The protagonist of Albert Camus' best-known novel, L'étranger (translated in the U.S as The Stranger), Meursault represents what Camus calls "the nakedness of man faced with the absurd."

Meursault has one major trait in common with the typical hero of an existentialist novel-- he is un étranger, an outsider who is incapable of existing in the same way as others in society. He is, however, actually very different from the protagonists of almost all contemporary existential works, especially those of Jean-Paul Sartre.

Meursault's main difference from the character's of Sartre is extremely important since it is representative of the greatest difference between Camus and Sartre-- he was content with his absurd life and at ease with his own existence. The absurd, defined by Camus, is the ultimate futility of all a human being's labors as a result of death.

Where this contingence and absurdity renders Sartre's characters miserable (and in one particularly famous case, nauseous), Meursault is content. He knows he will die, is unconcerned, and thus, feels no need to believe in a God. He is the epitome of Camus' "absurd man," discussed in his philosophical work, La Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus)

Meursault's comfort with the absurd can be best be seen in his terse narrative:

Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas. J'ai reçu un télégramme de l'asile: «Mère décédée. Enterrement demain. Sentiments distingués.» Cela ne veut rien dire. C'était peut-etre hier.

His reaction to his mother's death is simply a factual statement: "Today, maman died. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know." He feels no need to express his emotions (if he can be said to truly have any), and no need to express himself in detail or in more than a few words.

Meursault, the quintessential abusrd man, lives a completely sensual life. Aware of the absurdity of his own life and his eventual death, Meursault finds pleasure in physical things. He loves his mistress, Marie Cardona, but only as long as he is with her and capable of having sex with her. As a result of his purely sensual life, Meursault is greatly affected by nature-- the heat of the sun, in fact drives him to commit a murder.

At the end of the novel, condemned to die in public by the guillotine, Meursault hopes only that he will be met by "cries de haine" (cries of hate)-- that he may live on in the only way possible, in the hearts of others. If he cannot live on in love, Meursault wants only to live on in absolute hate.

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