Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Entertainment

April 4, 2019 by Essay Writer

There is a Latin phrase “Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur,” which translates to “The world wants to be deceived, so let it be deceived” (Sebastian). These words resonate particularly well when applied to Albert Camus’ The Stranger. To conform to and become insiders in society, the characters in The Stranger deceive themselves into believing that the world is explicable by blindly accepting established social constructs. In doing so, they delude themselves into rationalizing Meursault’s motivations for his murder and accepting Meursault’s execution by replacing the pursuit of justice with the spectacle of entertainment. Those in the minority, including Meursault, are rejected by society because they refuse to yield to social constructs. Camus uses Meursault’s trial and execution as symbols of society’s willingness to deceive itself, choosing entertainment over truth. Camus warns the reader that this subversion distracts us into feeling more comfortable with inexplicable events of the world by allowing us to ignore the absurdity of our customs and conventions. Using the trial as a symbol of self-deception in society, Camus shows that the legal system is a flawed coping mechanism that insiders use to rationalize actions in an illogical world. Before the trial begins, Meursault, an outsider observing the insiders’ world, notices that the jury “joked and laughed and looked completely at ease” (85). The jury, representative of society, comes to the trial for entertainment rather than to objectively observe and judge it. This implication is further supported by the news reporters, who have “somewhat snide look[s]” (85). Although they are also expected to be unbiased, their faces indicate otherwise. Instead of looking for truth, the reporters bring their prejudices to the trial. Additionally, the newspapers “blow open [Meursault’s] case a little . . . [since] summer is the slow season for news” (84), showing again that the trial is less about justice for Meursault and more about an entertaining story – a mere distraction. Instead of seeking veracity, the insiders, including the reporters and the jury, care more about remaining at ease, even if this requires deception. The prosecutor sets up a comfort zone for himself and the insiders in the courtroom by articulating that Meursault’s soul has become “an abyss threatening to swallow up society” (101). Instead of basing his speech on legitimate evidence, the prosecutor is spurred by society’s need to rid Meursault, the source of discomfort. The prosecutor’s words provide rationalization for the jury and allow it to reject Meursault’s defense. As a result of the prosecutor’s speech, the jury can feel more comfortable sentencing Meursault to death. Indeed, after explaining that Meursault has no soul, the prosecutor speaks for society when he says, “I ask you for this man’s head . . . and I do so with a heart at ease.” (102). Though society views Meursault’s murder of the Arab as morally wrong, the prosecutor has no qualm about taking Meursault’s life. This hypocrisy shows how society deceives itself into accepting Meursault’s execution while being repulsed by his homicide. Additionally, the prosecutor’s long and dramatic speech is about amusing the audience and jury with dramatic hyperbole. When the judge asks Meursault for his motivation for killing the Arab, Meursault “[blurts] out that it was because of the sun” (103). This assertion amuses the audience, which rejects Meursault’s explanation with laughter. Instead of accepting the discomforting absurdity that Meursault attributes his impulse to murder to a natural and ordinary phenomena, the jury listens to the prosecutor. Even the defense attorney is complicit in the verdict since he fails to adequately defend Meursault, as the attorney chooses to “not file any motions [for overturning the verdict] so as not to antagonize the jury” (106). The insiders, such as Meursault’s defense attorney, the prosecutor, and the jury, accept Meursault’s death sentence. Using the trial as a symbol representing society’s ability to deceive itself, Camus shows that the insiders justify incomprehensible actions in the irrational world and find comfort in thinking that all events can be reduced to and understood through flawed human logic, whether it is by attributing Meursault’s murder of the Arab to his outsiderness status or justifying Meursault’s death through a trial.In the symbolic trial, Camus further shows that insiders classify those who do not abide by the same rules as themselves as outsiders to reaffirm their own sense of belonging. Before the trial begins, Meursault, an outsider and detached observer, notices that “everyone was waving and exchanging greetings” (84). He