In Albert Camus’ The Stranger, the main character, Mersault, is confronted with life’s absurdity after killing a man at a beach in Algiers. Mersault spends his days absorbed in living for the moment, granting little import to the past or future, until the day when his world is shattered by this inexplicable act of violence. Despite continuously claiming that one path is the same as another and that nothing in life truly matters, Mersault frequently reveals thoughts and actions to the contrary; indeed, even his decision to commit murder can be viewed as an intentional attempt to upend his world. For the majority of the novel, in fact, it’s unclear whether the main character is candidly living by his proclaimed beliefs or is just convincing himself of this in a doomed attempt to avoid the burden of emotion. When the trial following the protagonist’s crime finally hurls Mersault face-to-face with his own beliefs, he’s compelled to reexamine his values. As Mersault arrives at a gradual acceptance of life’s harsh realities, the reader, too, is obliged to scrutinize the passions ruling his own existence. The first oddity a reader may note in The Fall is the lack of dialogue. Rather than allowing insight into the main character’s conversations, the audience is granted an almost God-like view of the minute details of Mersault’s life. In the first page of the novel alone, for example, Mersault informs us that the day is hot; that he ate lunch at Celeste’s, as usual; that he’ll be taking the two o’clock bus to Marengo so as to return in the afternoon, and so forth. Perhaps the reader is given such in-depth access into Mersault’s day-to-day activities because the present is the only thing about which the main character desires to be concerned. This fact is made glaringly obvious within the first two lines of the novel: “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know” (3). At a question from his boss, Mersault is also forced to disclose that he’s unsure of his mother’s age. Only one who places little to no importance on the sequence of events could be so cavalier about the age or the date of death of a family member. At a later point, Mersault declines an offer to work in Paris because “people never change their lives, that in any case one life was as good as another” (41). The past, then, simply doesn’t matter, while decisions made in the present don’t affect to the future—this, at least, is what Mersault would have the reader believe. As a result of this outlook, the majority of Mersault’s decisions appear to be based simply on the path of least resistance. When Mersault’s friend Raymond comes to him for help in writing a threatening letter to an ex-girlfriend, the protagonist asserts that his agreement to aid Raymond is not because he cares a great deal for his friend, but rather because he “didn’t have any reason not to please him” (32). It’s this same mentality that causes the protagonist to agree to testify that Raymond’s girlfriend has been unfaithful, despite knowing full well that there is no real evidence to support his friend’s claims. Later still, when Mersault’s girlfriend asks if he wants to marry her, he agrees merely because “it didn’t really matter” (41).Alternately, it’s possible to view Mersault’s earlier refusal of the relocation to Paris as opposition to change; and if, as he claims, one life is as good as another, than why not go to Paris? After turning down his boss’ proposal, the main character is accused of utterly lacking the purportedly essential business trait of ambition. Mersault regrets upsetting his boss but still stands by his resolution. In this instance, then, it seems that rejection was not the easier path. Moreover, Mersault eventually divulges that when he’d agreed to marry his girlfriend, he hadn’t grasped the meaning behind his words; not until he sees his friend Masson’s wife does he understand how his actions will alter his life. Also, while Mersault’s decisions in regard to his friend Raymond’s circumstances certainly appear to be based on a genuine lack of caring, other incidents show evidence to the contrary. For example, one night Mersault hears his neighbor, Salamano, sobbing piteously because his long-standing canine companion has vanished. This causes the protagonist not only to think of his recently deceased mother, but also to experience a lack of appetite for the first time since her funeral. The main character’s lack of insight into his own habits surfaces when he is joined by a strange woman during a lunch at his favorite restaurant, Celeste’s. Mersault freely expresses his fascination with the woman’s frantic pace and driven attitude. So absorbed is he, in fact, with her robot-like demeanor, that he decides to follow her for a short time. Oddly, Mersault shows signs of the same need for constant activity himself. “I remembered that it was Sunday,” Mersault grieves at an early point in the novel, “and that bothered me: I don’t like Sundays” (21). Though he never specifically states his reasons, Sunday is the only day of the week when Mersault is left without structure. The day is passed watching the activity in the street below and pondering that his apartment has become too large since his mother moved out. Much further on, when Mersault is imprisoned, the passing of time becomes a constant torment. It’s due to these lengthy, empty hours of the present that the protagonist finds he must devote thought to the past and the future. It seems possible, then, that Mersault’s earlier aversion to idleness was a result of his evasion of self-reflection.Regardless of Mersault’s sincere motivations, it’s his stubborn focus on the present that seems to fuel his apparent disconnect with the world around him. At his mother’s funeral, Mersault watches his mother’s friends enter the room and laments that he “saw them more clearly than I had ever seen anyone, and not one detail of their faces or their clothes escaped me. But I couldn’t hear them, and it was hard for me to believe they really existed” (9). In a later chapter, when Mersault’s friend Raymond advises the protagonist to keep his head up about things, it takes Mersault a moment to realize that his friend is trying to comfort him about his mother’s death; although only two days have passed since the funeral, Mersault hasn’t been giving her any thought at all. In the first chapter of the novel, in fact, the protagonist instead fixes attention on the fact that the day is very hot; so hot that it causes Mersault to fall asleep on the bus en route to Marengo. A short time later, he notes that he declines the caretaker’s offer of food because he’s not hungry, but accepts coffee with milk and also partakes in a cigarette. Such a relaxing experience was the coffee-drinking and smoking, in fact, that the main character once again dozes off. While Mersault visits with his neighbor, Raymond, further on, the main character luxuriates in drinking wine and smoking. This attention to physical sensation continues throughout the novel, rapidly building the impression that physical needs, for Mersault, are given higher priority than emotional needs. It becomes clear a short time later that the protagonist is not just focused on the corporeal; at certain times, particularly during times of stress, he becomes a slave to it. First evidenced during his trip to his mother’s gravesite, when the main character claims that “the glare from the sky was unbearable” (16) and that “all of it—the sun, the smell of leather and horse dung from the hearse, the smell of varnish and incense, and my fatigue after a night without sleep—was making it hard for me to see or think straight” (17), the same pattern is evidenced again on the pivotal day that irrevocably alters Mersault’s life. When Mersault agrees to travel to the beach at Raymond’s invitation, he’s unknowingly setting into motion the events that will lead to the overturning of his worldview. While at the beach, Mersault and Raymond run into relatives of Raymond’s ex-girlfriend—the same ex-girlfriend to whom Mersault agreed to write an insulting letter, which provoked the girl to a visit and subsequent beating at Raymond’s hands. The relatives, of course, took offense to her abuse and have been haunting Raymond since. The reader learns that the Arabs even follow the group to the beach, and when Mersault’s faction first confronts them at this location, Raymond ends up getting sliced with a knife. The group returns to their cabin, but Mersault decides to take a solo walk back down to the beach. Up until this point in the novel, Mersault has carefully tailored a specific impression of his character. He portrays himself as a man living for the moment; one who takes pleasure from the basic bodily functions of food, drink, sleep, and sex. He makes decisions based on the path of least resistance, giving no thought to the past or future. But is this picture also the reality, or simply what Mersault would have us believe? This question, in turn, may be answered by a final inquiry: when Mersault kills the Arab, is he purely following his normal pattern of being ruled by the physical? Or do his reasons run deeper? The morning of the shooting, the protagonist has a difficult time waking up. Immediately upon arriving outside, Mersault laments that “the day, already bright with sun, hit me like a slap in the face” (47). The reader knows by now that this foreshadows a tragic turn of events, and it almost seems like the main character is aware of this, too, as Mersault confesses that “it occurred to me that all I had to do was turn around and that would be the end of it. But the whole beach, throbbing in the sun, was pressing on my back” (58). In illustrating the circumstances, Mersault claims that as a result of the assault of fiery brightness in his environment, his “whole being tensed and I squeezed my hand around the revolver. The trigger gave” (59). In this sense, the reader is swayed to believe that Mersault’s decision to shoot is based on the physical. The shooting was not so much an intentional firing of the weapon, but more of a gut reaction to physical stimuli: his eye is suddenly pierced with light, he flinches, and his finger presses the trigger. On the other hand, Mersault develops a keen awareness of time for perhaps the first occasion in the novel: “It was the same sun, the same light still shining on the same sand as before. For two hours the day had stood still; for two hours it had been anchored in a sea of molten lead” (58). In addition, just before the moment that alters his world, Mersault reacts in ways not purely related to the physical. Despite knowing that forward movement toward the Arab will do nothing to bring him out of “the cymbals of sunlight crashing on my forehead” (59), Mersault still chooses to come a step closer, and it’s this monumental step that causes the Arab to draw the knife whose glare overwhelms Mersault’s vision. The most essential lines, however, come directly after Mersault pulls the trigger for the first time; particular stress should be placed on the opening sentence: “I shook off the sweat and sun. I knew that I had shattered the harmony of the day, the exceptional silence of a beach where I’d been happy. Then I fired four more times at the motionless body where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace” (59). At last, Mersault purges himself of physical affects; it’s only after he shakes off the sweat and sun that he chooses to fire four times more. This represents the first time that Mersault purposefully