As Camus writes, “ Many years more he lived facing the curve of the gulf, the sparkling sea, and the smiles of the earth. A decree of the gods was necessary. Mercury came and seized the impudent man by the collar and, snatching him from his joys, led him forcibly back to the underworld, where his rock was ready for him. ” His freedom is really an illusion. This is not to say there are any deistic powers. The gods in this version of the story could simply stand in for the natural limitations of life.
He enjoyed many years living by the sea before he died before he was forced to leave this world. In existential thought, the absence of a god or gods does not in any way connote true freedom. One can choose to do anything, but there are no real consequences to these choices. It is similar to flipping a coin. Freedom is only freedom of being in the world, and this being is sharply circumscribed by reality which places significant restrictions on what people can do.
Indeed, these restrictions are often not even knowable in advance— they come and go and sometimes hide from sight. There are many illusions and we are judged in part on how we deal with them. Although Meursault could have anticipated that he would be caught and prosecuted for his crime, much of the actual prosecution and the case built against him is completely arbitrary. There is a real resonance with the great existentialist Kafka’ s novel The Trial where the prosecution of Josef K. is completely arbitrary. The machinery of the world sucks in these characters whether they believe in it or not.
Attitude is all. Indeed, society or the political world is not even required for this— although certainly, it is poignant to see how we have created our own cage in many ways— the natural world itself betrays us. Thus Meursault is not acting consciously when he shoots the Arab on the beach: it is the sun that betrays him, glinting off the knife— inspiring him to commit a self-destructive act. The world conspires against us sometimes. This lack of control clearly begets desperation.
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