does not take part in these greetings as he himself is an outsider. Meursault makes this more explicit when he explains that it was like “[those in the courtroom] were in a club where people are glad to find themselves among others from the same world” (84). This statement captures how justice is as exclusive and superficial as clubs are. By rejecting Meursault, the insiders can find consolation in the fact they are not like Meursault and that their social constructs create reason in the world. However, this consolation is deceptive. Since Meursault attributes his murder to the sun and the prosecutor attributes the murder to Meursault’s soullessness, this shows that logic in this particular case is an illusion. Meursault isn’t the only one to be bounced by the club – society ostracizes Meursault’s associates as well. For example, Marie is rejected simply by her association with Meursault. When she first enters the courtroom, the prosecutor immediately paints her as an outsider when he forces her to admit that her “liaison” (93) with Meursault started the day after Maman’s funeral and that she watched a comedy movie with Meursault that same afternoon. By associating Marie with Meursault’s supposedly illogical behavior, the prosecutor portrays her as cold and uncaring. In a final theatrical act, the prosecutor shames her, criticizes her actions with Meursault, and emphatically states, “I have nothing else to say” (94). Through melodramatic actions and words, the prosecutor separates Marie from society. Once society determines Marie to be an outsider, no one listens when she says, “that she knew [Meursault] and [he] hadn’t done anything wrong” (94). The judge then orders the bailiffs to physically remove Marie from the courtroom, an action symbolic of her estrangement. Similarly, Raymond, Meursault’s “pal” (96), is detached from the insiders as well. The prosecutor, in the same dramatic language, accuses Raymond of being a pimp and friend of Meursault, who committed “the basest of crimes, a crime made worse than sordid by the fact that they were dealing with a monster” (96). The phrases “worse than sordid” and “monster” denote Meursault and Raymond, by association, as pariahs. Rather than obtain more information about Meursault, the prosecutor seems to put Raymond on trial for the entertainment of the jury. The prosecutor’s words “[seem] to have a strong effect on the people in the courtroom” (96), suggesting that the speech was for theatrical impact. This drama distracts the jury from the purpose of the trial, which is to offer Meursault due process. Through Meursault, Marie, and Raymond, Camus continues to use the trial as a symbol of self-deception and shows that insiders create outsiders to feel more comfortable with themselves.Camus uses the execution as another symbol of society’s self-deceit to show how insiders value comfort over justice. To feel at ease, the insiders are left with no choice: they must rid themselves of Meursault, who challenges social norms. When the prosecutor delivers his final tirade against Meursault, he proclaims, “the wholly negative virtue of tolerance must give way to the sterner but loftier virtue of justice” (101). Though society obtains comfort by believing that it is obtaining justice and restoring order, in reality, the execution is a farce. Rather than punish Meursault for his act, society punishes him for his non-compliance of societal rules and for being an outsider. Additionally, the execution is a farce since the guillotine is a vehicle of entertainment rather than justice. In his essay Reflections on the Guillotine, Camus states that the guillotine is “a terrible spectacle” (Camus). Meursault wishes for “a large crowd of spectators [on the] day of [his] execution” (123), suggesting that society sees his death as a show. Rather than a way to avenge the Arab’s death, the trial and execution are society’s methods of confirming that Meursault’s actions are wrong, and that therefore, its own constructs and norms are correct. Camus uses the guillotine as a symbol to represent the self-deception of society that continues to choose comfort rather than justice.Using Meursault’s trial and execution as symbols of society’s willingness to deceive itself, Camus emphasizes the idea that insiders prefer to be comfortable rather than seek justice or question their social customs. Society rejects and persecutes the indifferent Meursault, who seemingly commits murder without rhyme or reason, in order to maintain the illusion of rationality in their universe. By executing Meursault, the insiders uphold their sense of belonging in society. Ultimately, Camus suggests that looking for rationality in an absurd world leads to self-deception, a skewed view of justice, and an inability to see the truth.

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