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Angela Combs

R.J. Ray, Instructor

Philosophy 2020- A01
October 26, 2004

The Stranger by Albert Camus is a story that invites the reader to a feast of

questions concerning what is and is not considered acceptable behavior among people in

society. It also wrestles with a central theme of life and death and how a person deals

with it on a personal level. Exploring deeper, can a person truly live a life with meaning

by simply only going through the repeated motions of day-to-day processes necessary for

survival in a modern society? Is a life therefore only wasted to the parameters that are

lain before us, as is a paved road with its bold, straight lines that dictate an acceptable

path? If one never explored the wilderness beyond a space of pavement, it would never

be known exactly what could have been within grasps whether it would be to an

advantage or disadvantage. All the same, it is bold to step over lines to examine the

unknown. In this particular story, the antagonist Mersault did not lead a worthwhile life.

After all, according to Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Beginning on the subject of love for a family and likewise the love for a

significant other or a friend, Mersault does not effectively show any kind of true

compassion for any of these. Although he may be in fact capable of examining others’

lifestyles, he has trouble when it comes to understanding between himself and the

seemingly most central people in his life. His Maman who he sent to a home for old

people is one person who he does not understand in a religious sense when he is

presented with the fact that his Maman may have had more to her life than he previously

had known. He is confronted with the fact that Maman wanted a religious funeral, but

then reflects that “Maman had never in her life given a thought to religion” (p. 6). Also,
Angela Combs

R.J. Ray, Instructor

Philosophy 2020- A01
October 26, 2004
his love for Marie is one that is only of a physical nature and is less based on any kind of

an emotional attachment. He accepts the fact that he does not love Marie, while at the

same time telling himself that he loves her body. Obviously, he only took her for what he

could get from her on a sexual level which further confused his perception of what love

really is and what it means to love another. Another big issue along this line lies with the

definition of a true friendship. When a man named Raymond who had only known

Mersault from the casual meetings in the hall of their complex asserts that “ ‘Now you’re

a pal, Mersault’ ” several times to which Mersault only replies “ ‘Yes.’ ” He then thinks

to himself: “I didn’t mind being his pal, and he seemed set on it” (p. 33). This goes to

show that he is not interested in what the word friendship really means. If one must

actually stop to ponder the question of friendship or merely give in to being friends with

another person only to achieve a mutual satisfactory stance without having inherent

knowledge of what the friendship is beforehand, then it can be assumed that the

friendship is not one of emotional attachments but rather one of physical gain.

Perhaps the strongest evidence that Mersault has not lived a worthy life lies

within a reflection he makes of life in Part Two of the book while he awaits the end of his

life from his cell in prison. When he realizes that death is a thing that is definite, he says,

“But everybody knows life isn’t worth living. Deep down I knew perfectly well that it

doesn’t much matter whether you die at thirty or seventy, since in either case other men

and women will naturally go on living- and for thousands of years. In fact, nothing could

be clearer. Whether it was not or twenty years from now, I would still be the one dying”

(p. 114). This excerpt is a powerful one in that it directly defies the Socratic view of
Angela Combs

R.J. Ray, Instructor

Philosophy 2020- A01
October 26, 2004
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Mersault clearly sees that there is no hope in

living his life from day to day just as another face in the crowd. He does not observe the

value within an individual life but he instead views humanity as one singularly large mass

rather than that mass being composed of individually unique atoms that make up the

whole. Society would evidently be black and white if it were all uniform without any

zest. He acts as though no matter what age one dies at, that prolongation of that life by

any number of years would be worthless on a societal level since humans are physically

replaced with other humans. However, he fails to realize that another human cannot

simply compensate for another and that no other person can ever have the same exact

mindset or life that he has. Perhaps in his final moments, he discovers that his life is

indeed not worth living seeing as how he has never taken the time to give thought to go

beyond the physically obvious in his life to touch-base with the emotions. Pointing out

this central area of neglect shows he has not lived a worthy life.

Mersault is indeed a character who lived a life plagued by his lack of self-

examination. He goes through the motions of life in the areas of friendship only to say he

had friends, family only to say they were merely present, and love only for the sex.

These are all physical observations that lack the presence of any kind of emotional

attachment or show of feelings. Worthiness, in a sense, is a type of merit that is all

encompassing. To say that Mersault did not live a worthy life is a bold statement to put

forth but given the circumstances surrounding the way in which he lived his life, it is a

label that fits his demeanor well. Observing the way one lives his life without observing
Angela Combs

R.J. Ray, Instructor

Philosophy 2020- A01
October 26, 2004
the “why” he lives his life the way he does is a direct neglect of emotion. Socrates says it

best: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”