The way a person reacts to ordinary situations determines the opinions of othersbased on their behavior. Yet, when this behavior is abnormal or different fromthe rest of society, it causes society to form an opinion based totally on apersons behavior not their true personality. In Meursaults case, hisstrange opinions and unexpected remarks put him in this position, without everreally giving him an opportunity to be truly understood. However, Meursaultcannot change his actions and behaviors from the past, therefore making himresponsible in the society he freely chooses to live in. Meursaults completeindifference to society and human relationships causes him to appear as theactual “stranger” with those he encounters, which eventually leads to hisincarceration and inevitable date with the guillotine. Meursault is definitely aman who is set in his ways. He has his own opinions and outlooks on life andbecause of that fact he is constantly reminded of his inadequacies withinsociety. His refusal to look at his mother one last time after she had passedaway seemed pointless to Meursault at the time, where as the funeral directorviewed this as extremely odd: “We put the cover on, but Im supposed tounscrew the casket so you can see her.” He was moving toward the casket when Istopped him. He said, “You dont want to?” I answered, “No.” He wasquiet, and then I was embarrassed because I felt I shouldnt have said that.
He looked at me and then asked, “Why not?” but without criticizing, as if hejust wanted to know. I said, “I dont know.” (Camus 6) The difference ofopinion between Meursault and all of society, but in this example the funeraldirector, brought about a feeling of inadequacy to Meursault and an appearanceof him as a stranger to society. Alice J. Strange explains his situationperfectly by saying: Holding Meursault to his words, and recognizing the voidsthey reveal, the reader sees Meursault as the stranger…. (Strange 3)Throughout the novel, these encounters and/or relationships gradually setMeursault aside from society. His encounter with the Arab shows how the presenceof other people in his life makes absolutely no impression on him. Taking theArabs life was something he did as a natural reaction, he pulled the triggerthinking it was justified where as any normal human being would think otherwise. Once on trial, Meursault constantly observed the people in the courtroomas if he had no idea of how the rest of society lived. Every thing he saw wasnew to him and it brought him a feeling of excitement, as if he was enjoyingbeing on trial. Fear only came after his verdict. He didnt even consider hisfate early on in the trial because he was in awe of the rest of society; theirbehaviors and actions were all new to him. In chapter three part two Meursaultexplained this by saying: Usually people didnt pay much attention to me. Ittook some doing on my part to understand that I was the cause of all theexcitement. I said to the policeman, “Some crowd!” He told me it was becauseof the press and he pointed to a group of men at a table just below the jurybox. He said, “Thats them.” (83-84) The only thing Meursault is worriedabout is the press, not the fact that his fate is about to be determined by agroup of people that dont even know him. He doesnt even care about deathat this point, only how he is excited to see all these new people and be able towatch the court proceedings. Before Meursaults incarceration, he lived a lifeof desire based on his own satisfaction. His life was completely self-centeredand focused on his own physical pleasures. Meursaults obsession with his owndesires can be explained by saying that: His contempt for man-madenecessities, such as religion, morality, government, is supreme; but hisattitude toward natural coercion, hunger, sex, the weather, etc., though lessexplicit, seems almost equally disdainful. Meursault is a non-participant (Carruth8-9). He took absolutely no consideration of others feelings and how hisactions affected them. Meursaults love of smoking, eating, drinking, havingsex, swimming and being outside, all of which are physical pleasures, are takento extremes. Take away these and try to imagine what Meursault would be like. Hewould be practically lifeless because he wouldnt enjoy anything. He is neverconcerned with what is going on in other areas of his life or others. Hissatisfaction comes above everything else in his life and controls everything hedoes. Also, Meursaults relationship with Marie was totally based on sexrather than love. He had sex with her purely out of lust and only to satisfyhimself. At no point did he intentionally have sex with her to express his lovefor her; love was never part of his intentions. Another example of how he basedhis own satisfaction ahead of everything else was how Meursault went to see acomical movie the day after he buried his mother. He wasnt worried about hismother at all; the only thing that he was concentrating on was having a goodtime. He was able to laugh and enjoy himself knowing that his own mother hadjust passed away, something that obviously made little impact on him. Hisphysical pleasures dominated his life and forced him to behave the way he did.
