Monsieur Meursault In Camus's book The Stranger
Albert Camus’s book The Stranger contains a very complex character, Monsieur Meursault. Meursault has complete indifference to the world around him. His attitude towards the lack of meaning in everything is easily relatable for many, until the effects of his indifference catches up to him and manifests itself.
The common philosophy that many place Meursault in is nihilism. Meursault’s distinct philosophical characteristics provide a view of nihilism and his inevitable acceptance of death gave him meaning to life, which is the fact that he lived. Meursault’s complete indifference to his surroundings and his prioritization of his needs before emotion, places him closer to nihilism. In the beginning of The Stranger he shows absolutely no emotion towards the death of his mother as he doesn’t display any emotion during the funeral except for annoyance towards [t]he glare on the white walls was making me drowsy(9) and the constant mentions of the women who was crying softly, steadily, in little sobs(10). His display of indifference follows him throughout the novel.
After he comes back from the funeral, he begins people watching from his window, and comes to the realization that one more Sunday was over, that Maman was buried now, that I was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed(14). Although he experienced the death of his mother everything else is as if nothing happened and therefore Meursault conclude that the death of his mother does not matter. His physical needs are placed in priority compared to anything. Some would say that his relationship with Marie would be completely physical and non-emotional for him. The evidence for this is quite clear after he says to Marie that marriage to her didn’t make any difference to [him] and that we could if she wanted to(41). She then asks him if he loves her in which answered the same way [he] had the last time(41). His complete indifference is very similar to those that follow the existential nihilist ways. Friederich Nietzsche is the philosopher that created nihilism in western culture. He believed that one should act as if they would if they had to reenact that day for eternity.
So in layman’s terms you should live your life they way you want to, and not allow for self-denial to overcome your freedom. Since Meursault completely allows his needs to overtake him some would say that he isn’t a nihilist, but he does as he wants to and recognizes the choice that he has in his actions. He also completely reject morals, as does Nietzsche, as he finds nothing wrong with the murder of the Arab, or the letter that Raymond asked him to write to his girlfriend. In this way he is even more distant from society. My philosophy is a slight variation of existential nihilism, but I find that such things that have logical purpose, and that purpose is not found by the individual but by the collective whole. Meursault finds meaning when he begins to recognize the past. The analysis of Meursault’s psyche forces him to confront his past actions. The main action that they focussed on was his lack of emotion during his mother’s funeral. Meursault believes that the mention of this was completely irrelevant to the case, but it does affect what he thinks about while imprisoned throughout the trial. He begins to remember physical things and the emotions that he is given with those things, such as the ice cream bells.
These memories inevitably lead him to the epiphany that the meaning to his life is that he lived. When the trial is over and he is put on death row, Meursault recognizes that he will inevitably die, but he also recognizes that he should come to his own moral conclusion as it is apart of the process. He concludes that he doesn’t have morals and that his life hadn’t any meaning, but his death is meaningful due to the amount of people who had come to watch him die. He then embraces the hatred of the people, because it gives his death meaning. This is very similar to Nietzsche’s belief in which meaning can only be decided by the person, and any other meaning to life is considered meaningless to tat person. Meursault displays this when he attacks the chaplain. The chaplain attempts to push his religious beliefs on Meursault which is also an attempt to have Meursault find meaning.
Although the chaplain is unsuccessful in helping Meursault find meaning and closure to his life, he is at the same time successful as well. The chaplains ignorance to Meursault’s philosophy angers Meursault, but it forces him to come to the conclusion that although his life was meaningless, his death has meaning. My philosophy is somewhat different. I believe that there isn’t any meaning to life or death of one person. In order to make one’s life meaningful they must find a way to impact the society and not themselves. This can be achieved through creation, whether it be physical or not. In the end the morals of a person do not matter, but the ideas that the person had on life, and problems within society, are the things that matter in one’s life. Although I do believe that the purpose of The Stranger from Albert Camus’s view is not to define Meursault to a specific philosophy, society has made it its purpose. Therefore this is a book that not only forces its audience to confront a difficult and complex philosophy, and can even impact their own philosophy.
For myself, this book did indeed modify my philosophy, but it wasn’t any significant change. The reason for this book’s literary significance then becomes clear when one recognizes the impact it plays on a society. This complex character demonstrates the literary skill that Camus has, but it shows the world that you can have a character so complex that the world will focus on that character and compare it to themselves. In that way it has purpose but, like Meursault, that purpose is found towards the end of its journey.
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