overthrows material influence. Further, in acknowledging that the bullets left no mark on the body but destroyed the peace of the day, the audience sees a complete reversal of Mersault’s prior views: a choice having no physical affect, but having an emotional affect—and a rather profound one at that—nonetheless.In the second part of the novel, which starts with Mersault already arrested for killing the Arab, Mersault appears to have recovered his supposed equanimity. When being questioned by his lawyer, Mersault answers honestly that his mother’s death didn’t do much to dampen his happiness. The lawyer leaves frustrated, and the main character shows his returned loss of a sense of a future when he expresses that “I wanted things between us to be good, not so that he’d defend me better but, if I can put it this way, good in a natural way… But really there wasn’t much point, and I gave up the idea out of laziness” (66). When being lectured by a magistrate about the need to earn God’s forgiveness, Mersault exposes his relapse into physical distraction by divulging that “I had found it very hard to follow his reasoning, first because I was hot and there were big flies in his office that kept landing on my face” (68). When the magistrate harangues Mersault to admit that he believes in God, Mersault reveals his decline back into the path of least resistance when he agrees with magistrate only because “whenever I want to get rid of someone I’m not really listening to, I made it appear as if I agreed” (69). Mersault’s renewed detachment from the world around him is evident when he has to remember that he’s killed a man.Gradually, though, the protagonist acknowledges change. After being in prison for a few months and being forced to find ways to fill the time, he stumbles upon a solution: “Eventually, once I learned how to remember things, I wasn’t bored at all…I realized then that a man who had lived only one day could easily live for a hundred years in prison” (78). At last, the past has achieved significance; the future gets its due recognition when Mersault admits that “Only the words ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’ still had any meaning for me” (80). He regrets that he didn’t bother reading more stories about executions: if even one had told of an escape from the inevitable, he might have obtained some hope for the future. While before the main character lacked the ability to examine his own actions—he admits at his first meeting with his lawyer that he “had pretty much lost the habit of analyzing myself” (65)—Mersault regains this capability when he notices a particular reporter present at his trial: “All I could see in his slightly lopsided face were his two very bright eyes, which were examining me closely without betraying any definable emotion. And I had the odd impression of being watched by myself” (85). Mersault also confesses to caring what impression he makes on others when he admits that “for the first time in years I had this stupid urge to cry, because I could feel how much all these people hated me” (90). The main character’s prior sense of detachment now comes back to haunt him when he becomes agitated that the trial is developing without his participation: “In a way, they seemed to be arguing the case as if it had nothing to do with me… There were times when I felt like breaking in on all of them and saying ‘Wait a minute! Who’s the accused here? Being the accused counts for something’” (98). During this final part of the book, Mersault is fully confronted by the absurdity of life. It starts to dawn on him that there is no destiny; that “familiar paths traced in summer skies could lead as easily to prison as to the sleep of the innocent” (97). He mourns the ridiculousness of the entire trial, chiefly that not a single witness called to the stand had anything to do with the murder. Mersault is being judged for the way he lived in the past, not for the crime itself. He notes with surprising objectivity that both of the lawyers’ explanations for his crime are plausible: that he could just as easily be a coldhearted killer as a remorseful everyman. One quote from Mersault’s lawyer can be seen as Mersault’s newfound realization of the ways of life: “Everything is true and nothing is true” (91)! The court even manages to turn a good quality into a bad one. Mersault’s decisive epiphany comes after a discussion with a priest. The priest, he realizes after a lengthy discussion, places importance only on the hereafter; the protagonist, though, still refuses to give in. He maintains that he doesn’t believe in an afterlife or in God, which horrifies the priest: what, then, is the point of living? Unlike the priest, Mersault has come to grips with the fact that life is absurd, and one cannot force meaning upon something inherently meaningless. To regret the past or worry about the future is futile; neither can be controlled. Instead, each individual must create meaning for himself. Mersault may have been condemned for not conforming to society’s standards in mourning his mother, but in his own mind, he has been exonerated from his crime: no one should grieve for his mother, and he expects no one to grieve for him. In the end, both of them seized the day, and that’s the best possible outcome for which anyone could wish. Whether he is deliberately fooling himself throughout the first half of the novel or not, one thing is true: Mersault finds the courage to confront the absurdity of life, and with it, the means to be truly alive.
The main female characters of Sonia and Marie in Crime and Punishment and The Stranger, respectively, do more than faithfully support Raskolnikov and Meursault in their times of need. Their roles structure the men’s characters and ultimately help the men form their philosophies: Sonia manages to alter Raskolnikov’s superman theory while Marie’s presence reinforces Meursault’s absurdist theory. By the women’s varying influence, they bridge the protagonists between individuality and society, and through an awakening Sonia eventually leads Raskolnikov to embrace society’s rules while Marie leads Meursault to abandon society and to affirm life and his individuality to an even greater degree.By Raskolnikov’s and Meursault’s choice of female companionship, the reader can already perceive elements of character. Sonia and Marie both appear in the novels because of the disparate needs of the men. Sonia’s initial appeal to Raskolnikov is deeply emotional; he finds solace within a woman who is equally isolated from society due to her prostitution. Yet, surprisingly even to Raskolnikov, Sonia becomes his beacon of light: she is more enlightened than he in the ways of the world. On the other hand, Meursault is attracted to the pretty and playful Marie because she can satisfy his physical desires. He is indifferent to any deep emotional connection; even when Marie tries to illicit his love, he says that “it [love] didn’t mean anything but that I probably didn’t love her” (Camus 41). However, she, too, becomes a beacon of light in a different sense. Meursault tries to see Marie’s face in his jail cell because she represents a purpose to his life–physical wants rather than emotion. Interestingly, Raskolnikov thinks about Sonia in his jail cell also because his love for her–not her body–represents his inspiration.It can be noted by the general depiction and description of the female characters by the men that Raskolnikov is much more emotionally and internally involved than Meursault. Meursault describes his world by sensual experiences, and his description of Marie never goes far beyond her job as a typist and her looks. Meursault relates the effects of Marie upon him with vivid detail: the sensation of brushing “against her breasts” (19), resting his head “on his stomach” (20), and feeling “Marie’s heart beating softly” (20). To Meursault, these moments are the only worthwhile experiences in a meaningless life. On the other hand, Raskolnikov views Sonia’s facial expressions and postures as a window into her soul: “Raskolnikov looked strangely at her. He read it all in her face…” (Dostoyevsky 255). He questions her about her faith and her outlook on life and takes care to note her changing emotions. He is deeply concerned with the psychological; his connection to her is never confined to the physical.Sonia and Marie act as bridges, connecting the men to society. Each of these female characters possesses a view of life that differs from that of the man in question, and her influence assists in the development of the philosophy of the protagonist. Despite Sonia’s desecration of her body, she is one of the purest and most innocent characters in the novel. Sonia’s and Raskolnikov’s attraction for each other is surprising because they are so different. Though they are both in turmoil, Sonia is Raskolnikov’s foil; she is reassured by her faith. Throughout the latter part of the novel, she is the Christ-like savior who rescues Raskolnikov from the oblivion of a meaningless life and connects him again to humanity. Sonia is his only pathway to salvation: she teaches him that only repentance of his sins and responsibility for his actions can save him. His emotional investment in Sonia is so great that he is able to confess his crime to her, and his eventual return to society is preceded by atheserious and emotional connection he harbors with Sonia. He has not, after all, truly felt much for another human being in a long time. Thus, Sonia slowly coaches Raskolnikov back to the social convention of feeling, and she continues to wait for his ultimate metamorphosis by following him to Siberia. Raskolnikov’s philosophy of the superhuman alienates him physically and emotionally from society. Only when he rescinds the murder through which he tried to assume the role of the “übermensch,” the superhuman, can he reenter humanity and feel genuine emotion for another person. With his cleansing of sin, he can embrace his love for Sonia without fear. He opens his heart to accept her love and her creeds: “Can her convictions not be mine now? Her feelings, her aspirations at least…” (430). Though she has tried to introduce religion to Raskolnikov in the literal form of the Bible, not until the very end of the novel, when he realizes his love for her, does he actually attempt to open the pages. Dostoyevsky, by depicting an individual who is as destitute as Raskolnikov but still lives life with hope because of a companion’s faith, signifies that a spiritual connection is needed to combat the dismal world and to understand one’s place within society. On the other hand, Marie provides Meursault with the choice of being an emotional individual by asking for his love. Obviously, she lives a life different from Meursault’s: she is surprised at the apathy he displays when he is able to enjoy himself so fully, swimming and going to the movies so soon after the death of his mother. Marie serves in the novel as the representation of sensual pleasure, and her identity as an individual is not as important to Meursault as her identity as a woman who embodies the physicality of all women: “I never thought specifically of Marie. But I thought about a woman, about women…” (Camus 77). While Sonya’s individuality and personality save Raskolnikov, Marie’s universality and body lead Meursault to his own awakening. In The Stranger, Meursault is never daunted by the misery of the prison; he is, more than anything, a man who simply wants to go on living. Because of his crime and