Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual existence, freedom, and choice. It questions the meaning and purpose of life, arguing that humans must create their own meaning in a world that is seemingly meaningless. The Stranger by Albert Camus is often considered an existentialist novel, with its protagonist Meursault embodying many of the movement’s key themes.

Meursault is an emotionally detached character who seems to lack any sense of purpose or direction in life. He lives in the moment, without worrying about the past or future.

This is evident from the opening lines of the novel: “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.”

Meursault’s Indifference

Throughout the novel, Meursault demonstrates a complete lack of emotional attachment to those around him. When his mother dies, he shows no grief or sadness. Similarly, when he kills an Arab man on the beach, he does so without any real motivation or emotion.

This indifference to the world around him has led some critics to view Meursault as an embodiment of existentialist ideas. He seems to accept that life has no inherent meaning and that each individual must create their own purpose.

Meursault’s Freedom

Another key aspect of existentialism is freedom – the idea that individuals are free to make their own choices and determine their own paths in life. Meursault embodies this idea as well – he refuses to conform to society’s expectations and instead lives according to his own desires.

For example, when his boss offers him a job transfer to Paris, Meursault declines because he doesn’t want to leave his current lifestyle behind. Similarly, when his lawyer advises him to show remorse for killing the Arab man in order to receive a lighter sentence, Meursault refuses because he doesn’t feel any remorse.

This emphasis on individual freedom and autonomy is a hallmark of existentialist thought.

Meursault’s Absurdity

Existentialism also emphasizes the absurdity of the human condition – the idea that life is inherently meaningless and that humans must create their own purpose in a world that is indifferent to their existence. Meursault embodies this idea as well – he seems to accept the absurdity of his own life and the world around him.

For example, when he is on trial for killing the Arab man, Meursault realizes that the trial is essentially meaningless – regardless of whether he is found guilty or not, his fate is already sealed. This realization shows his acceptance of the absurdity of his situation.


In conclusion, Meursault can be seen as an embodiment of many key existentialist ideas. His indifference to the world around him, emphasis on individual freedom and autonomy, and acceptance of the absurdity of life all align with existentialist thought. Whether or not Camus intended for The Stranger to be an existentialist novel is up for debate, but there’s no denying that Meursault’s character aligns with many key tenets of the movement.