Is there any escape from the strangeness of the world? Can the indifference of the world be overcome? Can delving deep into the events of life fetch us joy or vice versa? To what extent should we mourn death and disease? How should we treat love and marriage? How should we behave in prison?
Albert Camus seemed preoccupied by all the above enigmatic queries before he set out to write his philosophical novel ‘The Stranger’. He perceived man grappling with these mysterious concepts awaiting unravelling to comprehend them and counter them to stabilize his chaotic and disrupted life. He pities the pathetic state of humans and decides to write unfolding the enigmas of life and offering their solutions. He had seen both world wars that brought degeneration of human values. The suffering due to meaninglessness became the poignant anxiety of man. He began remaining dejected whining about his flawed, miserable and incomplete life. The religious schism and shift that formed in his life tantalized him and left him floating in the sea of doubt and dilemma.
Man profoundly deliberated on his life and its fragmentation surfaced everywhere in every thought and idea. It crippled his life and frightened him to go back to reflection and deliberation. Hazrat Ali (RA) says, “Too much thinking kills joy”. Man was immersed in the fathomless sea of melancholy when he reflected on the most convoluted thing, life. Its existence is so much enigmatic that it does not unfold itself easily into the intelligible terminology of meaning. More reflection leads to more mystery. Viktor Frankl, the author of, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, found meaning in life in love and freedom but Albert Camus finds it in nothing but he offers ways and methods to mitigate it and overcome it or to end it if it can be by embracing it and adopting it as it is without any further philosophical drudgery. His novel ‘The Stranger’ is a struggle to come out of this meaningless menace and to counter it with the same ammunition by which it attacks us. The novel opens up with the most famous words, “Maman died today. Or maybe it was yesterday. I don’t know” carrying a tone of indifference, apathy and insensitivity.
Meursault’s Forgetting the demise-day and date of his mother seems deliberate and a result of rigorous training of his mind to forget things that cause ceaseless pain and suffering. Indifference to suffering helps to alleviate its intensity. Take-it-easy approach to the events of life makes it easy to manage and handle. Meursault took the death of his mother easy and it helped him to come to terms with this brutal occurrence. He simplified and normalized the horrors of life to the extent that he says, “The day I buried Maman, I was very much tired and sleepy, so much so that I was not really aware of what was going on.” He was not tired due to the sorrow of his mother’s decease but because of travelling from his workplace. He wanted to hurry for the burial. He could not tolerate procrastination because he wanted to relax and rest. His behaviour was suspected when he reacted in a normal and composed way to the condolers. Not an iota of sadness could be traced from his behaviour. When he was asked whether he wanted to see the face of his mother one last time as the custom goes, he categorically refused. The mourners stare at him as if he is not the son of the deceased lady.
Albert Camus through the character of Meursault cuts across the way to counter death and remain unaffected by its pain and pangs. The uncaring and unconcerned attitude of his protagonist liquifies the intensity of death. It appears normal and lacks any profound reflection and attention. Camus is a trained philosopher of absurdism and existentialism. Embracing the two breaks the two into shreds. The strange and indifferent nature of the world and life is beaten by the same tools of these two. When Marie, Meursault’s paramour, asks him whether he treats marriage seriously, he says no that not only astounds Marie but binds her permanently to him. Loving and marrying did not mean anything to him. He confesses that he loved Maman but it did not mean anything to him. He can’t be possessed by any emotion that will break him when the emotion-containing person or object is gone. He is reluctant to be owned by anything. When he kills an Arab and it places him in prison, he quickly adapts to the prison life and feels it normal. He is not afraid of the consequences of shooting an Arab. He overcomes the urge of wine, woman and smoke within no time. He has no regrets, no complaints and no worries. He transcends everything that brings pain and worry. He says, “I realized then that a man who had lived only one day could easily live for a hundred years in prison. He would have enough memories to keep him from being bored. In a way, it was an advantage”. When his lawyer investigates him about his crime. He unhesitantly confesses everything without any repentance. The lawyer is baffled and asks him not to make confessions like this in front of the jury in the court or he will be sentenced to death. Even the death punishment does not affect him. It fails to fear him. He does not shiver after hearing the sentence for his crime. Fidelity and infidelity do not matter to him. His lawyer asks him whether he believes in God or not. He says no. The lawyer is flabbergasted. He asks him how can one be happy and his life meaningful and hopeful without believing in God. Meursault says nothing. The lawyer reiterates the question of belief in God. He again boldly says no. The lawyer wonders how can he be so composed without believing in God.
Camus` philosophy rises beyond religion. His protagonist does not agree with the lawyer that without God, life is meaningless. For him, life turns meaningless or meaningful by one’s approach and attitude to it. Too much attention to the tragedies of life fills it with pain and suffering and makes it meaningless and vice versa. One should not try to unfold every mystery of life. Some mysteries are Pandora’s box, once they open, they issue forth suffering that cripples life and its movements of joy and happiness.
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