jailing, Meursault’s everyday life as a clerk is suddenly interrupted by the hurtful realization that death is an inescapable fate. Meursault is the absurd man who has a passion to exhaust all that he possesses at any given moment. Marie serves as one of his passions in life, and he has never thought about a time when this enjoyment would end. Likewise, he has never before pondered his relationship with the world. Only when this pleasure, Marie, is taken away from him is he really jolted out of his self-content world and compelled to think about his real connection to society. Unlike Sonya, Marie does not intentionally try to change Meursault’s mindset to accept society or to deny it. Her role actually affirms his absurdist theory in another way. Without the thought of losing Marie, who is his one link to the world, he may never have revolted, and the thought of Marie continues to encourage him to fight against death even in jail. Thus, through Marie, he assesses his values in relation to the world and ultimately attempts to battle society as his own individual.These two female characters elucidate the messages of their respective novels’ endings: with the character of Sonia, Dostoyevsky proclaims hope as the answer to a meaningless world; with the character of Marie, Camus labels hope as a useless façade to find meaning when it does not exist. Because of Raskolnikov’s love for Sonia, Dostoyevsky signifies that though the world is bleak and meaningless, individualism and isolation from society may not be the answer. Hope and optimism arise from the need for companionship and spirituality. Marie acts as a window through which Meursault views the faults of society, which leads to his ultimate, stark individuality by the novel’s end. Camus defies Marie’s false hope and emotion as answers to living in an absurd world and does not allow Meursault to reenter society. Ultimately, Marie’s hope constrains her from understanding Meursault, and, by her depiction, Camus implies that she will never be truly happy because she has not accepted the “gentle indifference of the world” (122). Sonia and Marie have helped the main characters find their place with respect to society (though not necessarily in it) and self-understanding within the structure of the world.Works CitedCamus, Albert. The Stranger. Trans. Matthew Ward. New York: Vintage International, 1989.Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Trans. Constance Garnett. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2001.
Truth Dawning: The Sun as a Symbol for Meursault’s Awareness in Albert Camus’ The StrangerIn his novel “The Stranger,” Albert Camus uses the relentless Algerian sun as a metaphor for the awareness of reality that pursues his main character, Meursault, throughout the novel. The plot is fashioned around three deaths: those of Meursault’s mother, the Arab, and Meursault himself. At each of these key points in the novel, the sun, the symbol of awareness, presses upon Meursault. The purpose of the sun, it seems, is to make Meursault realize the absurdity of his existence. Even the book’s setting in Algiers, the capital of Algeria, underlines the thematic importance of the sun. The Algerian climate is typically hot, dry, and relentlessly sunny. As critic Jean-Paul Sartre writes, “Camus likes bright mornings, clear evenings, and relentless afternoons. His favorite season is Algiers’ eternal summer. Night has hardly any place in his universe” (3). Thus, Meursault is confronted by the sun at every turn. At times he basks in the sun; at other times, he runs from it. His world is one of black and white, light and dark. In this world, the sun serves as a metaphor for Meursault’s self-awareness. He is repeatedly confronted with the presence of life, the inevitability of death, and the absurdity of existence; but, repeatedly, he attempts to avoid these strands of awareness. Meursault’s inner conflict is represented not only by his struggle with the sun, however, but also by his reaction to heat, bright light, and the color white. For example, the book opens with a telegram indicating the death of Meursault’s mother. At first glance, it appears that Meursault is not affected by his mother’s death as he prepares himself for the night long vigil by her coffin. Then, however, Meursault explains, “The keeper switched on the lamps, and I was almost blinded by the blaze of light” (Camus 9). The lights replace the sun in the role of persevering truth, with all the “symbolic and metaphorical associations that exist between light and consciousness” (Manly 89). Meursault believes he is uncomfortable because of the lights, although he is, in fact, uncomfortable with his mother’s death. He is not fully aware of death’s consequences and does not wish to be. Meursault asks the caretaker if some of the lights can be turned off, but it is not possible. The lights must either be all on or all off. This polarity “suggests that we either live in light or dark; that is, we either grasp the reality of death or we don’t, we either live in the moment of the perceptive now or we don’t-there is no middle ground” (McGuire). In Camus’ world, in other words, there must be knowledge or ignorance. It is telling that, rather than face his mother’s death, Meursault shuts his eyes to the light and drifts to sleep, symbolizing the blissful unconsciousness in which he lives his life. Similarly, during the funeral procession, Meursault tries to block out what is going on around him, but is continually brought back to reality by the blazing sun.Later, while attending his mother’s funeral, Meursault sees a nurse with a colorful scarf around her head. Until it is pointed out to him, he does not notice that the nurse has a large bandage covering most of her face; she is dying from a tumor. In fact, “one saw hardly anything of her face except that strip of whiteness” (7). The bandage is white, a color “traditionally linked with knowledge, [and] is here the knowledge of death which humans cannot face” (McCarthy). Thus, Meursault ignores the surrounding death until he is forced to see it, whether by whiteness, bright lights, or the sun. Meursault’s continuous denial of life’s difficulties makes him approach his life as if he were a child. For example, he exhibits awareness only of sensory experiences. As one critic writes, “drying his hands on a crisp towel at midday is just as important as being promoted to a better job” (Thody 2). His life centers on meaningless details, and he seeks only his personal comfort. He cannot comprehend emotions such as love or hate, or understand how they enter into his daily life. When Marie asks him if he loves her, he replies that the question means “nothing or next to nothing [to him]” (52). Similarly, he cannot make simple connections between events and his emotions. When he hears his elderly neighbor Salamo weeping for his lost dog, he thinks of his mother “for some reason…I don’t know what” (50). Thus, he proves unable to make the logical leap between another man’s sense of loss, and his own. His inability is particularly apparent when Meursault is on the beach, before he murders the Arab. Again, it is symbolized by the sun. He feels overwhelmed by the scorching sunlight and seeks refuge from it, but can find none. Meursault describes the light as a “thudding in [his] head” (Camus, 72). The implication, of course, is that he is not simply fighting the external; he also is fighting, within himself, for his own version of reality. As he writes, I clenched my fists in my trouser pockets and keyed up every nerve to fend off the sun and the dark befuddlement it was pouring into me. Whenever a blade of vivid light shot upward from a bit of shell or broken glass lying on the sand, my jaws set hard. I wasn’t going to be beaten, and I walked steadily on (Camus, 73).Thus, Meursault refuses to be beaten. But beaten by what? He is not actually in combat with the sun, but with the awareness of death and the absurdity of life that threatens to destroy his world. Later in court, he tells the judge that he killed the Arab “because of the sun” (Camus, 130). Mistaking the Arab for his assumed enemy, the sun, he fires the gun. The shot “marks the end of the primordial ordinariness that has been the basis of his seemingly uncomplicated happiness” (Gay-Croisier, 89). As Manly writes, “the suggestion that a symbolic waking to consciousness is at issue in this crucial scene is reinforced by the descriptive details of the actual shooting. Unsettled by the sun and not fully in control, Meursault shoots the Arab five times” (3). Meursault senses that something has changed. He has begun his journey into the light. He knows that he has “shattered the balance of the day, the spacious calm of [the] beach on which [he] had been happy” (76). He then fires four more shots into the Arab’s corpse, “and each successive shot was another loud fateful rap on the door of my undoing” (76). Meursault’s awareness continues to increase throughout his court trial. For example, he realizes the ridiculousness of the proceedings, saying, “I wasn’t to have any say and my fate was to be decided out of hand” (124). Eventually, he realizes that this absurdity exists not only in the courtroom, but everywhere in life, as individuals attempt to make sense out of random, meaningless events. Meursault’s “consciousness and self-consciousness are awakened and continue to develops the trial proceeds” (Gay-Croisier). During the trial, he spends endless days and nights in his jail cell trying to occupy himself. After the guilty verdict is reached, he uses this time to obsess about his impending execution. At times, he tries to console himself. He tells himself that “on a wide view, [it] makes little difference whether one dies at the age of thirty or threescore and ten-since, in either case, other men and women will continue living, the world will go on as before” (143). Meursault also becomes obsessed with the hours before dawn. “They always came for one at dawn; that much I knew,” he confesses, “all my nights were spend in waiting for that dawn” (141). Of course, the dawn he speaks of is both literal and figurative. His whole life has led up to the moment of his death, and to his realization that, someday, he will die. Meursault’s life was once a question of how to spend his evening. Now, it is a question of whether he will live or die to see another day. Only then can he understand that death is the only true experience that one can have; without death, life is pointless. Meursault realizes that, “viewed from one angle, [an execution] is the only thing that can genuinely interest a man” (138). When the priest visits and Meursault finally gets to argue his point of view and express the thoughts he has developed, he tells us, “I now had my back to the wall and light was flowing over my forehead” (148). This symbolizes his impending acceptance of the truth of the absurdity of life. Finally, in his jail cell, Meursault accepts his impending death. He can now face his execution, and he can now face the dawn. He is no longer running from the light. The sun will rise, and he will die in its light. Ultimately, “The Stranger” is a story of one man’s awakening. Meursault awakes from the darkness and “consequently becomes aware of the blood-stained mathematics which command our lives” (Manly 90). Meursault’s ultimate resolution comes with the knowledge that any search for meaning can never be fully completed, and that the only fulfilling life is one in which there are no more illusions.
