A couple of months ago on a Friday, in the gravel next to the school buses parked at the local high school, I found a copy of [Albert Camus’s] [The Stranger]. I picked it up, took it home, read it, and then returned it on Monday. I’ve been turning the book over in my mind since then and I think it is now one of my favorite books.
The first time I had heard of the story was in either 1999 or 2000. I was standing out side of the [Ohio University - Zanesville library], smoking cigarettes with some undergraduates, whom I was impressed with and hoping that they wouldn’t figure out that I was a post secondary student or a lowly community college student, whichever I was at that time. After recounting whichever of Heinlein’s books I was reading at the time, a girl turned up the intellectualism by asking me if I had ever read The Stranger, which I had not, and she then struggled to explain the book, which made it seem even more interesting. Then I immediately forgot about it.
At that moment, I’m sure I was enchanted by the studious nature of her readings, but in all probability, she had been [assigned that book] a year or two before in high school.
Over the years, I had heard it understood as a treatise on existentialism, and as I read it, I discovered that I didn’t know what existentialism actually is. So - let’s learn.
I’d like to start with some concepts that you’re probably familiar with. In understanding of the divine there are three broad groups:
- Theism - believing in the existence of god(s) who are, have been, or will be active in the affairs of humans.
- Agnosticism - believing that god(s) may or may not exist, but, ultimately, are unknown or unknowable.
- Atheism - gods do not exist.
Existentialism belongs to a similar group of other philosophical explorations:
- Existentialism - life’s intrinsic values, meanings, and significance are real and can be found.
- Absurdism - life has meaning, but it is unknowable.
- Nihilism - life is insignificant, meaningless, and without value.
The Stranger falls into the absurdist tradition. And, it’s brilliantly done by using the narrative device of a criminal trial. It’s a pretty quick read, I’d recommend it to anyone.