The Stranger Essay by JK

Meaningless Joy: Finding Happiness Through Albert Camus’ Message in The Stranger

            In Albert Camus’, The Myth Of Sisyphus, Gods condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly roll a rock to the top of a mountain. If the rock rolled back down the mountain, Sisyphus pushed it up again. While Sisyphus’ punishment sounds both pointless and tragic, Camus does not believe so. He believes that, “one must imagine Sisyphus happy” (The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus 123). Camus articulates that Sisyphus’ finds happiness through his ability to accept and rise above his hopeless and frivolous fate. He argues, “If this myth is tragic, that is only because its hero is conscious… Sisyphus, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition. (The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus 121). While Sisyphus’ consciousness makes his story tragic, it also provides him with joy: “The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory… All Sisyphus’ silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him” (The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus 121-3). The Gods wanted to punish Sisyphus with a fate worse then death, eternal and meaningless labor. However, Sisyphus found happiness in accepting his fate. In The Myth Of Sisyphus, Camus depicts a man who transcends his absurd condition to find happiness in an otherwise futile and hopeless life. Camus, The Stranger, provides readers with a similar message. In The Stranger, Meursault, like Sisyphus, is forced to bear a hopeless fate, death. Just as Sisyphus transcends his meaningless fate, so Meursault transcends his. Camus argues, using Meursault as a parallel to Sisyphus, that one can still find happiness in futility, by rejecting God and hope, accepting ones temporal existence, and embracing the present.

Camus argues through Meursault’s interaction with the prison chaplain that God does not propel, but rather, hinders one’s ability to find meaning in a meaningless world. While unsuccessfully trying to transform Meursault into a man of faith, the chaplain asks, “Have you no hope at all? And do you really live with the thought that when you die, you die, and nothing remains?” (The Stranger, Camus 117). The chaplain cannot imagine living with such a hopeless notion of death. As a man of God, full of hope, he believes in an afterlife. The idea that nothing remains after death horrifies him. He proclaims to Meursault that, “he pitied me. He thought it was more than a man could bear” (The Stranger, Camus 117). Camus argues that the chaplain’s hopefulness and certainty of God does not fill him with meaning, but instead, deludes him and makes him unconscious of the present. For example, Meursault asserts, “He seemed so certain about everything, didn’t he? And yet none of his certainties was worth one hair of a woman’s head. He wasn’t even sure he was alive, because he was living like a dead man” (The Stranger, Camus 120). Camus’ argument becomes apparent here; the chaplain, so focused on an afterlife, cannot live in his present life. His certainty that more remains after death hinders his ability to accept his temporal existence and hopeless fate. Waiting for another life strips the chaplain of the ability to live consciously and presently, it leads him down a blind ally. He lives like a dead man. Camus illustrates here the dangers of religion and “the delusions of hope” (Nuptials, Camus 74).

Meursault embodies Camus’ belief that embracing one’s temporality can lead one into becoming conscious of the present. For example, Meursault feels no sadness at his own mother’s funeral and he does not cry. When asked by his lawyer if he felt any sadness the day of the funeral, Meursault responds, “I had pretty much lost the habit of analyzing myself… I probably did love Maman, but that didn’t mean anything” (The Stranger, Camus 65). Meursault does not even know when his mother died: “Maman died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know” (The Stranger, Camus 3). He also does not know her age! When asked, “‘was she old?'” Meursault answered, “‘fairly’, because I didn’t know” (The Stranger, Camus 16). Each of these examples reveals Meursault’s indifference to death. He feels no sadness at his mother’s death because he accepts the notion of a temporal existence. He does not know when his mother died nor her age because it makes no difference. Meursault proclaims, “deep down I knew perfectly well that it doesn’t much matter whether you die at thirty or at seventy, since in either case other men and women will naturally go on living. In fact, nothing could be clearer” (The stranger, Camus 114). Meursault consciously understands that one day everyone will die and nothing will remain of them. He knows that the world will continue to turn and people will continue to live their lives whether he or Maman dies or not. He professes to himself that, “I was sure about me, about everything… sure of my life and sure of the death I had waiting for me. Yes that was all I had” (The Stranger, Camus 120). Through Meursault’s realization, Camus’ belief reveals itself; wisdom lies in “the conscious certainty of a death without hope” (Nuptials, Camus 90). Men may delude themselves by hoping for an afterlife, but Meursault does not. Meursault lives for the present and that alone is enough.

Meursault’s rejection of God and acceptance of death allows him to live in the present and ultimately, to find happiness in an absurd universe. Throughout the novel, the motif of nature repeatedly arises. Nature’s beauty transfixes Meursault, and on numerous occasions he describes the scenery with great detail and awe. For example, “When I went outside, the sun was up. Above the hills that separate Marengo from the sea, the sky was streaked with red. And the wind coming over the hills brought the smell of salt with it. It was going to be a beautiful day” (The Stranger, Camus 12). These simple moments of beauty and nature fulfill Meursault’s life. While in court Meursault realizes, “I was assailed by memories of a life that wasn’t mine anymore, but one in which I’d found the simplest and most lasting joys: the smells of summer, the part of town I loved, a certain evening sky, Marie’s dresses and the way she laughed” (The Stranger, Camus 104). Meursault’s realization once again contains Camus’ message; nature, beauty, and the simple joys of life are important, and only they can bring happiness to life. Camus believes that, “the world is beautiful, and outside there is no salvation” (Nuptials, Camus 103). For Camus nothing matters but “the stones, flesh, storms and those truths the hand can touch” (Nuptials, Camus 90). Meursault realizes this as well because he lives in the present. He notices the world around him. By rejecting the notion of an afterlife and accepting that he will die some day, Meursault is able to immerse himself in nature and the present to obtain happiness. By the end of the novel Meursault declares, despite his impending death, “I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again” (The Stranger, Camus 123). Camus ends the novel by illustrating the power of living in the present.

In both The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus weaves his philosophic message through the actions and thoughts of his main characters. In both stories, hopeless and meaningless fates face the characters. However, both Sisyphus and Meursault look beyond their tragic fates and gain control. They become conscious of their punishments and turn them into their salvations. Through these two characters, Camus reveals the importance of living consciously. Camus shows that even through the absurdities of a life with no meaning, man can still find significance and happiness. Death cannot be sidestepped nor stalled. Man must face his fate with acceptance or one day he will look back and wonder where his life went.

The Stranger Essay by J.K.

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