The Stranger: Exploring Existentialism

The Stranger

What is Existentialism

Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emerged in the 20th century, primarily in Europe. It emphasizes the existence of the individual and the individual’s freedom and responsibility in creating their own meaning and purpose in life.

Existentialists argue that life has no inherent meaning or purpose, and that individuals must create meaning through their own actions and choices. They reject the idea of a predetermined fate or a higher, universal purpose.

Existentialism also emphasizes the concept of personal freedom and the importance of making authentic choices. It suggests that individuals are responsible for their own actions and decisions, and that they must confront the existential angst and anxiety that arises from the awareness of their own mortality.

Existentialist thinkers often explore themes such as anxiety, alienation, freedom, authenticity, and the search for meaning. Prominent existentialist philosophers include Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Søren Kierkegaard.

What Can We Get From Existentialism?

Existentialism is a philosophical school of thought that explores the meaning, purpose, and experience of human existence. Here are some things we can gain from existentialism:

1. Individual freedom: Existentialism emphasizes the importance of individual freedom and personal choice. It encourages people to take responsibility for their own lives and decisions, and to create their own meaning and purpose.

2. Authenticity: Existentialism encourages individuals to live authentically by being true to themselves, their values, and their desires. It emphasizes the importance of living a life that is personally meaningful and fulfilling.

3. Self-reflection: Existentialism promotes self-reflection and introspection. It encourages individuals to examine their own existence, beliefs, and values, and to question the assumptions and expectations that society imposes on them.

4. Personal responsibility: Existentialism emphasizes the idea that individuals are responsible for their own choices and actions. It encourages individuals to take ownership of their lives and to actively shape their own destinies.

5. Embracing uncertainty: Existentialism acknowledges the inherent uncertainty and ambiguity of human existence. It encourages individuals to embrace this uncertainty and to find meaning and purpose despite the absence of absolute truths or predetermined meaning.

6. Suffering and anxiety: Existentialism addresses the experience of suffering and anxiety as realities of human existence. It explores the ways in which individuals can confront and transcend their suffering and anxiety, and find meaning and purpose even in the face of adversity.

7. Rejection of traditional values: Existentialism challenges traditional values and societal norms that may limit individual freedom and authentic living. It encourages individuals to critically question and evaluate these values and norms, and to make their own choices based on personal and individualistic considerations.

8. Interconnectedness: Existentialism recognizes the interconnectedness of individuals and the importance of relationships and community. It emphasizes the need for individuals to connect with others, share experiences, and find common ground in the shared human condition.

While existentialism does not provide definitive answers or solutions to life’s questions, it offers a framework for individuals to explore and navigate their own existence, allowing them to find their own meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.

Strategies in Learning Existentialism

1. Start with the basics: It is recommended to begin by reading foundational texts in existentialism, such as Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness” or Søren Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling.” These works provide a solid understanding of the core concepts and themes within existentialism.

2. Analyze existentialist literature: Dive into literature written by existentialist authors, such as Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” or Albert Camus’ “The Stranger.” Reflect on the existential themes and motifs present in these works, which can deepen your understanding of the philosophy.

3. Reflect on personal experiences: Existentialism emphasizes individual experience and subjective reality. Take time to reflect on your own existence, choices, and thoughts. Consider how existentialist ideas resonate with your own life and experiences.

4. Engage in philosophical discussions: Join philosophical discussion groups, attend lectures, or enroll in philosophy courses to engage in conversations about existentialism. The exchange of ideas with others can help refine your understanding and open up new perspectives.

5. Explore existentialist film and other media: Many films and other forms of media explore existential themes. Examples include “The Seventh Seal” by Ingmar Bergman, “Waking Life” by Richard Linklater, or the book “No Exit” by Jean-Paul Sartre. Analyzing and discussing these works can deepen your understanding of the philosophy.