By letting these physical pleasures dominate his life, he created an attitudeand behavior that was unaccepted and seen as wrong to the rest of society. Eventhough Meursault let his physical pleasures control his life, he was howeversatisfied with the life he was living; completely content with where he was inhis life. He never asked anything from anyone and never once expected anythingfrom others. Stephen Bronner puts this into perspective by saying: “Meursaultis passive, unreflective, and compulsive. He is a prototype of the absurdman who seeks no questions and tells no lies.” (Bronner, The Thinker 44)Mr. Bronner explained that Meursault set himself apart from others through hispassive nature and lived extremely independent. This attitude is proven evenfurther when Meursault refused a promotion based on the fact that he wassatisfied with the life he had then: He was planning to open an office in Paristhat would handle his business directly with the big companies, on the spot, andhe wanted to know how I felt about going there. Id be able to live in Parisand to travel around for part of the year as well. “Youre young, and itseems to me its the kind of life that would appeal to you.” I said yes butthat really it was all the same to me. Then he asked me if I wasnt interestedin a change of life. I said that people never change their lives, that in anycase one life was as good as another and that I wasnt dissatisfied with minehere at all. He looked upset and told me that I never gave him a straightanswer, that I had no ambition, and that I was disastrous in business. (41) Thethought of ambition and success never even crossed his mind and turning down theopportunity made no difference to him. He could care less about what his bossand others thought because he was only concerned about himself. This wouldappear extremely strange to anyone because why in the world would anyone notwant to earn more money, respect, power and even have the opportunity to live inParis? Meursaults problem was obviously that he had absolutely no ambition.
This became blatantly obvious in chapter five when Meursault said: “When I wasa student, I had lots of ambitions like that. But when I had to give up mystudies I learned very quickly that none of it mattered.” (Camus 41) So, wecan see that Meursault did at one time have some ambition for something otherthan physical pleasures, but once he lost the opportunity to continue hiseducation, he also lost all of his drive. This showed that Meursault was anintelligent man and had the ability to expand his intelligence, but apparentlychose not to. That definitely appeared as bizarre to others. Meursaultstwisted relationship with Marie was totally based on his sexual desires, butwhat became extremely clear was that he was unable to experience love. Meursaultnever once showed any signs of emotion only until he was about to loose his ownlife. Meursault had a hardened soul and could never bring himself to truly loveMarie. He proved just how irrelevant she was to him while he was incarceratedwhen the thought of Marie brought him to say: ” Anyway, after that,remembering Marie meant nothing to me. I wasnt interested in her dead. Thatseemed perfectly normal to me, since I understood very well that people wouldforget me when I was dead” (115). His words were just as hardened as his soulwas. Meursaults relationship with Marie was not the only odd relationship hehad with a female. Meursaults relationship with his mother was almostnon-existent from hindsight. He never saw her, or visited her, and until herdeath she was out of his life so he didnt care much about her, or so itseems. The fact is he did love her; it was just that he never showed it, justlike every other emotion. Meursault thought that putting Maman in the home wasthe best choice for the time being, so she could be cared for better, and stilllive a pleasant life. Yet, Meursault never realized that people considered himas a bad person until his conversation with Old Salamano. In chapter fiveMeursault said: “I still dont know why, but I said that until then Ihadnt realized that people thought badly of me for doing it, but that thehome had seemed like the natural thing since I didnt have enough money tohave Maman cared for.” (45) This realization shocked Meursault because he wasnever aware of the reputation he had in his neighborhood. He didnt want to beseen as a bad person, but his strange actions and self-centered behaviorscreated his image and there was nothing he could do about it. Throughout thenovel, Meursault came into contact with society many times, but each time healways received an awkward response leaving him with the feeling like anintruder or an outsider. Meursaults interactions with society such as thefuneral director, Mamans friends, Raymond, the Chaplain, and the courtroomall provide substantial reasoning for societys perception of him as astranger. Beginning with the funeral director, Meursault caused an awkwardfeeling between him and the director because of his bizarre comments. Notwanting to see his mother one last time, smoking during the memorial service,and not even knowing his own mothers age proves to be outrageous whencompared to the average human beings social and moral standards. But the factis Meursault is not the average human being. Helene Poplyansky beautifullyexplained this when she said: Meursault is far from social convention orintellectual problems; what counts for him are his own sensations and desires.
