beauty. This is what he thinks makes it worth living. People may create meaning in their own lives and find their own goals for which to strive.
There is also no "hope" in the view of the absurdist. Hope implies something that will come from a future view. Instead, the present becomes and remains the place in which the absurd philosopher focuses on in life, thereby fully living in the now and not in what may or may not come to pass. Integrity is more important than morality which comes with judgment of what is right and what is wrong, whereby integrity is total honesty with ones self and striving to remain consistent in living ones life in an completely authentic way.
Camus took his political and philosophical view on the criminal justice system to task in his 1942 book "The Stranger". In French the title L'Etranger could mean both a stranger and an outsider. The first part of the book sets up the second part, which is a trial that shows the ineffective criminal justice system at the time in Algiers. Camus writes simply and the first part introducing us to his central character Monsieur Meursault. Meursault is a seemingly non emotional character who "does not care about anything" and states more than once that "it does not matter anyway".
Meursault is the typical absurd man. His mother dies and he is not emotional about it. He has a girlfriend who accepts his foibles, he has rather shady friends and he does not use his common sense too much. His name, a combination of sea/mer and sun/sault is highly symbolic and frames the story in many ways. But it is the second part of the story Camus offers us that makes more sense once we understand the concepts of which he speaks.
The trial sets into motion the judgment of "proper behavior" of individuals and those who are outside the normal reactions people "expect" of them. The trial focuses not on the crime at hand, but the odd behavior of the protagonist in the time frame leading up to the crime. The allegations, judgments and meaning others ascribe to his actions are not aligned with the absurdist view. As in life, we see that perceptions of others are mightily different than the intentions or views of the other. Living an absurd life himself, Camus book creates frustration in the reader who does not understand the entire reasoning behind the work and can see it from the view of the philosophy described in the above section.
Camus character is honest and will not ascribe to something he does not believe in, such as a belief in God or religion. Camus worked to present much of his work with the way most people look at life: in dualistic fashion. Happy/Sad. Light/Dark. Life/Death.What underscores most of his work however is the belief that life is short and mortality is forever. His hope was to inspire others to choose happiness and love life...the cruel joke is that all our efforts will still bring us all to the same place ultimately: death. We lament needlessly that our lives must have some kind of meaning ascribed to it, or else ....or else what? We should just die? Why does every-one's life have to have meaning? For Camus this is the question.
If we do not conform to the system we remain outsiders. People judge us for being different and odd. If we change our beliefs we are considered renegade. If we do not conform to the expectations of another, we somehow are cruel and heartless. Why? To become indifferent to the world is a difficult task and one many people do not wish to espouse. But to live a life as others ask us to is not being authentic and free.
Camus work on absurdism gives us another way of looking at life. One we may not agree with or choose to follow. But in order to grow and learn, finding the way to look at something new and exploring the meaning behind great literature is always an attempt to keep the mind open and free. Free to choose, explore and see that there is not one way to "be" in this life and that being different takes more courage than following the crowd.