6. Write and reflect: Encourage yourself to write personal reflections, philosophical essays, or journals exploring existentialist ideas. Writing can help clarify your thoughts, identify areas of confusion, and solidify your understanding of the concepts.

7. Seek guidance from experts: Attend conferences, workshops, or seminars led by existentialist philosophers or scholars. Engaging with experts in the field can provide valuable insights, answer questions, and introduce you to new perspectives.

8. Consider opposing viewpoints: While learning existentialism, it is valuable to examine opposing viewpoints and criticisms. This practice helps you develop a well-rounded understanding of the philosophy and enhances your critical thinking skills.

9. Apply existentialist principles to daily life: Consider applying existentialist principles to your daily life choices and actions. This may involve embracing personal responsibility, freedom, and authenticity, or engaging in self-reflection and examination.

10. Join an existentialist study group: Connect with others who are interested in existentialism through study groups. Together, you can read and discuss existentialist texts, share insights, and support each other’s learning journeys.

The Stranger

The Stranger by Albert Camus


The Stranger” by Albert Camus is a thought-provoking novel that tells the story of Meursault, a detached and apathetic man who becomes an outsider in society due to his lack of conventional emotions and his indifference towards the norms of society. The story begins with Meursault learning about his mother’s death and attending her funeral. However, instead of mourning, Meursault reacts in an unconventional way, showing little emotion and appearing unaffected by the loss. As the story progresses, Meursault becomes entangled in a series of events that further highlight his unconventional nature.

One day, Meursault encounters a man named Raymond, his neighbor, who involves him in a violent confrontation with an Arab. This eventually leads to Meursault murdering the Arab on a beach due to a combination of the overpowering sun, his indifference towards life, and a perceived threat in the moment. Meursault’s trial becomes the central focus of the novel, where his detached demeanor and lack of remorse are seen as evidence against him. The courtroom becomes a representation of society’s condemnation of his indifference and failure to conform to societal expectations.

Throughout the novel, Camus explores existentialist themes, delving into the meaningless and absurd aspects of life and the struggle to make sense of existence. Meursault’s indifference is seen as a challenge to the conventional values and moral structures of society. His character represents the existentialist idea of freedom and individuality, as well as the ultimate contradiction in the human condition: the desire for meaning and purpose in a fundamentally meaningless and chaotic world.

In the end, Meursault accepts his fate and acknowledges the inevitability of death. He finds solace by embracing the absurdity of life and accepting his lack of control over his own destiny. “The Stranger” poses philosophical questions about the nature of existence, the meaning of life, and the challenge of living in a world that often seems indifferent and irrational.

Reasons for Recommendation

Existentialism is a philosophical worldview that focuses on the individual experience and their freedom and responsibility to make meaningful choices in an absurd world. The book “The Stranger” by Albert Camus aligns well with this perspective, and here are some reasons to recommend it:

1. Exploration of the Absurd: “The Stranger” encapsulates the central tenets of existentialism by portraying the protagonist, Meursault, as a disengaged and indifferent observer in a meaningless world. Camus highlights the absurdity and futility of human existence, challenging readers to question traditional values and expectations.

2. Emphasis on Individual Freedom: Existentialism emphasizes the significance of personal freedom and the responsibility that comes with it. Through Meursault’s detachment and resistance to social and moral conventions, Camus explores the consequences of radical individualism, pushing readers to contemplate the boundaries of personal freedom.

3. Reflection on Authenticity: The book raises essential questions about authenticity and the existentialist idea of living a genuine life. Meursault’s unapologetic honesty about his experiences and emotions encourages readers to critically examine their own behavior and uncover the complexities of personal authenticity.

4. Confronting Mortality: Existentialism recognizes the inevitability of death and encourages individuals to confront it honestly. “The Stranger” explores the theme of mortality through Meursault’s indifferent attitude towards death, leading readers to reflect on their own relationship with their mortality and the impact it has on their daily choices.

