Reading “The Outsider” by Albert Camus and diving deep into its underlying “theory of absurdism” was a life-changing event for me. The story although fictional strikes so many notes and carries so many semblances to our own life that it provokes the reader to think more about a very hard hitting fact that the life, as we know it, may not have any meaning at all. If you really don’t think deeply about it it’s easier to pass on this idea as a wasteful notion. But when you actually consider the meaninglessness of our existence as a real possibility it precariously transcends your soul.
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Meursault the protagonist in this book is a true existentialist or an absurdist to be exact. For him, the life is nothing but a series of events happening to him, with no cosmic plan running in the background. His bodily desires such as hunger, heat, discomfort and carnal needs are the ones ruling almost all his decisions. By being apathetic to societal norms and religious diktats he challenges them in a very passive albeit staunch way.
Relationships with parents, with significant other or with friends are a mere façade for him. In fact, the novel starts with a scene where his mother has died and he is more worried about the whole discomfort of sitting in the cemetery waiting for someone, being bothered by the heat. He is hungry and still thinking about his meals. The very first sentence of the novel is “Mamma died today … maybe yesterday.”, showing is apathy towards life, relations and any feelings of attachment.
In all this his conduct he is very similar to hermits who have denounced the world and its appealing attachments. Although the difference perhaps is that he is still a slave to the physiological needs of this body. But then he is honest to admit that he is bound by them.
While Camus in this story has exaggerated a character to an extreme to prove a point, we can all see glimpses of Meursault within us. There are times when we are purely driven by our comfort and greed and prefer to be led by them, rather than by the norms of society and religion.
I later also read some essays by Albert Camus such as “Myth of Sisyphus” which helped me understand his theory of absurdism better. All in all this collection of works around existentialism is an entirely different belly of the beast, be careful before you enter it. You may never come out, or even worse you may come out so changed that you won’t be able to recognize your own self. I still can’t.