The Existential reflected in Camus’s “The Outsider”

In The Outsider, (or some of you might know it as The Stranger) Albert Camus gives us one man, his dead mother, a stranger, a lover and a murder. Intrigued? I was too, and today bears witness to my 9th read of this book.

Published in 1941, this was Camus’s first ever novel to be published.  Why did I title this post “The Existential reflected in Camus’s The Outsider”, because, through all the characters and events, their choices and subsequent consequences, Camus captures a very existential idea and belief of what life and most especially what death is, and that is – “the zenith of life is death”.  This is reflected in the following words by Mersault,

“There is not love of life without despair about life.”

For me what Camus does brilliantly, is engaging us in an almost unconscious moral policing over this tale. How? Through the journey  we take with Mersault, a very flawed character who is in constant dialogue with the reader, whether it be through him denouncing God, pacifying himself, or convincing himself and us of his confusion. The form these reflections take are what make this text existential for me. The internal reflections and dialogues are detached, unaffected, and most of all based in the existential belief that – man makes his own choices guided by no external force but his own. For Mersault there is no imaginary “God” deciding his fate and destiny, he himself is his own God.

To take this notion of the existential within Camu’s The Outsider further, I would like to borrow Sartre’s words – “Existence precedes essence”. Mersault displays this philosophy through his actions and reactions, which in turn are based on his personal free-will, that have ultimately guided him to the space he finds himself in, not an outside force.

For the existential, and Mersualt, we form our sins and the method by which we are persecuted for them, in Camu’s The Outsider, the part of the persecutor is played by society and the sin is the act of stretching away from the norm. That is, Mersault’s apparent lack of remorse, guilt and ability to mourn the death for his mother.  The ultimate existential aspect highlighted through this novel is the idea and the sense of the “Absurd”. With every word and memory resurfaced, Mersault presents many versions of himself. Leaving the reader feeling unsettled and unsure. By obscuring the ‘truth’, we as reader shall never truly know what happened and whom it happened to, as our narrator is at best – unreliable. This creation of the absurd, not only for his character, but also for the reader is most definitely Camus’s nod to existential thought and philosophy.

So pick this book up and immerse yourself in the Absurd!




One thought on “The Existential reflected in Camus’s “The Outsider”

  1. As an existential experience this as well as Sartre’s ‘Nausea’ are life-changing, since you get to experience that nausea or the absurd with the respective characters. Yet for the theoretical part, Camus’ ‘The myth of Syssiphus’ is equally brilliant (or Sartre’s ‘Existentialism is a humanism’).
    I’m glad to have found somebody who appreciates existentialism! (Recently I’ve encountered people who mocked the very phrase you quoted -“Existence preceeds essence”, to my utter disappointment).


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