Albert Camus’s novel The Stranger is an extremely explicit work describing violent acts witnessed by a narrator who seems to be wholly unaffected by their brutality. The novel begins with death – “Mamman died today” (3) – and ends with the presumed demise of Meursault, the main character. The body of the work contains numerous bloody acts: the premeditated abuse of an ex-girlfriend, gratuitous cruelty towards a pet dog, a street fight, and a disagreement that ultimately climaxes with a murder on an Algerian beach. The Stranger presents a startling look at what it means to be a human, to live, and to have the ability to take another’s life. Camus’s steadfast depiction of violence reveals the inner attitudes of his characters towards life and death.The Stranger is categorically absurdist: Camus conveys the view that human existence is without order, and his work criticizes a culture that seeks to find meaning in a meaningless world. Camus reveals two contrasting views of human life: society’s and Meursault’s. Society seeks to find explanations for unanswerable questions. In the microcosmic courtroom of Meursault’s trial, for example, the jurors and the lawyers continually focus on why Meursault killed the Arab, and why he is so indifferent about his mother’s death. “Why?” the magistrate demands, “You must tell me-why?” (68) Meursault, knowing that he can offer no true answer, provides an absurd explanation simply to abate the flow of probing questioners: “it was,” he says, “because of the sun” (103). If society represents the quest for what is “normal” and “correct”, then Meursault stands for the absurd. Meursault is different from the other characters in the novel (he is, in fact, “a stranger”) in that he is extremely removed from reality. He delights in the corporeal, such as food and sex, but does not seem to feel as others do. In contrast to society’s faith in the value of a human life, Meursault argues, “everybody knows life isn’t worth living” (114) and “one life is as good as another” (41). When his mother passes away, he shows little regret or loss – save for his physical discomfort from the heat and sun. Camus juxtaposes two contrasting ideals – one that judges life as good, wholesome, and meaningful; another that classifies human existence as pointless, absurd, and chaotic. It is because of this theme – of trivial nothingness vs. validity and worth – that Camus’s utilization of violence is so effective. The way in which the characters react to violence reveals their inner thoughts and views of life. Meursault, for example, is a “detached” character. There are several instances in The Stranger that echo the idea of estrangement and apathy about human life, especially with regards to violence. When Raymond asks Meursault to help him carry out a plan to humiliate and assault his ex-girlfriend, Meursault does it “because [he] didn’t have any reason not to please [Raymond]” (32). During another incident, Meursault alludes to the abuse of his neighbor’s dog, but fails to indicate any emotion, either for or against the violence. Raymond is another detached character; he freely beats a woman and then shows no regret. He seems to share Mersault’s remoteness from violence and death. Raymond nonchalantly remarks upon the passing of Meursault’s mother that “it’s one of those things that was bound to happen sooner or later” (33) – a statement with which Meursault agrees. In contrast, Marie is a character who views life as meritorious. She is very affected by the beating of Raymond’s ex-girlfriend, so much so that she cannot eat afterwards during her lunch with Meursault. Meursault, however, “[eats] almost everything” (37). During the trial, Marie testifies that she was disturbed and upset when Meursault freely fraternized with her so soon after his mother’s funeral. The chaplain – who is a staunch believer in God, human worth, and salvation – provides one more contrast to the absurdist view of humanity, whose crucifix is symbolic of God’s overwhelming guidance in the world and the existence of reason and order. During scenes of violence or unease, Camus does not allow the reader to undermine the importance of the physical realm. From the very beginning of The Stranger, Camus urges his audience to experience death and violence through color. Countless references to red shades pique the reader’s psyche and denote a certain frenzied sense of displacement and detachment. When Meursault murders the Arab on the beach, he notes the crimson hues of the sky and the sand: “the fiery air” (58), “dazzling red glare” (56), and “blazing red sand” (53). Camus employs the use of color to detract from the emotional outcomes of violence and move the focus towards the physical. Therefore, the reader becomes further aligned with Meursault’s logic and can more easily understand why he does the things that he does. The Stranger tackles complex issues regarding the value of human existence. Camus’s use of violence unmasks his characters’ perception of individual worth. The novel seeks to dethrone traditional beliefs that deem life as wholesome, important, and meaningful. Indeed, this is a disturbing work that spares no costs to deliver a raw and candid example of what Camus termed “the nakedness of man faced with the absurd.”
