The Stranger

by: Albert Camus

The Meaninglessness of Life

Quotes The Meaninglessness of Life
Never in my life had I seen anyone so clearly as I saw these people; not a detail of their clothes or features escaped me. And yet I couldn’t hear them, and it was hard to believe they really existed.

Meursault reveals how his mind works. No physical details of peoples’ appearances go unnoticed by him, and yet he feels no connection with them. He feels his struggle to believe in meaningful relationships as a physical sensation of deafness and blindness. This admission dramatizes the consistent theme in the novel that mankind creates meaning out of a series of physical sensations that have no bearing on any kind of purpose.

Marie came that evening and asked me if I’d marry her. I said I didn’t mind; if she was keen on it, we’d get married. Then she asked me again if I loved her. I replied, much as before, that her question meant nothing or next to nothing—but I supposed I didn’t.

Meursault explains his reactions to Marie’s persistent attempts to form a permanent bond with him. She seeks assurances of his love, culminating in her request for him to make a commitment to her through marriage. Consistent with his former replies, he tells her the question has no meaning to him, indicating the emptiness of commitment to ideals and people. Then he admits to himself that he really doesn’t love her. Meursault’s use of “keen” to characterize Marie’s desire shows he sees her marriage proposal as a whim, and his deference reflects his motivation to go with the flow of his life rather than make decisions he sees as meaningless.

That was unthinkable, he said; all men believe in God, even those who reject Him. Of this he was absolutely sure; if ever he came to doubt it, his life would lose all meaning. “Do you wish,” he asked indignantly, “my life to have no meaning?” Really I couldn’t see how my wishes came into it, and I told him as much.

Meursault recounts a moment when the magistrate, upset and threatened by Meursault’s open disbelief in God, challenges him to consider the societal consequences of holding such an opinion. By asking whether Meursault would intentionally deprive his life of meaning, he expresses belief in Meursault’s empathy. Not only does Meursault disappoint him by evidencing no sympathy, he also states that believing life has meaning doesn’t make it so. Meursault’s exchange with the magistrate expresses a central theme in the novel that life only has the meaning that people ascribe to it.

The futility of what was happening here seemed to take me by the throat, I felt like vomiting, and I had only one idea: to get it over, to go back to my cell, and sleep ... and sleep. Dimly I heard my counsel making his last appeal.

Meursault reveals his thoughts and feelings while his lawyer makes his final appeal to the jury for leniency. While the lawyer speaks, Meursault focuses on the futility of the plea and reacts to the court’s impending judgment with visceral despair. His nausea conveys an image of his body rejecting the situation. His obsession with sleeping reflects a desire for the escape of oblivion. In the midst of these thoughts, Meursault judges that nothing can change the events currently taking place and he prepares himself for death.

“But,” I reminded myself, “it’s common knowledge that life isn’t worth living, anyhow.” And, on a wide view, I could see that it makes little difference whether one dies at the age of thirty or threescore and ten—since, in either case, other men and women will continue living, the world will go on as before.

Meursault describes his thought process while waiting in his cell to see if his execution will take place that day. Over the course of the novel, Meursault evolves to become more self-aware. Here he articulates what he once just dimly sensed, that life holds no meaning. He dramatizes this view into a picture of the world going on without him, and he consoles himself that every person faces the same fate, death. Length of days has little consequence in the grand scheme. He plays these mind games as he waits, each day, for dawn.