Friday, April 4, 2008
Passage Explication on The Stranger
Albert Camus, author of The Stranger, believes “that only by facing the absurd can I act authentically; otherwise, I adopt a convenient attitude of wishful thinking,”(Le Mythe de Sisyphe.) He suggests that everyone lives and dies, that’s it. When Mersault, the main character of the book The Stranger, realizes this fact, he begins to reflect on himself and life and creates his own meaning and purpose to live. Still, he only realizes this fact after being sent to jail for murder, where is forced to stop and reflect on this theory of the ‘absurd’, or this thought that the universe has no meaning. Throughout these two passages from the book, Camus also proposes that regardless of Mersault acting with or without meaning and emotions towards everything, he is still responsible for his actions.
In the passage on pg. 81, where Mersault analyzes his reflection on the tin plate and realizes that even though he tries to smile, it “seemed to remain serious,” Camus suggests that it is needed for Mersault to stop and reflect upon himself. He mentions how while gazing at his reflection, “for the first time in months, I distinctly heard the sound of my own voice.” Finally, Mersault realizes that he is alone and unable to do anything, and is forced to hear, feel, and think about everything he does. He states after that, “I recognized it as the same one that had been ringing in my ears for many long days, and I realized that all that time I had been talking to myself.” Often, it is only when people are alone that they can focus better, and in Mersault’s case, it was only in jail that he was able to focus on himself, and face reality. Before, it seems like he would just act. He did not hear, see or feel. After this point on, Mersault is compelled to change and see what he got himself into. As he ends the passage with, “..there was no way out, and no one can imagine what nights in prison are like,” he concludes that being alone everyday in that prison cell brought him to realize the mistake he had made.
After realizing what he has done and excepting the consequences, we come across the passage where Mersault convinces himself of being indifferent towards death. Camus suggests here, that Mersault should face death as something normal, and that everyone will have to go through it one day. On pg. 114, Mersault states that “..everybody knows life isn’t worth living…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.” However, even though the thought of everyone being the same, considering that they would all die regardless of anything, comforted Mersault’s mind for a while, he clearly demonstrates his fear of dying when he says, “Whether it was now or twenty years from now, I would still be the one dying. At that point, what would disturb my train of thought was the terrifying leap I would feel my heart take at the idea of having twenty more years of life ahead of me.” Camus concludes with this, that if Mersault lived off of ‘wishful thinking’, it will eventually bring him to have fear of dying, while if he faced the fact with a better reasoning of it, then he’d become calm towards the fact of having to go through it. And this is what Mersault was doing. Later on in the passage he straightens his thought and pulls out of the fear, “..I simply had to stifle it by imagining what I’d be thinking in twenty years when it would all come down to the same thing anyway. Since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter.” Then, when Mersault states his conclusion of “Therefore I had to accept the rejection of my appeal,” he mentions that, “..the difficult thing was not to lose sight of all the reasoning that went into this ‘therefore’.” It becomes very obvious here how much he needed that reason to except his appeal.
Mersault’s being in prison led him to think and reflect on the way he lived his life. He was an absurdist the whole time without knowing it, then finally when he stops to think about it, he faces the facts and accepts his death. Camus shows that Mersault had to face the absurd to allows himself to live recognizing his actions, or in other words, act with meaning. On the other hand, you live meaninglessly and that’s when the time of silence and reflecting upon themselves takes place, because regardless of Mersault’s action being with or without meaning or emotion, he is still responsible for them.