I've read Camus 'Outsider' twice. And have seen it acted out in the theatre.

I do not think I understand it, though I can admire Camus prose style.

Its often taken as canonical in existentialist literature.

How do I connect the the philosophy to the literary here?

Is it about the entirely arbitrary acts of a man, and he himself gives them meaning, or none at all, if he choses to or not?


Wikipedia entry on the Outsider says 'Its theme and outlook are often cited as exemplars of existentialism, though Camus did not consider himself an existentialist;in fact, its content explores various philosophical schools of thought, including (most prominently and specifically) absurdism, as well as determinism, nihilism, naturalism, and stoicism.'

This actually makes more sense to me, especially 'absurdism'.

1 Answer 1


The answer to your question depends on what approach you're taking.

Unfortunately, we over in the English department tend to ignore philosophical classifications and take up our own. Being that the qualia of the novel builds itself into a personal, introspective narrative, a literary critic (and I would have to agree, given the agreed set of terms in literary studies) would say that this is an existentialist novel.

From a philosophical point of view, the novel is certainly absurdist. The only evolution of meaning within the narrative is the slow progression towards realizing the meaninglessness of the universe and the importance of human agency.

Just realize that when studying literature, we classify things based on a quality. This novel is introspective. Or this novel explores themes pertaining to the individual. In philosophy, there is a classification of ideas.

I suppose the take-away is that literature is a sub-study of aesthetics and will begin its approach with questions about the work's intrinsic value, whereas philosophy would approach the same work with the intent of questioning the validity of the author's ideas.

  • 1
    Thanks for the clarification. Would you mind being expanding on why its an existentialist novel from the literary point of view. I'm thinking of contrasting this with 'Waiting for Godot', which if I'm not wrong is usually classified as an absurdist play, where even human agency is reduced to meaningless acts. That is Beckett is showing that the acts of an individual cannot create meaning. He takes for granted the meaningless of the universe, and imprints it on the human soul, or as Paul Valery said 'God made the universe from nothing; and it shows'. Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 14:03
  • I'll try not to make my field sound simplistic; but existentialism in literature occurs when the narrative is played out internally. There might be events exterior to the character, but the conversation between the narrator and the reader reflects a conversation between the narrator and himself. In this, the reader is forced into a fictional introspection, evaluating their own feelings about the narrative through the experience of a character. In short, an existentialist book causes its reader to act the part of the character through the act of reading. Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 14:09
  • Actually 'The only evolution of meaning within the narrative is the slow progression towards realizing the meaninglessness of the universe and the importance of human agency.' is an outline of existentialism if I understand correctly. I thought here, you were outlining why it was absurdist from a philosophical point of view. Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 14:13
  • I was trying to provide the logical outcome of absurdism. Our inability to find meaning in the universe implies the necessity of our own agency in defining meaning for the individual. It's so close to existentialism, but has that one derivative part which makes it different. That's probably why there's no literary distinction. It's just too vague a conflict. Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 14:19
  • So Merseult is pushed into creating his own ethical universe. Except that he appears to take that for granted. Although, the novel has an introspective tone; we're never allowed any real intimacy with him. If I recall correctly, in th early part of the novel his other dies. And he's dispassionate about it. Is this dispassion a symbol of the 'meaningless' of the universe, and not a part of Merseults ethical universe? Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 14:26

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