The death of a loved one is typically one of the most emotionally distressing events people face, particularly when that person is a parent. In most societies, it would be considered taboo for a son to respond to his parent’s demise with indifference. However, in The Stranger, readers first meet the protagonist when he tells them, “Maman died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know” (3). This seemingly impassive statement typifies the ostensible lack of emotion and detachment that the main character, Meursault, exhibits throughout the novel, and for which he is unfairly vilified and condemned.In the first chapter of Camus’s novel, Meursault speaks of his mother’s funeral in terms of the itinerary he must follow to fit it into his schedule, as though he is bothered that it is interrupting his usual routine. He says he must travel “about 80 kilometers” on the “two o’clock bus….That way I can…come back tomorrow night.” He assures himself that after the funeral, “the case will be closed, and everything will have a more official feel to it,” expressing his notion that the funeral is like a business dealing that he can take care of and then file away (3). This seems to suggest not that Meursault is void of all emotion, but that the daily tedium of his job has reduced him to indifference. He is merely one component of a system, and is only valued as such; therefore, this has become what he views himself as, and leads him to a feeling that he has no real individuality or significance. This can be inferred from his anxiety about asking his boss for time off to attend the funeral, an allowance most people would find not only appropriate but also deserved. Meursault, however, gauges that his boss is “not too happy about it,” and offers a sort of apology, awkwardly saying, “It’s not my fault” (3). Meursault seems to have become trapped in a state in which methodical and predictable duties provide him a sense of comfort, and in disrupting that normality, even if only briefly, he experiences apprehension. The sense of needing to conform that he has adopted through years in the work force has dulled his emotional faculties.When Meursault initially arrives at the nursing home where his mother spent her last years, he tells the reader, “I wanted to see Maman right away” (4). However, as he first waits for and then talks to the director of the home, he begins to grow a bit distant and weary, saying, “The director spoke to me again. But I wasn’t listening anymore.” When the director asks if he would like to see his mother, he responds with silence and simply follows him to the mortuary (5). The caretaker arrives shortly thereafter to unscrew the casket, but Meursault tells him to stop. He does not want to see his mother, he suddenly decides, but says, “I don’t know” when asked why (6). Because it is usually expected that those left behind wish to see the deceased one last time before the interment, the fact that Meursault not only declines the opportunity to do so, but that he has no reasonable explanation for this decision, is rather strange. Moreover, in the succeeding pages, he drinks coffee and smokes in front of his mother’s casket. This is viewed as both disrespectful and inappropriate, but Meursault sees nothing wrong with it, explaining, “Then I felt like having a smoke. But I hesitated, because I didn’t know if I could do it with Maman right there. I thought about it; it didn’t matter. I offered the caretaker a cigarette and we smoked” (8). Meursault’s apathy toward proper social conduct is seemingly the issue, but he does at least briefly consider that perhaps he should not do these things in the presence of the casket. He reasons that it does not matter, but not because he is insolent or does not care about her. Rather, he feels drained from all the formalities the funeral entails and the emotions people expect him to show. However, as the reader sees later in the novel, Meursault says, “Everybody knows life isn’t worth living. Deep down I know perfectly well that it doesn’t matter much whether you die at thirty or at seventy….Since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter” (114). It can be seen, then, that Meursault acts in what appears a callous manner because he sees death (as well as life) as wholly unimportant. Therefore, he feels the entire affair of the vigil is an unnecessarily formal and sacred manner, and so sees no offense in his actions.During the funeral procession itself, Meursault makes repeated remarks as to how hot and uncomfortable he feels. He describes the countryside they bear the casket through as “inhuman and oppressive” because of the scorching “sun bearing down, making the whole landscape shimmer with heat” (15). At one point, a man in the procession asks Meursault if his mother was old, and he guiltlessly admits to the reader, “I didn’t know the exact number” (16). This information, to him, has no true importance, but is merely a rather absurd source of proof to a stranger of his concern (or seeming lack thereof) for his mother. Throughout the procession, Meursault seems more distracted by his own physical discomfort than with his mother’s death or the funeral itself. However, this, again, is not because he is cold and uncaring, but because he does not see any of it as having any real consequence. As he says later in the novel, Meursault’s mind is “always on what was coming next, today or tomorrow,” and because his mother has died, she is now a part of that past to which he gives no thought or substance – not because she does not mean anything to him, but because the past and the matters of life and death do not.These events form the true basis for which Meursault is judged and castigated when he is on trial for having killed an Arab, a matter that is hardly discussed during the proceedings at all. Rather, he is really on trial for what is considered the abhorrent and unthinkable social crime of not crying at his mother’s funeral, an offense that is misunderstood because Meursault is being judged on the basis of mores to which he does not subscribe. He is convicted, not for shooting an Arab on the beach one day, but for failing to fulfill society’s expectations of what is proper behavior for a son who has lost his mother. Essentially, that Meursault remains true to his unique sensibilities and attitudes about life and the world in general is the real, larger reason for his execution, becoming a sort of misunderstood martyr.
In Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger, different women can be seen as having achieved various levels of enlightenment when compared to the final, ‘complete’ enlightenment Meursault achieves at the end of the novel. In the end, Meursault embraces life’s inherent meaningless and discovers a personal form of humanism through finally feeling he is a connected part of the world with those around him all being in the same boat as he is, embracing their hatred of him and his indifference realizing he hates it as well, and shedding his loneliness as ‘the stranger’. Maman appears to be enlightened as well, she likely went through the same process at some point. Maman had the wisdom to live a full life, making lifelong friends, as demonstrated by Thomas Perez’s resolve to pay his respects at her funeral, and taking another finance to start anew, even nearing end of her life, feeling “free then and ready to live again” (123). as Meursault understands. Marie, on the other hand, is assumed to not achieve enlightenment, since she still holds out hope and looks for meaning where there is none, with her “pained smile” (67). visiting him in prison and sadness at Meursault’s indifference towards marriage. Marie never recognizes and accepts or comes to terms with the indifference of the world as Meursault or as maman appears to, and so Marie does not achieve enlightenment, and fades out of importance by the end.
Both of these women contributed to Meursault’s enlightenment on some level. Maman is one of the few people in the novel who seemed happy to Meursault. The funeral attendees loyalty and grief at Maman’s passing and her vivacity later in life convey to Meursault it is possible to live a joyful, happy, meaningful-filled life. Meursault simply does not really recognize or understand how living a life like Maman’s was possible until his final epiphany, where Maman’s life would serve as model for experiences Meursault would hope to achieve if he were to have a chance.
Marie, on the other hand, despite appearing happy, independent, and carefree on the surface, is unsatisfied with Meursault’s persistent indifference towards her beyond superficially enjoying her company and their sexual encounters. Meursault is willing to get married if Marie wants to, but telling her “no” (31). when asked if he loves her. Meursault states it “didn’t really matter one way or another” (31). Marie is devoted to Meursault nonetheless, and this devotion, and her resolve to “remain hopeful” (55). Only keeps her unhappy. Visiting him in the face of her execution, looking for justice and meaning where there is none, is indicative of Marie being stuck in the same unenlightened rut Meursault is but a different way, still seeking out inherent meaning and justice in an insouciant world in order to achieve fulfillment, happiness, and understanding, never finding any. Marie is no help to Meursault, because he already knows there is no inherent point, purpose, or justice, and thus no meaning in the world. Meursault already has come to this conclusion, and yet is discontent. This is why Marie faded out of Meursault’s focus by the end of his time in prison, nearing his final realization, Marie offered Meursault no answers in his search for ‘enlightenment.’
Surprisingly, despite all these women being central to the plot narrative, it is an extremely minor character, unenlightened in a different way through her contented ignorance, the ‘Robot Woman’ who serves to help enlighten Meursault more than any of the other frequently mentioned women in the novel. This unnamed woman is critical to Meursault’s discovery of his joyfully nihilistic philosophy by demonstrating to Meursault how meaningless life appears, how enamoured people are with routine, and mainly, how content, yet unhappy, the woman is with that fact, causing Meursault to see some of himself in her. The Robot Woman does this in two ways, one, making Meursault realize the extremes of conformity without any ‘real’ ‘meaningful’ cause in society, and two, recognize these tendencies in himself, and these realizations are what ultimately cause Meursault’s enlightenment.
When Meursault first encounters the Woman at the cafe, she is a meticulous square. “Her gestures were jerky. She took off her jacket, sat down, and studied the menu feverishly.”(25). Then she “ordered her meal all at once, in a voice that was very clear and very fast at the same time. While she was waiting for her first course, she opened her bag, took out a slip of paper and a pencil, added up the bill in advance, then took the exact amount, plus tip, out of a vest pocket and set it on the table.”(25). She spends the meal checking off radio programs and then leaves with the same “robot like movements”(26). Meursault is so fascinated he follows her briefly, noticing her “incredible speed and assurance” thinking about “how peculiar she was” (44). Meursault is interested in this woman because of her apparent ignorant assuredness in the world, but also her extremely rigid routine. The woman doesn’t appear happy or content, just busy. She also seems incredibly isolated and alone. This serves to show Meursault an extreme example of the ridiculous conformity within society, a woman who has not achieved any sense of purpose or joy, but is living out her purposeless, dull life anyways, much like Meursault at the moment.At the trial, the “little robot woman from the cafe”(87). stares at him. Almost like a female version of Meursault, she is emotionless, an observer, another stranger like him, almost like a reflection of him. While Meursault is sweating, the woman simply callously, but in a curious, interested way, stares at him, much like Meursault has observed and understood others emotions, such as Raymond’s anger at his girlfriend, rather indifferently. The Robot woman is all Meursault can think about in the back of his mind at the trial, making him even more defenseless and at least partially leading to his conviction, and thus, his imprisonment, and later enlightenment. When Meursault finally has his enlightening epiphany and snaps at the priest, it is likely the Robot Woman had an effect on him which produced this. Meursault did not want to become like the woman, cold, robotic, occupied yet passive, living life without ever having found happiness, meaning, joy, or purpose, but living nonetheless, a fate he couldn’t bear for himself in the future, having contributed nothing to anyone, living his entire life this way, then dying alone with nobody he really cared for or who meant anything to him at all in his life even in a meaningless world. Unlike Maman, no one Meursault cared for would attend the funeral.