5. Rejection of Conventional Morality: Central to existentialism is the rejection of absolute moral values and the exploration of subjective morality. Meursault’s unconventional actions challenge society’s moral codes, encouraging readers to question the fixed nature of right and wrong and consider the role of personal values in decision-making.

6. Quest for Meaning: Existentialism acknowledges the absence of inherent meaning in the universe and encourages individuals to create their own purpose. “The Stranger” delves into the existential search for meaning, highlighting Meursault’s struggle for understanding and connection in a world that seems detached and ambivalent.

In summary, “The Stranger” by Albert Camus is a thought-provoking novel that contributes to existentialist philosophy by exploring themes of the absurd, individual freedom, authenticity, mortality, rejection of conventional morality, and the quest for meaning. Through its narrative and philosophical insights, the book engages readers in deep introspection and prompts them to consider their own existence within an absurd world.

The Stranger

How to Live by Sarah Bakewell


How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer” by Sarah Bakewell is a groundbreaking biography of the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, interwoven with modern-day anecdotes and reflections. Bakewell’s book explores Montaigne’s life and philosophy by focusing on the question of how to live a good life.

The book is structured as a series of twenty chapters, each representing a different aspect of Montaigne’s philosophy. Bakewell explores Montaigne’s thoughts on topics such as wisdom, fear, solitude, and friendship, using both his own writings and anecdotes from his life to illustrate his ideas. She also examines the context of Montaigne’s life in sixteenth-century France, shedding light on the cultural and political influences that shaped his thinking.

Bakewell presents Montaigne as a highly relatable figure, unafraid to confront the fundamental uncertainties and contradictions of human existence. She emphasizes his belief in the importance of self-knowledge, embracing one’s flaws, and embracing a humble approach to life. Through the life and writings of Montaigne, Bakewell shows how his philosophy continues to be relevant in the modern world and offers valuable insights into living a meaningful and fulfilling life.

Overall, “How to Live” provides readers with an engaging and accessible introduction to Montaigne’s philosophy, making it a thought-provoking read for both fans of philosophy and those interested in exploring the art of living well.

Reasons for Recommendation

1. Comprehensive Overview of Existentialism: “How to Live” offers readers a comprehensive overview of existentialism, a philosophical perspective that seeks to understand the purpose and meaning of life. The book introduces readers to the key concepts and thinkers associated with existentialism, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, providing a solid foundation for further exploration.

2. Engaging Writing Style: Sarah Bakewell presents existentialist ideas in a highly engaging and accessible manner. The book seamlessly combines philosophy with biography, exploring the lives and experiences of famous existentialists while connecting their stories to their philosophical beliefs. This approach makes the dense topic of existentialism more relatable and interesting to a wider audience.

3. Focus on Personal Freedom and Responsibility: One of the central tenets of existentialism is the emphasis on individual freedom and responsibility. Bakewell highlights this aspect by delving into the lives of various existentialists who advocated for personal autonomy. Through their stories, readers are encouraged to reflect on their own lives, choices, and the consequences that arise from them, ultimately empowering individuals to take control of their own existence.

4. Relevance to Contemporary Life: Despite being rooted in the early 20th century, the existentialist ideas explored in “How to Live” remain highly relevant to contemporary life. The book addresses universal themes such as alienation, the search for meaning, and the challenges of navigating a complex world. By examining how existentialist thinkers grappled with these issues, readers are provided with insights that can help them navigate similar challenges in their own lives.

5. Offers Practical Guidance: While exploring the lives of existentialist thinkers, Bakewell also provides practical guidance on how to apply existentialist ideas to one’s own existence. Through anecdotes and philosophical analysis, the book offers readers tools for confronting the anxieties and uncertainties that life can present. This practical approach makes “How to Live” not just a theoretical exploration, but a potentially transformative guide for readers seeking to live more authentically and purposefully.

Overall, “How to Live” serves as an insightful and engaging introduction to existentialism, making it an excellent recommendation for individuals interested in exploring the philosophical perspective from a relatable and practical standpoint.

Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar


Hopscotch, written by Julio Cortázar, is a complex and unconventional novel that explores themes of identity, free will, and the nature of literature. The story follows the lives of a group of bohemian intellectuals in Paris during the 1950s, primarily focusing on the protagonist, Horacio Oliveira.

The novel is divided into two parts, with two possible reading paths. The first path follows the conventional order of chapters, while the second suggests a nonlinear reading experience by jumping between different chapters and sections.

In “Oliveira’s Preliminary Reflections,” Horacio Oliveira introduces his theory of “hopscotch,” wherein he proposes that books should be read in a non-sequential manner, allowing readers to create their own unique narrative. This idea sets the stage for the fragmented structure of the novel.

The story delves into Horacio’s relationships, particularly his complicated love affair with La Maga, a young, enigmatic woman. Their turbulent relationship reflects Horacio’s struggle to find meaning and connection in a chaotic world.

As the narrative progresses, the novel oscillates between the lives and perspectives of the various characters, revealing their internal struggles and philosophical musings. Cortázar experiments with different narrative techniques, incorporating stream-of-consciousness, letters, diary entries, and even mathematical formulas.

Throughout the book, at its center, is an exploration of the nature of literature itself. Cortázar challenges traditional storytelling conventions, blurring the lines between reality and fiction. The characters often question the role of the author, the meaning of literature, and the impact it has on their lives.

Hopscotch is a thought-provoking novel that invites readers to question their preconceived notions of structure and storytelling. By challenging conventional literary form, Cortázar encourages readers to actively engage with the text, creating a unique reading experience for each individual.

Reasons for Recommendation

1. Exploration of existential themes: “Hopscotch” delves deep into the themes of existentialism, such as the meaning of life, freedom of choice, and the absurdity of existence. The protagonist, Horacio Oliveira, embarks on a philosophical journey that forces readers to confront their own existential questions.

2. Non-linear narrative structure: Cortázar challenges traditional storytelling by employing a unique narrative structure, allowing readers to have an active role in constructing the story. This encourages existential introspection, as readers are compelled to question their own agency in creating meaning and shaping their own lives.

3. Emphasis on uncertainty and ambiguity: Existentialism often deals with the notion of uncertainty that permeates human existence. “Hopscotch” reflects this theme through its ambiguous characters, intricate plotlines, and multiple possible story paths. The narrative resists simple interpretations, inviting readers to grapple with the uncertainties and ambiguities of life.

4. Philosophy of existence and freedom: Existentialism places a strong emphasis on individual freedom and the responsibility that arises from it. In “Hopscotch,” Cortázar explores the consequences of the characters’ choices and their struggle to find meaning and authenticity in a world full of constraints. This resonates deeply with existentialist ideas surrounding freedom and the human need for self-actualization.

5. Metafictional elements: “Hopscotch” blurs the boundaries between fiction and reality by incorporating metafictional elements. Cortázar invites readers to question the nature of art and literature, emphasizing the existential idea that reality is subjective and constructed. This metafictional approach challenges readers to examine their own beliefs and assumptions about the world they inhabit.

6. Introspective character development: Existentialist literature often focuses on the internal struggles and growth of its characters. “Hopscotch” provides a rich character study of Horacio Oliveira, capturing his introspective journey as he attempts to reconcile his existence with the world around him. Through this exploration, readers are offered insight into the human condition and the complexities of the self.

7. Critique of societal expectations: Existentialism often challenges societal norms and expectations, advocating for individual freedom and authenticity. “Hopscotch” critiques social conformity and the pressures placed on individuals to conform to established norms. This encourages readers to reflect on their own lives and the ways in which societal expectations might hinder their pursuit of personal fulfillment.

By recommending “Hopscotch” from an existentialist perspective, readers can engage with a rich and thought-provoking novel that delves into the fundamental questions of human existence, freedom, choice, and the construction of meaning.

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