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Essay Comparing Change in The Stranger and Nausea

Comparing Change in The Stranger and Nausea

Existentialists mean that we can’t rationalize, since we can’t explain human fear, anguish, and pain. To rationalize is absurd, because in the final analysis, we will find nothing. Life is absurd. This leads to the term Nothingness. Thus, since we can’t find a meaning of life more than what we attempt to create by ourselves, we anguish.

Living in the same era, Camus and Sartre individually helped to form the school of existentialism. Of course there were others: Kierkegaard, Heidegger, etc. But I have chosen Camus and Sartre because of the closeness in the publication of their first novels. Camus published his first novel, The Stranger, in 1942, while Sartre published his first novel, Nausea, in 1938. I am interested in the way they look at change in The Stranger and Nausea.

In The Stranger, the main character is Mersault. His mother dies and he travels to her home for the burial. The day after the funeral, Mersault gets together with a woman, Marie. He becomes friends with Raymond, a neighbor. Raymond is having an argument with some Arabs. Mersault is then pulled into the dispute between Raymond and the Arabs. Finally, on a sunny afternoon at the beach, Mersault kills one of the Arabs, even though he really has nothing against him. Mersault is put on trial and sentenced to death.

Nausea is the journal of Antoine Roquentin; Nausea is the resulting disorientation Roquentin feels from having his existence revealed. Through a self analysis, Roquentin discovers that his existence is meaningless. He has been living for the past three years in the French town of Bouville and is working on a history book.

Mersault is characterized by an indifference to change. At one time, Mersault gets an invitation to move to Paris by his boss, but he declines. Mersault says that “people never change their lives, that in any case one life was as good as another and that I wasn’t dissatisfied with mine at all.” (Camus, p. 41) Mersault is content with what he got. He has his work, his home and his girl: it’s all he needs. He lives, like Roquentin, in solitude, reflecting upon the actions of others. But he never gets involved since it doesn’t matter to him. He neither feels happy nor sad. It is as if all emotions were drained from his body.

Comparing Albert Camus’ The Stranger (The Outsider) and Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea

Lack of Order in Albert Camus’ The Stranger (The Outsider) and Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea

Nausea, by Jean-Paul Sartre, and The Stranger, by Albert Camus, refuse to impose order on their events by not using psychology, hierarchies, coherent narratives, or cause and effect. Nausea refuses to order its events by not inscribing them with psychology or a cause for existence, and it contrasts itself with a text by Balzac that explains its events. Nausea resists the traditional strategy of including the past to predict a character’s future. It instead focuses on the succession of presents, which troubles social constructions such as “stories” and “adventure.” The Stranger resists traditional categories of order by not dividing Meursault’s body and soul, or body and mind. It denies the order of cause and effect by providing no motive for the murder of the Arab, and resists a reductive reading of itself as a case history of a “monster.” The novel contrasts its refusal to interpret with the coherent narrative that the prosecutors create. The Stranger and Nausea explore similar strategies as they interrogate ways to view the world without a system of interpretative illusions.

Nausea refuses to assign order to its events by choosing not to justify them with psychology or cause. Roquentin finds himself unable to pick up a piece of paper, for no apparent physical reason. However, he refuses to psychoanalyze the event. He writes that he will not traffic in “secrets or soul states,” or to “play with the inner life” (9). When he cannot pick up the paper, he decides that no explanation is necessary: he simply decides “I was unable” (10). By not assigning psychology, Roquentin allows the event to have a gratuitous existence. Similarly, …

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…contrasts itself with an inner text that uses interpretation to assign order to the events of the world. Nausea contrasts its denial of cause and psychology with the section from Eugenie Grandet, and The Stranger contrasts its refusal to assign a cause to the murder with the prosecutor’s coherent narrative. They both incorporate gratuitous events, and refuse to supply an interpretation for them. Roquentin refuses to explain why he is unable to pick up the piece of paper in Nausea, and Meursault finds no means, or necessity, to interpret his murder of the Arab in The Stranger. Both novels explore ways to view the world without reducing it into a comforting but illusory system of order.

Works Cited

Camus, Albert. The Stranger, trans. Mathew Ward. New York: Random House, Inc., 1988.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Nausea. Trans. Lloyd Alexander. NY: New Directions, 1964.

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