According to the existential philosophy of Sartre, the possibility to find meaning and purpose in an individual’s life is closely linked and connected with the capacity of an individual’s stand for his freedom of choice. Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous phrase, ‘existence precedes essence’ also explains that existence is prior to essence and essence is the meaning or the purpose of an individual’s life, which he makes himself. The true meaning can be found in the actions done by an individual for himself and not by being influenced by the others or by the society, or restricting your actions according to the set rules of the society.
A person should be free enough to be able to take a decision and later take the responsibility of that action. ‘Humans are free’, is one of Jean-Paul Sartre’s most radical beliefs. He believes that with the freedom of being, the conscious being, comes the responsibility of the individual’s actions. But with the responsibility of taking few choices, also comes the weight of multiple possibilities that an individual gives up while making a choice or a decision, which leaves the individual in the state of anguish. Heidegger’s philosophy helps to further the discussion, as he believes, that moods play an important part in the life of an individual, which helps him understand and find the meaning and purpose of life.
While anguish occurs in the initial part of this process, Heideggar explains that there are two directions. The first one is where anguish gives rise to angst and the other direction is to fall in Bad Faith. The first direction – angst – is a bit similar to fear but is yet different. In this situation, the individual feels as if things are becoming strange, as in Sartre’s Nausea also, the protagonist feels this strangeness when he says, “I felt a little strange… For instance, there is something new about my hands, a certain way of picking up my pipe or fork. Or else it’s the fork which now has a certain way of having itself picked up, I don’t know.” (Sartre, 2000: 23) Heidegger divides existence into three levels, first being the man, second, the world and the third, the things of use. When an individual tries to alienate himself from the society and the world he feels anxiety, which is a form of mood, which according to Heidegger plays an important part. As anxiety is the fear of losing something, the fear of nothingness, i.
e., when the things look strange and a sense of slipping away of thing is felt. It is the situation where an individual feels that the whole world has become strange. During this time the individual questions himself, why does anything exist at all?, at this moment the individual becomes an undefined being and this undefined being is what Heidegger calls the ‘Pure Being’. ‘Pure Being’ is not defined and therefore, the being takes the responsibility to define himself in his own way by taking few decisions and making the choices which he is responsible for. This makes the life of an individual an authentic one. Individual’s choice and freedom is the integral part of Camus’ novels.
Camus set freedom over the tyranny, oppression and suppression prevailing in the society by removing nihilism. Camus through his work portrays the central theme of the philosophical issue of defining the good or positive and humane substance of resistance by revolting against the maltreatment or wrong doings without delving into the nihilistic approach. Terry Hoy in Albert Camus: the Nature of Political Rebellion, draw three phases of Camus’ idea of treatment of the humane substance in order to give meaning, purpose and value to an individual’s existence in the age of revolutionary terrorism and violence. The first phase is, an individuals encounter with the absurdity of human existence. Second phase is where he reduces the political nihilism to false idea from the understanding of the absurd.
Thirdly, he tries to combine the absurdist reasoning to an individual’s limited freedom and human dignity.Camus believes that freedom serves as the major components of the human nature and also the commitment and responsibility that goes hand in hand becomes the deciding element of morality for an individual’s authentic existence. Like Meursault (The Stranger), is put in a different world, where it embraces the absurdities of life and oppresses the truth. Such could be seen as the nature of the existentialist belief, where logic, reason and rationalisation serves as the essence of the individual and the status quo and premonitions of society only manipulates the false sense of truth. Therefore, the protagonist of The Stranger also takes up the burden to define himself in a different light, by not abiding to the set rules of society, but as what he is. However, during this period, he feels embarrassed at many occasions where, people symbolising the society misinterprets his actions.
Throughout the novel Meursault’s unemotional self makes him embarrass at different times. He feels embarrassed for the first time in the novel when he meets the warden of the house where his mother stayed during her last three years. He says, “The warden was a very small man… He gave me a long look…we shook hands, and he held mine so long that I began to feel embarrassed.” (Camus, 1989: 9). He acts very indifferent to his mother’s death and does not even remember when his mother died, as in the opening lines he reports the death of his mother in the most straightforward and plain manner, he states that, “MOTHER died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure…it could have been yesterday” (8). This statement shows that he is more interested in the time or day of his mother’s death rather to the pain and remorse of the loss. This characteristic emerges out to portray the character in a new way, which the society could not accept.
Meursault’s situation made him embarrassed again when he refused to see his mother’s body. He says, “No” and, “I realised then that I shouldn’t have said, ‘No’, and it made me rather embarrassed. After eying me for some moments he asked: ‘Why not?'” (13), and the only answer he could give was, ‘I don’t know’. The things he thought during that time were very different from that of any normal human being to have felt, as instead of crying or feeling the loss of his mother, he was enjoying the cup of coffee and also at other moment he expressed the want for Cigarette in mortuary, where he states, “then I wanted a cigarette. But I wasn’t sure if I should smoke…I thought it over; really, it didn’t seem to matter”.
(15) Characters like Meursault develop the characteristic of a free man, who do not care what society will think of him for the choices and decisions he makes at the moment. The lack of compassion and his refusal to behave in a particular way the society wants him or any individual to act is what makes him apart from others and an outsider. The decision could be wrong according to the mass or misinterpreted but he takes the responsibility of his actions. There are times when Meursault is found being more alert about the unnecessary things, like during the procession of his mother’s funeral, he seems to be caring much about the heat of the sun rays than the task at hand and the situation he is in.
The unnatural behaviour and acting against the expectations of the society in particular situation makes him an outsider, or stranger.