Autism and The Stranger

I was browsing in the bookstore in the philosophy section, where I feel the most comfortable, when I came across Existentialism is a Humanism and A Commentary on The Stranger by Jean-Paul Sartre. [1] These days I am looking to strengthen my knowledge of existentialism, in light of my recent experience trying to connect with Michael, my older brother. [2] In addition to buying this book, I purchased The Stranger [3] by Albert Camus to re-read. I originally read this book in high school and only vaguely remember what it was about.


The narrator and main character, Meursault, speaks in simple descriptive terms of his environment i.e., “The sound was like the muffled jabber of parakeets.” That he does not seem have an emotional life is evident from the very first page: “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.” His lack of emotional connection at his mother’s funeral and his behavior in the days following her death become key factors in his condemnation by the public.

Meursault killed a man. When questioned about his motive by the judge, “… blurted out that it was because of the sun.”  In preparation for his defense, his lawyer asked if he felt sadness at his mother’s funeral. “… I answered that I pretty much lost the habit of analyzing myself and that it was hard for me to tell him what he wanted to know. I probably did love Mamam, but that didn’t mean anything. At one time or another all normal people have wished their loved ones were dead.”


Camus portrays the main character , Meursault, as a literal-minded person who speaks only when he has something to say and who seems to be able to divorce himself from life events that have meaning to most other people. I believe that the characteristics of Meursault helped Camus to concentrate on the theme of the existence of an inherent meaning of life. However, at least in the first part of The Stranger, from Camus’s description Meursault could be classified as falling somewhere on the autism spectrum.

The second part of the book deals more with existentialist ideas and inherent meanings. Perhaps existentialist philosophy is a good fit for the objective, literal eye of an autistic person

I will know much more after reading Sartre’s Existentialism is a Humanism and A Commentary on The Stranger.

[1] Sartre, J-P. Existentialism is a Humanism and A Commentary on The Stranger New Haven: Yale University Press. 2007

[2] Michael is profoundly retarded, autistic and nonverbal.

[3] Camus, A. The Stranger New York: Vintage Press 1989 [All quotations are from this edition.]

4 thoughts on “Autism and The Stranger

  1. Pingback: Taking a turn ‘in the woods,’ confronting the goalkeeper’s choice | No Standing

  2. Pingback: Authenticity and society – Hannah's Meditations

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