Meursault eventually recognizes and accepts his similarity to the Robot Woman, and that recognition is the crucial wakeup call, finally leaving Meursault with his epiphany. Life is ostentatiously meaningless beyond ourselves, but we should not be so uncaring we passively proceed through life doing as we believe we feel instructed to, having found no enlightenment and accepting this fact. The universe may fundamentally be meaningless, but we should not act as if our actions are just as meaningless. Living as if our actions are meaningless yet necessary only because of practicality or baseless routine leaves us functional, but unhappy and alone. Somewhat paradoxically, Meursault decides one should find their own meaning in their own actions. Without the Robot Woman’s ‘help,’ Meursault would have never understood the axioms which fundamentally contribute to his final enlightenment.
The French novel The Stranger, written by Albert Camus and translated by Matthew Ward, describes a French-colonized Algeria in the 1940’s. Throughout the novel, central arguments and themes are being linked together by different scenes. In the scene that brings into focus Salamano and his dog, Camus demonstrates that routine is an illusion of control, the nearness of death leads to awareness of the choice between serenity and sorrow, and that all choices are equal.
Camus uses Salamano’s treatment of his dog as a symbol for routine in order to demonstrate the importance of routine—an illusion of control. In terms of appearance, it seems that Salamano cares more about his dog after his dog was gone than when the dog was in his company. Camus describes that Salamano’s daily routine with the dog consists of “[them standing] there on the side walk and [staring] at each other, the dog in terror, the man in hatred” and Salamano constantly swears, yanks, and spits at the dog (Camus 27). However, after the disappearance of his dog, Salamano searches the streets again and again looking for his dog. This reveals Salamano’s dependence on his dog—an inseparability whose roots lie within the comfort of routine. Even though they have been together for eight years, they never change their routine. Furthermore, when Camus has Meursault suggest that Salamano should get a new dog, the latter replies that he “was used to this one,” just as Salamano was “used to [his wife]” (Camus 44). Camus suggests that it is not just about caring for or loving the dog, but rather seeking comfort in the routine that they had together, just as most people do. Salamano did not have a happy life with either his wife or the dog, but he gets used to it regardless—and thus chooses to remain in this comfort zone. Camus further illustrates that as Salamano and his dog become old together, they have even ended up “looking like each other” (Camus 26). On the other hand, Salamano could have easily prevented the escape of his dog, but the existence of a routine distracts him from the possibility of his dog escaping. Through this faulty assumption of Salamano’s, Camus suggests that routine not only gives comfort to the individual, but also makes the individual unconscious in the grand scheme of life. Even though Salamano “[has] been meaning to get [his dog] a smaller collar for a long time, [he] never thought [his dog] would take off like that” (Camus 38). Although Salamano knew that the collar was too big, he thought he had control of his dog because it is part of the routine and it has never happened before. Salamano breaks the routine by stopping to watch “The King of Escape Artists” (Camus 38). Just as “The King of Escape Artists” creates the illusion that the chains can hold him, Camus blinds Salamano with the illusion that the collar can hold his dog since the dog has not escaped before. By creating the illusion of control, Camus shows how some people can get blinded by routine.
Moreover, Camus draws parallels between the dog and Maman to show that the nearness of death leads to awareness of the choice between serenity and sorrow. Just as the relationship between Meursault and his mother, the relationship between Salamano and his dog is not a happy one either. In fact, the relationship between Salamano and his dog is rather miserable; Salamano complains that the problem with his dog is that “he is always there,” as if the dog has become a burden to him (Camus 28). Camus compares this relationship with the relationship between Meursault and Maman, where Maman lived with Meursault for a long time until Meursault begins to see her as a burden as well. Meursault barely speaks to Maman and eventually sends her to a home. In the end, the dog runs away and Maman dies. When Meursault hears Salamano weeping over the loss of his dog, Meursault “thought of Maman” (Camus 39). Camus draws a parallel between the two relationships to present the choice between serenity and sorrow. While Salamano cries over missing his dog, Meursault does not react much to the loss of Maman. Salamano chose to be sorrowful over his loss while Meursault chose to not display emotions even at the funeral of Maman. Camus suggests that the choice between serenity and sorrow is decided by oneself and how one perceives death of another, or even himself.
Conveying a further philosophical message, Camus shows the futility of choice by implying that all choices are futile and equal. In the scene in which Salamano is telling Meursault about the condition of his dog, Salamano recalls how he rubbed the dog with ointment every day after the dog had gotten that skin disease, Salamano says that “the dog’s real sickness was old age, and there’s no cure for old age” (Camus 45). Camus illustrates the futility of choice by showing that regardless of whether or not Salamano rubs his dog with ointment, his dog will still die as his dog cannot escape the inevitable death of old age. Although his dog appears to have attained freedom and escapes from the collar, the choice he makes is futile and equivalent to the other choice of staying, because whether the dog escapes or not does not affect the ultimate outcome. The dog is sick with death, and choices made in the face of death are equivalent to one another as the final outcomes are the same: death is inevitable. Furthermore, it does not matter whether Salamano looks for his dog or not; it does not matter whether he gets a smaller collar for his dog or not; it does not matter whether his dog comes back or not; the escape of the dog does not even matter, because eventually the dog will die and so will Salamano. No matter what choices people make, everyone dies regardless of anything. Camus’ implications show that all choices are equal and futile because the ultimate outcome, death, will come no matter what.
Camus cleverly and efficiently communicates central themes and arguments throughout the book with only a few sentences in a scene. Camus also connects these arguments with other philosophical ideas, notably the futility of choice. However, while all choices do not change the ultimate destination in one’s life, death, they are not futile or equal to one another if it changes the path one will take to reach that destination. The interaction between all choices intertwine and forms the world that everyone lives in; Every choice made affects the future, however small. Some choices delay the arrival of death, while others can have the opposite effect. But even though this topic can be argued forever, it is important to note Camus’ final revelation regarding the value of life. Meursault states that “Salamano’s dog was worth just as much as his wife;” One of Camus’ final arguments is that people can be just as sorrowful towards a dog or a wife (Camus 121). Although the life Salamano led with his dog and his wife are not happy ones, they are as equally worthy as any other life. When death strikes like “a dark wind,” one would realize that the routine they have been relying is just an illusion of control; however, one can still choose between serenity and sorrow, even if that choice is futile in that it does not avoid the arrival of death (Camus 121).
Throughout the duration of Albert Camus’s novel The Stranger, the narrator, Meursault, evolves in terms of his self-awareness and world-view, a change which Camus uses to aid the reader in understanding both his protagonist and the existentialist themes throughout the novel. By splitting the text into two parts, Camus not only creates a valid ‘before’ and ‘after’ distinction for Meursault’s murder of the Arab, but also forges a distinct indication of the protagonist’s change in understanding of choice and consciousness. During Part 1, we are given a snapshot of Meursault’s daily life: Maman’s funeral, his relationship with Marie, Raymond, and Salamano, and the trip to the beach culminating in his murder of the Arab. In Part 2, Camus recounts Meursault’s incarceration, his trial, and the period before his execution, mirroring his murder of the Arab with his dawning revelation from indifference to acceptance. As a result, the dynamic nature of Meursault’s character is evident; through the intermediates of Maman’s funeral, the murder of the Arab, and his attack on the chaplain Meursault loses the flatness he embodies during Part 1 and shifts in character throughout the remainder of the novel.
In the beginning of the novel, Camus paints Meursault as someone who is emotionally and spiritually detached from society. He revels in the physical aspects of his existence, thinking about nature, swimming, and his lusty feelings for women such as Marie in extensive and passionate detail. When he travels to Marengo to attend Maman’s funeral, he is not overcome with grief at the loss of his mother, and declines the caretaker’s offer to see her body before the funeral, telling him that he doesn’t know why he’d rather close the coffin. Throughout the proceedings of the funeral, he spends a lot of time describing both the oppressive heat of the sun and the pleasantries of nature, using long and descriptive passages that dictate his behavior, as seen when he sits vigil for Maman, commenting; “It was pleasant; the coffee had warmed me up, and the smell of flowers on the night air was coming through the open door. I think I dozed off for a while.” (Camus, 9). In his passivity, he allows the weather and his surroundings to dictate his behavior, showcasing a lack of individual motivation and active participation in the dynamic nature of his environment, as well as little taste for personal choice, shifting his attitude based on the method of least resistance. This is evident in all aspects of his life, as seen when he tells Marie that love doesn’t mean anything to him, and that he doesn’t care if they get married. As apparent in his response, Meursault focuses on the physical rather than the emotional, and is unaware or ambivalent about what happens to him in his life. Although this signifies a lack of choice, his incongruity may also be a nod toward the existentialist idea of the universe as an irrational and disordered. By ignoring feeling, Meursault may be attempting to focus on the objective and concrete in a subjective and absurd world.