He is an outsider not only for others but also for himself. He looks at himselfwithout trying to analyze his actions and their consequences. (Poplyansky 80) Byacting the way he did, Meursault almost forced his image as a stranger uponhimself. Also, the closest thing to a friend that Meursault had was Raymond.
Initially, Raymond appeared as a crude man without any morals, comparable toMeursault at times, and he behaved in an absurd manner. Yet, he attempted tocreate a bond with Meursault and some could say that Meursault accepted it, Ihowever do not. From the first time Raymond appeared in the novel Meursaultseemed uneasy to Raymonds motives, as if he didnt trust him. This feelingnever went away either. Even though the two did spend time together andMeursault did him a favor by writing him a letter, Meursault always seemed tonever truly consider his friendship. Not only was Meursault unable to show anysigns of emotion with women, he is unable to show any signs of emotion to hissomewhat of a companion. Meursaults final interaction with the chaplainshowed how Meursault was unable to connect with and understand othersperspectives. Meursault did enjoy their meetings, but only because he had noother contact with the outside world; he only wanted to be entertained insteadof sharing any sort of friendship. The difference between Meursault and the restof society, courtesy of the chaplain, became blatantly clear when he and thechaplain discussed their views of after life and religion. Meursault neverthought that the way in which he was living was wrong or even sinful and that iswhat set him apart from every other human being. His lack of awareness andignorance for social values appeared in chapter five, when the chaplain said:”More could be asked of you. And it may be asked. And whats that? You couldbe asked to see. See what?” (Camus 118) The chaplain was only asking Meursaultto try and understand where he was coming from and what he believed in. Religionnever played a role in Meursaults life and he was too stubborn to try and beopen-minded about it. His stubborn attitude and close-mindedness never permittedhim to even understand where others were coming form, he didnt have to acceptit but he could have at least given others beliefs a chance. You could even sayMeursault was blind in a sense that he never opened up so that he could getalong with others. He always saw life in a totally different perspective thaneveryone else and could never be rationed with. The obvious difference betweenMeursault and others became clear when the chaplain explained to Meursault thatthe stones on the walls in his cell appeared as the face of God and salvation.
Meursault responded by saying: This perked me up a little. I said I had beenlooking at the stones in those walls for months. There wasnt anything oranyone in the world I knew better. Maybe at one time, way back, I had searchedfor a face in them. But the face I was looking for was as bright as the sun andthe flame of desire and it belonged to Marie. I had searched for it in vain.
Now it was all over. And in any case, Id never seen anything emerge from anysweating stones.” (119) The chaplains perspective of the stone walls inMeursaults cell was totally different from what Meursault perceived them as,and within those lines it symbolized Meursaults and societys conflictingviews. The cell represented society and the stones represented the people withinMeursaults life. He lived his entire life around those stones and had neverseen any faces like the chaplain had. The only face he was looking for wasMaries, or, in actuality, lust. He lived his life pursuing his desires and iteventually led him to the cell. But how Meursault didnt see the facesrepresented him as a total stranger to society because society was the faces,symbolically speaking. Meursaults own perception of his life and society isonly half of the evidence that proved him to be the stranger. Society too hadtheir perceptions of him and it also left us with the same conclusion, thatMeursault was the stranger. Meursault did live his life on his own and neverdepended on others for anything, but the fact remains that he left a lastingimpression on those whom he encountered. During Meursaults trial, theprosecutor basically reviewed all of societys impressions of Meursault andhow he was a self-absorbed bastard. He constantly accused Meursault of beinginconsiderate and cold-hearted by bringing up instances in his life that hadnothing to do with the actual shooting. Stephen Bronner also stated:”Meursault is innocent of the crimes for which he is actually sentenced andguilty of what is essentially ignored” (Bronner, Portrait 34) This proves howMeursaults previous actions of indifference even caused the prosecutor toportray him as an evil person. The prosecutor molded an image of Meursault thatappeared as if he was the devil incarnate, and he made it seem as if Meursaultintentionally set out to cause pain and anguish, when really Meursaults onlycrime was ignorance. It was as if he intentionally set out to cause others painand anguish, when really Meursaults only crime was that of ignorance. Yes hewas inconsiderate, but the fact is that he didnt know any better and no oneis able to change that without the help from others. People perceived Meursaultas though he didnt care about their feelings, causing him to be labeled as ahorrible person. Another contributing factor to societys perception ofMeursault was his quiet nature. Meursault did not speak unless he feels it wastotally necessary, and even then he sometimes will still keep to himself. Otherpeople expect reactions out of people in social interactions and when theydont receive one, what are they supposed to assume? In this case, people sawhis quiet nature as an insult and refuse to understand his true nature.
