Existentialism is a philosophy based upon an analysis of existance of the individual human being. Claiming human existance is not basically “describable or understandable in idealistic or scientific terms,” this philosophy has several major foci. These include the isolation of the individual, the belief that the world is inherently hostile, and the belief that no matter what one does everything will ultimately amount to nothing. In The Stranger’s portrayal of Mersault he is indeed the quintessential existential character.
Within his mind, Mersault definitely leads an isolated existence. His relationship with people is more logical than emotional. He does what is natural and what is logically harmless (like being a “friend” to the ignorant Raymond or entertaining a physical relationship with Marie). He is basically emotionally isolated and could care less. In the confrontation scene with the prison chaplain he says, “What did his God or the lives people choose or the fate they think they elect matter to me.” He is, indeed, indifferent to and contentedly isolated in his indifference to anyone or anything.
Mersault, as an individual, finding no true emotional joy in existence, finds the world to be indeed hostile. He is forced to deal with such hostility when he is put on trial for the, truthfully unintentional, murder of the Arab. Sent to court, he finds his life analyzed and judged and ridiculed by the prosecutor (who, in his zeal, made Mersault’s existence and even attitude towards life sound like a crime). He eventually is sentenced to be executed as if he were the same as a wicked felon. Nature has been observed to be essentially indifferent and hostile. However, Mersault even finds himself treated unjustly in one of the “civilized world’s” supposedly higher institutions. Taking Mersault’s point of view, how could the world be a friendly place?
Mersault’s attitude illustrates that every action an individual takes and every effort an individual makes ultimately amounts to nothing. It’s sort of a “being born from nothing and going back to nothing, nothing will come from nothing” point of view. Throughout the novel, Mersault never applies himself to a larger goal than day to day satisfaction. He has a career; he develops a relationship with a woman who loves him; he tries to avoid conflict and harm; however, in the end, he is sentenced to death as a convicted murderer. Leading an obscure life and leaving no foreseen mark on the world, his existence eventually amounts to basically nothing.
In a hostile world Mersault leads an isolated life that ultimately amounts to nothing. The Stranger is, indeed, an existential novel with Mersault as the quintessential existential character. Mersault is a very good example of existential existence (within the novel); however, given different circumstances and another chance would he change? Would he find love, emotion, or hope? Would he change over time and defeat the doctrines of existentialism, making its existence only rare isolated phenomena?