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September 24, 2021

The Stranger and the Alchemist

By Vlad Popescu


It did not take me long to realize that intellectual excitement is brought to me by book-debate, philosophical debate, and adding different perspectives to a discussion of the sort. What takes this excitement to the highest level is a standoff between two opposite views regarding existence, and one’s attempt to stand closer to one of them, or to find a common ground between them.

Halfway through the route from Algiers to the Pyramids, somewhere in Libya, we might be able to make that choice. Either Meursault, or Santiago…or we make them shake hands, thing which seems impossible at first sight.

My first contact with Meursault was the usual “what’s wrong with him?” attitude (until I understood the prejudice related message), due to the fact that I went into “The Stranger” completely blindfolded, or more “like a child who wanders around in the middle of a movie”. As I was advancing with him through his experiences, I realized that even while accepting the absurd attempt of people to give meaning to our existence, he still was happy, and dying happy was still a goal for him.

Santiago’s mesmerizing “Personal Legend” experience aged well, because everybody (even the author) was accompanied by it on their way to reach their own “Personal Legend”. We can easily notice Coelho’s opposite standpoint through the “everything happens for a reason” ideology.

Going back to our standoff, I would never believe Santiago would have any reason to give in and try to get closer to a common ground with Meursault. I would rather see Meursault exposing the idea that a meaningless universe is an opportunity to experience existence more fully, and that there would probably be enough space for a “Personal Legend” in this meaningless universe.

I strongly believe that a similar standoff with the same arguments could happen between Coelho and Camus. Meursault vs. Santiago is of course their argument, transcended into fiction.

This way, through Camus’ ideas (“I don’t know whether this world has a meaning that transcends it. But I know that I do not know that meaning and that it is impossible for me just know to it.”- The Myth of Sisyphus), Meursault is closer to the uncertainty of existence, than to the denial of its meaning.

This uncertainty of meaning, added to the universe being an opportunity to experience existence fully, represents the common ground between the two philosophies for me.

In addition, another huge similarity there is to discuss between the two authors is that they both reflect the meaning of life through death. We find it in “The Devil and Miss Prym” and in “Veronika Decides to Die”, just like in “The Alchemist”, and it is approached either at a turning point in the protagonist’s life, or when the protagonist faces a tough decision. In Camus’ case, the reflection of life through death is the main subject of his four biggest works: “The Plague”, “The Stranger”, “The Fall”, and “The Myth of Sisyphus”. He says that “judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy”. Camus submits to us that it is only by contemplating death and suicide that we can fully embrace life.

Even when we are uncertain, what is left for us to do is to achieve the personal version of happiness. It makes no difference whether there is a greater force that transcends the world or not, because it is a win for us. (“Live a good life. If there are gods, and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”- Marcus Aurelius)

Meursault will eventually turn to dust. Santiago turned to wind. Can the common ground be dust in the wind?

To conclude, even if the path I want to lay for myself in life is in a meaningless world, or even if I am meaningless to the universe at whichever state of my life, I am more than sure that I will reach whatever those Pyramids mean to me.



The author of this essay is a high-school student at Tallulah Falls School , GA, USA

Photo: www.pixabay.com



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