A major turning point of the text, Meursault’s murder of the Arab on the beach can be viewed as the next step in his transformation from indifference to acceptance, hinting at the first inclination of choice as he decides “that you could either shoot or not shoot.” (Camus, 56), Camus’s sly reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet in his ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy. Even though Meursault indicates that he had little influence, or choice, in the murder, claiming that “the trigger gave” (Camus, 59), his acknowledgment of his power to kill or not kill the Arab is an important milestone in his conversion to self-consciousness and self-awareness. By giving some authority to the power of decision, he comes closer to the existential ‘freedom to choose’, reaching the philosophy that “humans define their own meaning in life, and try to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe” (“Existentialism”).
The final stage of Meursault’s transformation, his descent toward self-awareness occurs after his attack on the chaplain, who attempts to persuade him to turn to God for comfort. Meursault tells the chaplain that he doesn’t believe in God, and that everything in life is meaningless because all humans are destined for death, and becomes enraged, grabbing him by his cassock in anger. He narrates that “I was pouring out on him everything that was in my heart, cries of anger and cries of joy.” (Camus, 120), the first real indication in the text of emotion following the trial, during which Meursault was forced to consciously identify the existence he was being held accountable for. Here, his confrontation with the chaplain is the only time in the novel that he is passionate and active with feeling, indicating self-awareness as he claims understanding and a sense of sureness; “I was sure about me, about everything, surer than he could ever be, sure of my life and sure of the death I had waiting for me.” (Camus, 121). Interestingly enough, this change is mirrored with Meursault’s murder of the Arab, a parallel that compares his shoot or not to shoot epiphany with his comprehension of self-awareness. Meursault’s world view shifts even further when he voices the thought “I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.” (Camus, 123), expressing his ‘kinship’ to human existence for the first time. His realization that all humans “are elected by the same fate” (Camus, 121) – death, bridging the barrier that he previously felt toward other people, accepting companionship, even if it is in the form of an angry mob. This awareness that the universe’s indifference to human affairs echoes his own personal indifference evokes this feeling of companionship that leads Meursault to label the world ‘a brother’, the full dawning of his transformation as an existentialist character.
Overall, it can be said that Camus’s existentialist novel The Stranger depicts the protagonist, Meursault, as a dynamic and evolving persona. Within the text, Meursault shifts from passivity to participation, embodying existentialism at the close of the novel through the themes of choice, free will, and freedom that he exemplifies. These topics permeate both his fictional existence and our own; as readers, applying the idea that every human is in charge of his or her own destiny, is a fresh and innovative idea in a society that preaches conformity over individuality. Thus, through the catalysts of Maman’s funeral, the murder of the Arab, and his attack on the chaplain Meursault gains depth and perspective, approaching life and his impending death with an original world-view different from that which he displayed in the beginning of the text.
Works Cited Camus, Albert, and Matthew Ward. The Stranger. New York: Vintage International, 1989. Print. Mastin, Luke. “Existentialism.” The Basics of Philosophy. Philosophy Basics, 2008. Web. 4 Dec. 2014.
“Society is a masked ball, where every one hides his real character, and reveals it in hiding.”-Ralph Waldo EmersonA society constrained to specific social standards reprimands those who do not conform to such principles. In the process, a supreme truth is revealed unveiling the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of societal ideology. Albert Camus’s The Stranger exhibits Meursault as a passive nonconformist who will not “play the game” society has chosen for him, and is thus condemned for an inability to meet society’s social expectations. Through irony, Camus reveals how the outcast, Meursault, is condemned because of his nonconformist beliefs.Meursault’s nonconformist character is one that does not concern itself with expressing emotion. Camus uses the first-person point of view, making the reader expect the narrator’s personal response to events within the plot. Ironically, the prose is void of such content. Meursault’s life is reflected upon with utmost objectivity: a reflection of how he himself sees it. He ‘catalogs’ the events of his life, going out of his way to avoid the conveying of any emotion. “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know” (9). As part of a telegram, the details that he does discuss only concern his uncertainty of the date; he does not mention anything of the telegram’s effect on him. Furthermore, during his mother’s funeral, he “hadn’t cried once and [he]’d left straight after the funeral without paying [his] respects at her grave” (86). This is not to say Meursault lacks emotion – he simply does not feel it is essential to express it. Nevertheless, society expects certain emotions to be linked to specific events, namely, a physical representation of grief at his mother’s funeral. Meursault cannot accept this social obligation imposed upon his life; he is an outsider to the society in which he lives. Further representative of Meursault’s adamancy to not concern himself with expressing emotion is his relationship with Marie. When inquired about marriage, Meursault indifferently responds that he would if “she wanted to”. Additionally, when asked if he loves her, he replies, “that it didn’t mean anything but that [he] probably didn’t” (44). As traditionally viewed in society, marriage is a bond of love and affection; yet this prospective one is marked physically by indifference and apathy on his part. In retrospect, Meursault serves as a vessel dispensing a truth to the environment with which he lives in. Contradicting its strong emphasis within society, he reveals that emotion need not be represented exteriorly, for genuine emotion comes from within and does not need public recognition. However, society is immediately threatened by this truth, with which “no triumph over the self or over the world will ever be possible” (119). Ironically, although he is not impassive, Meursault’s indifference to physically convey emotion is considered to be a lack of emotion within his society, highlighting him as a true stranger. Accordingly, lack of concern to display emotion during occurrences traditionally attached to specific emotional responses function to provide a validation to condemn him.Meursault’s nonconformist character is further delineated through the absurdity of his life. Indifferent, Meursault will make a decision because he sees no rationale not to act in a certain way though he does not see a reason to either. This indifference deems the chronology of events within his life independent of each other, with no one necessarily leading to the next. Ironically, the reader and Meursault’s society both attempt to create a meaning of the events within his life: a fruitless effort when applied to an absurd existence. “On the day after the death of his mother, this man was swimming in the sea, entering into an irregular liaison and laughing at a Fernandel film” (91). The reader attempts to rationalize Meursault’s actions by deeming them a possible means of alleviating the pain and suffering of his mother’s death. Contrastingly, in the courtroom, the prosecutor announces that he will expose “the dark workings of this criminal soul, retracing the series of events which led this man to kill, in full consciousness of his actions” (97). The prosecutor uses Meursault’s previous actions which seemed merely unconventional as evidence of a monstrous personality which does not exist. In reality, neither the reader nor the characters within the novel can justify Meursault’s actions. Through the eyes of Meursault, his life is absurd and meaningless, thus lacking a need for reason and justification. With this, Meursault functions as a mirror revealing to society the futility of using something from the past to justify the present: a sentiment echoed in other works of Camus. “It is likewise idealism, and of the worse kind, to end up by hanging all action and all truth on a meaning of history that is not implicit in events. Would it therefore be realism to take as the laws of history the future? To tell the truth, far from being romantic, I believe in the necessity of a rule and an order” (The Myth of Sisyphus and other essays, 208). Through his actions, Meursault implores society to live in the realm of the now, disregarding the use of the past to explain the present and the future. Because of its inability to do so, however, society stains Meursault with condemnation because of his nonconformity to societal values and expectations.Camus further distances his protagonist from the society in which he lives in through his lack of faith. Society imposes religion upon its subjects, making it the prime reason for human existence. In other words, without submission to faith, one’s life is devoid of meaning and fulfillment: a conception which Meursault will not acknowledge, thus making him a stranger within his own environment. Ironically, religion for him appends even more senselessness to an already absurd life. Faith subverts the few strands of meaning present in Meursault’s life, which paradoxically contradicts society’s intent for its employment. His secularism is exhibited through examples of conflict. In a tense dialogue between him and the magistrate regarding the existence of a supreme deity, Meursault replies no. “He told me that it was impossible, that all men believed in God, even those who wouldn’t face up to Him. That was his belief, and if he should ever doubt it, his life would become meaningless” (68). Furthermore, in his last moments of life, where the priest implores Meursault to submit to God, he explains that he “didn’t have much time left” and that he “didn’t want to waste it on God” (114). For Meursault, religion suppresses his free spirit. All that remains of an absurd yet gratifying life is time – too precious to waste on such an abstract ideal. Accordingly, Meursault again becomes a reflection of truth, denouncing the practice of organized religion. He presents society with the notion that nothing divine or absolute exists and that many people use faith as a crutch to avoid living and taking responsibility for their lives. Life is absurd: not ‘controlled, monitored, or rewarded’. To live a full life, one must face the absurdity of death leading to nothingness instead of focusing one’s energies on an intangible and unlikely concept. Society, however, remains in a state of denial, exceedingly threatened by this truth. Consequently, the solution is to cast out Meursault, condemning him for his unconventional beliefs.Albert Camus’s The Stranger explores the life of a man condemned because of a failure to meet society’s social expectations. Through the use of irony, Camus gives light to society’s validation for his protagonist’s ostracism – in doing so, revealing a supreme reality. Meursault becomes a mirror reflecting truths that threaten the very foundation of society’s most endeared principles. To stifle nonconformity and conceal a threat to societal stability, Meursault, the man who would not “play the game”, is condemned to death.