Meursaults removed himself from a lot of lifes complications and tried tolive the most simple life possible. Unlike the rest of society, he didntbother with things that required effort, which seemed as if he didnt like toexpress himself. However, a lot can be misunderstood from silence. Meursaultssilence appeared as ignorance, yet, Jean Paul Sartre stated: “A mansvirility lies more in what he keeps to himself than in what he says.”(Sartre3) His silence didnt represent insecurity or a lack of consideration. How areothers to know what someone else is really thinking? Meursaults appearance tosociety was judged from the wrong criteria. People overlooked what his truepersonality was and what his true intentions were, causing him to appear as anunwanted stranger. Meursaults character and interactions throughout the novelcan only make a person wonder about his motives even though we, the reader,think we have a insight over the society that he lived in. All of Meursaultsproblems and complications were all because of his appearance as a stranger,which he caused through his ignorance of social conventions. Yet, it makes mewonder why are strangers always seen as unwanted and why does a natural fear ofthem arise? The fact is that strangers are labeled and in some way disrupt apersons environment. What a person can not understand makes them defensive,and when a person is defensive they scrutinize what they dont understand,only to make themselves feel better. Meursault fits the bill for this becausewhen something goes wrong, for example the shooting, someone needs to be blamed,and no better person than a stranger, Meursault, to take the fall. Also, sinceMeursault was so oblivious to others, I realized that the possibility ofMeursault not having a father figure around could have been a cause of some ofhis problems. The absence of a father causes a child to grow up differently frommost of society, which usually does grow up with a father, and it creates thequestion, is the father to blame? We assume not, but since Meursault isdefinitely an odd character it makes us wonder. Meursault lived his lifedifferent from any other, never aware of others and completely focused on hispersonal satisfaction. Yet, after understanding his mentality and motivationsthat caused people to label him as a stranger, he can not be totally blamed forhis actions. I am not saying that the way Meursault lived his life was justifiednor were his actions because he did live a self-centered life. What I am sayingis that his true crime was ignorance. Meursault was almost like a young childthat was never taught right from wrong and how to be considerate of others. Henever deliberately set out to cause harm or pain on anyone, he just didntknow any better. Yet, Meursault was given a chance to realize how he lived hislife was wrong only after his judgement. He understood that what he had done waswrong and that every action has a consequence, and his consequence was death.
The only shame in the matter is that society is just as responsible as he isbecause they should have taken the responsibility of teaching him social valuesand even morals. Meursault deserved to be punished for his actions, but beingput to death is never justified for being inconsiderate. Now, his fate wouldnever leave him, but neither would his past. So, Meursaults actions could notbe erased from time and his appearance as the actual stranger to society that issomething he can never change. Justified or unjustified, Meursault will alwaysbe the stranger.
BibliographyBronner, Stephen Eric Albert Camus: The Thinker, The Artist, The Man. GroilerPublishing Co., Inc., 1996 —. Camus: Portrait of a Moralist. Minneapolis:University of Minnesota Press, 1999 Camus, Albert The Stranger. New York:Random, 1988 Carruth, Hayden After the Stranger: Imaginary Dialogues with Camus.
New York: The Macmillian Company, 1965 Poplyansky, Helene. CamussLEtranger: Fifty Years On. New York: St. Martins Press, Inc., 1992 Sartre,Jean-Paul. An Explication of The Stranger Prentice Hall, Inc., 1962Strange, Alice J. “Camus The Stranger.” The Explicator (1997): 36-37