The Stranger and the Myth of Sisyphus

Personal misery and the feeling of hopelessness can drive one into oblivion. At such a point, one may find themselves engaging in acts that are incomprehensible. This is usually caused by a string of events that are out of the individual’s control. If observed closely, such an individual is usually in mental turmoil and will need outside help to get in touch with their inner being. When the soul becomes disengaged with the human body, humanity is lost, and one takes the form of a wild animal. Such a person is uncontrollable. This is what happened to Meursault, a young man who lost his mother and his mental faculties, as well. With this tragic event, the young man is taken through a journey of thoughts and experiences that seem absurd to people of sound mind. This new persona that is born following the tragedy seems like a stranger when compared to the former personality.

On the first reading of this book, one can get a brief overview of the flow. However, it takes more effort to get a deeper understanding to the shattered and disconnected individual who is born in the course of events that transpire in the book. Some of the actions that the young man takes are absurd, and are not expected from somebody who is in mourning over the demise of a close relative. At the beginning of the novel, one learns that the protagonist mother died the previous day (The Stanger, Pp 1). By engaging the thoughts outlined in the essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”, there is some hope of fully understanding the context of “The Stranger”.

One of the questions that need a critical analysis is why Meursault shows no emotions at his mother’s funeral. Does sudden news of tragedy impede one brain from carrying out its normal activities? This question can be clarified by reading the Absurd Reasoning in “The Myth of Sisyphus”. According to this quote from “The Myth of Sisyphus”, when one experiences the death of a close acquaintance, they start questioning the essence of life (An Absurd Reasoning; Absurdity and Suicide). Such a person will wonder whether life is worth living, or whether they should just follow suit across the great divide. This subject is laden with adverse emotions that tend to drive out common sense and replace it with worry and doubt. This causes someone to divert their attention to other matters, hence showing different emotions other than the ones expected.

This is what made Meursault experience emotional blockage, which made him, unable to grieve for his mother at her burial (The Stranger, Pp 11). Instead, he drank milk and criticized the people who attended the burial and even made fun of some. It might be considered as a sign of disrespect to the deceased, but it was rather a matter of disorganization of thought that made the protagonist lose control of his actions. In such a period of turmoil, ones feelings are stronger than thoughts and mean more than words (Absurd Walls). It can be said that Meursault has lost hope and hence does not belong to the future (Philosophical Suicide). This comes from a text in “The Myth of Sisyphus”, and means that without hope, and a vision for the future, one might as well be dead. This is what happens to the protagonist after the demise of his mother.

The other matter that brings contention to the book is the validity of choices that Meursault made in the period that followed his mother’s death. For instance, he engages in sexual intercourse with an old friend soon after meeting her after a long time. This is a rash decision and should not be made without critical analysis of the consequences (The Stranger, Pp 14). According to “The Myth of Sisyphus”, there is a period when one’s brain acts out of the adrenaline associated with awareness. In such a time, the body seems to be overcompensating for things that the person may have not done in the past. In such a moment, one may think that they have little time to live, hence must make up for most of the times lost.

People hence engage in activities that they normally would not do. For Meursault, some of these activities included helping to subject another person to emotional pain. This is done when he aids his friend Raymond to trick his girlfriend and later humiliate her for alleged infidelity (The Stranger, Pp 21). These actions are uncouth and suggest that Meursault does not care for any other person.

The anticlimax of the novel is when Meursault engages in physical violence.  He ends up killing an Arab who attacks him and Raymond when they are at the beach house (The Stranger, Pp37). This is the final straw towards a total mental breakdown. There is a probability that the protagonist knew what he was doing since he repeated the shooting four times after the victim had died. This can be viewed as an attempt to avenge his mother’s death. By taking a man’s life, he might have drawn some power to himself that made him feel like he had control again. A tragic loss can affect one’s esteem and make them feel as if they are nothing in this world. One must hence find validation and a reason to live again. For Meursault, killing the Arab man was that moment for him and might have been of some psychological help. This could be the reason why he shows no remorse later on during his trial.

One might question why Meursault is with peace of mind in prison and does not show any anxiety. The reason could be that he is detached from reality and refuses to let his surrounding influence his life. He seems to have accepted his fate, but in reality, he is blocking and form of feeling or truth to enter his mind. From the philosophic point of view expressed in the “Myth of Sisyphus”, the mind’s principal role is to separate the truth from lies. The protagonist has blocked all mental activities and hence cannot comprehend the reality of what is happening in his environs. He chooses to ignore this and instead engage in fantasies and sleep. His punishment brings life to the words of Camus, that all actions have consequences that legitimize it (The Absurd Man).

When approached by a priest, who tries to bring him to faith before his execution, he claims that there is no God (The Stranger, Pp 73). This shows lack of faith in God. This can be associated with his mother’s demise which made him think that there is no immortal being looking after humans, and that is why death wins. There is a text from the “Myth of Sisyphus” that stipulates that, for a person who has no faith, he is unaware that he does not believe (The Absurd Man). This applies to Meursault’s situation in prison. He cannot be swayed on this belief about the lack of existence of a higher being since he thinks that he is right. However, as his execution date draws nearer, he starts believing that God exists (The Stranger, Pp75). He can see the light once again. Although this happens late into the novel, there is hope that he will have peace in the afterlife, a component which he lacked during his last days on earth. In the “Myth of Sisyphus”, the writer says all men, even those without a gospel have something that they believe (Absurd Creation; Philosophy and Fiction). This is true since, in the end, the protagonist believes in a higher being.

By incorporating the philosophical aspect used in the “Myth of Sisyphus” and the events that take place “The Stranger”, one can get a clearer understanding of the book. The first time a person reads this book, they are left with some unanswered questions that require analysis. This lens essay has combined the ideologies of the two pieces of literature to bring out the essence of the novel, and shine some light on some rhetoric that are posed by the novel. There is a quote from “The Myth of Sisyphus” that says, “If one can say that this is clear, the world can be saved” (Absurd Walls). This is what happens to Meursault. He finds his light, and he is saved from the hell that he has been living. His life is paraphrased by Camus, where he speaks of a man who is betrayed by his own body, and lives like a comedy, waiting to join God, who he did not believe (Don Juanism).

By so doing, all the mystery surrounding the actions of Meursault are solved any questions that a first time reader may have had are answered. This is essential for a serious reader and a lover of literature as it opens one’s eyes to the mind of the writer, as well as the characters.

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