Meursault, the main character in Albert Camus’s The Stranger, is an intriguing individual with a complicated relationship to the world around him. He is curious by nature, and often wonders about the reality and purpose of the situations he finds himself in. He frequently ponders whether or not an interaction is “natural.” What he means by this remains unclear as the story progresses, but we can infer that he is trying to examine the normalcy of daily situations, and whether or not they are valuable—whether or not the interactions actually matter. As a non-religious skeptic, Meursault is rather critical of our existence. Meursault is unique—he follows a unique routine, and has a unique outlook on life. Instead of merely judging him for being different than most people and condemning his violent mentality, we should learn from him instead.
Throughout most of the beginning of the story, Meursault leads a rather normal life. He is, however, more reserved than most people. He is unfazed by the death of his mother, who had already been in a retirement home for a long period of time before her passing. But he is noticeably uncaring; Meursault seems to perceive his mother’s funeral as an obligation more than a celebration to honor her life. Throughout the time he spends at her wake, he gets annoyed on multiple occasions by funeral-goers that make loud noises, but he is also annoyed when the room is completely silent. When walking to the church for his mother’s funeral, Meursault curiously accepts an idea proposed to him by a nurse: that he would either have to walk fast to the church and end up sweating due to the physical exertion required, or walk slowly and end up sweating due to the heat of the midday sun. Following the theme in which he wonders whether or not our existence actually matters, Meursault simply accepts the inevitability of sweating, and does not waste his time trying to fix a situation which he has no control over. However, he sees the heat and the long walk as an inconvenience, instead of seeing them as steps necessary to honor his mother’s life. He would prefer to be able to go about his daily life at home than to go out of his way for any reason, even if it is for a custom to honor the woman who raised him.
Meursault’s daily life is simple; he holds a daytime job like anybody else, and spends his free time at home or relaxing with his friend Marie. He values routine much more than most people, and it may be hard to understand, but such a mindset is worthy of respect. Meursault has a comfort zone; one from which he does not want to go far. He is perfectly content living in this comfort zone, but others do not seem to understand this behavior. Later in the story, during the court proceedings for his case, multiple witnesses who testify against Meursault describe him as being a cold, uncaring person. The prosecutor, ignorant to Meursault’s unique mindset, notes that “the day after his mother’s death, [Meursault] was out swimming, starting up a dubious liaison, and going to the movies” (Camus, 94). This only comes after his mother’s caretaker defamed Meursault in the eyes of the jury by noting that he “hadn’t wanted to see [his] Maman, that [he] had smoked and slept some, and that [he] had some coffee” (Camus, 90); the jury notices that Meursault simply goes about with normal activities at the wake, and doesn’t go beyond to show any emotion whatsoever.
The way Meursault behaves perplexes most people; we aren’t used to somebody who seems to exhibit such little desire to stray away from routine. However, his behavior is not harmful, even though other people look at it as being such. One of Meursault’s greatest societal taboos, living in the mid-20th Century, is being an atheist. When Meursault first meets with the magistrate presiding over his case, he waves a cross in Meursault’s face as if to cleanse him of sin and make a statement about his lack of religion, as he “was waving the crucifix almost directly over [Meursault’s] head” (Camus, 68). This interaction immediately lessens Meursault’s chances of being exonerated from the charges he faces, even though the judge seems to be fairly impartial during the remainder of the trial. Noticeably, Meursault remains calm as the judge attacks him in an extremely aggressive manner. He does not try to stand up for himself, nor defend his views, simply in the interest of excluding himself from any unnecessary conflict. Interestingly, as he has done before, Meursault questions how natural the situation was; whether or not it was really meant to happen, while noting that later interactions were perfectly natural, and seemed to go very well. He seems to want to justify the judge’s behavior as simply being the result of his remarks; as if it was inevitable that the judge would lash out on him because of his passion towards his religion. This questioning of inevitability will become crucial later in the story, near Meursault’s execution.
In prison, Meursault tries not to spend most of his time in his cell simply wasting away; he reads books and gazes at the sky and tries to improve his memory in an effort to get the most out of this experience awry from his painstakingly mundane routine. He would sometimes “get to thinking about [his] room, and in [his] imagination [he] would start at one corner and circle the room, mentally noting everything there was on the way” (Camus, 78). Looking closer, Meursault is simply creating a new routine. He walks around his cell and spends eighteen hours sleeping every day. Just like in the days after his mother’s funeral, Meursault tries not to make his time spent in prison an inconvenience. As long as he has to deal with something, he might as well make the most out of it, and try to keep his life as disruption-free as he possibly can. As such, although he is not accredited for it, he seems to behave in a manner with which a model inmate would behave. He is diligent, reserved, and doesn’t cause any issues in the prison.
As part of his routine, Meursault notices and later reads a newspaper clipping about an ironic story in Czechoslovakia. A man was murdered by his mother and sister who wanted to steal his fortune, as he was sleeping at the hotel they ran. Unfortunately, the two didn’t know that the man was their respective son and brother, as he had spent years away from home. Meursault found the story to be a bit puzzling, and somewhat ironic. He questioned how “natural” everything was in the events that took place, which he has done on numerous occasions in the past, such as with the judge. The situation was not inevitable, as the family chose to murder the man. It could have been avoided completely, however, if the man had announced himself to them before staying there and trying to surprise them. The fact that Meursault takes interest in the situation is relevant because he wants to know whether or not it really had to happen, and what could have prevented it, just as in his own case.
When seeing Marie for the first, and only, time in prison, Meursault doesn’t seem to get much from his meeting with her, other than seeing her and being able to converse with her. The room is loud with various inmates communicating with their loved ones, and he has to scream to talk to Marie. In the end, he does seem happy to be able to see her, especially considering his life is on the line at his trial. During the trial, Meursault doesn’t seem to pay much attention to the matter. The reporters, who he describes as “already [having] their pens in hand” (Camus, 85), are eagerly awaiting the outcome of the proceedings, as the only other interesting case being tried at the same time as Meursault’s is a patricide, and summer is the slow season for the news.Interestingly, he doesn’t seem to care that much about the attention put toward his case, but rather just note the behavior of the reporters in the densely populated courthouse. After being found guilty at his trial, Meursault questions what “natural” really is, and indirectly seems to consider the inevitability of what happens in our lives, and whether or not things have to turn out the way they do. For the first time, Meursault seems like more of a human than an objective robot. He no longer craves routine, and no longer seems to be fearless. He recognizes his mortality, and the inevitability of his impending execution. He wants to escape authorities, and wonders if it is possible that “If by some extraordinary chance the blade had failed” during his execution (Camus, 111). But he also manages to accept what is coming to him, noting that we all have to die at some point, “Whether it was now or twenty years from now, [Meursault] would still be the one dying” (Camus, 114).
By the end of the book, Meursault understands that death is inevitable, and that life must come to an end at some point, no matter who you are. His abnormal behavior, and odd lack of regard for what most people value, are simply what give meaning to Meursault’s life. He is perfectly content living in peace, and staying in his little bubble, as he is not like the rest of us. Meursault is an outcast, and perhaps that is what motivated his conviction; we simply alienate his behavior because it is what we consider as abnormal. Meursault’s behavior is abnormal, but his way of analyzing reality is not dangerous. He may deserve to be labeled an outcast by society, but the philosophy he embodies is not a threat to the people living within it. Because Meursault is unique, and has a unique perspective, he more than merely a criminal.
Camus, Albert, and Matthew Ward. The Stranger. New York: Random House, 1988. Print.