Hopeless?: Existentialism and Absurdism in Albert Camus’ L’Étranger
Albert Camus’ philosophical novel, L’Étranger, involves a careless individual by the name of Mersault whom seems to stand idly by as events persistently occur around him. His attitude towards life is devoid of all meaning and ultimately leads to his execution, which he remains indifferent toward and instead only seems to show agitation or any emotional response when unable to perform the most primal of activities, such as sex. Mersault’s display of detachment from humanity personifies the philosophical school of thought dubbed absurdism, as the central character’s apparent outburst in the story’s most critical moments, Mersault claims that the human condition is absurd and God is a waste his time. These sentiments detail the primary notions of absurdism; that trying to find meaning in human existence is hopeless so long as the unknown can never be revealed.
This essay explores the philosophical concept of absurdism in the context of French novelist Albert Camus’ writings, namely L’Étranger, published in 1942. There exists wide controversy on the subject of absurdism among critiques, some believing the idea to be arrogant and some agreeing with Camus’ own belief that a lack of purpose presents humankind with a true sense of freedom. I hope to look more closely at not only the philosophy itself, but the social implications that brought people to this conclusion about human existence in the post-modern age and the effect it has on the individual once implemented to offer an account of how this philosophical notion impacts humanity and whether its affects are truly positive, negative, or indifferent to the individual.
While the novella proposes what seems to be a very negative, doom-filled existential ideology, the concept of absurdity may actually be interpreted as a very liberating idea, as its primary focus is of the individual in this life rather than theories about the next that often put restraints on one’s life. While many theists condemn the imperiousness of absurdity, a critical analysis of not only the history and origin of the philosophy but of the general wellbeing of those who tend to side with it will posit the fact that absurdism actually grants a person more freedom to excel in this life without the weariness and guilt that often comes with the fear or preoccupation with the afterlife.