Stranger Essay

The way a person reacts to ordinary situations determines the opinions of others
based on their behavior. Yet, when this behavior is abnormal or different from
the rest of society, it causes society to form an opinion based totally on a
persons behavior not their true personality. In Meursaults case, his
strange opinions and unexpected remarks put him in this position, without ever
really giving him an opportunity to be truly understood. However, Meursault
cannot change his actions and behaviors from the past, therefore making him
responsible in the society he freely chooses to live in. Meursaults complete
indifference to society and human relationships causes him to appear as the
actual “stranger” with those he encounters, which eventually leads to his
incarceration and inevitable date with the guillotine. Meursault is definitely a
man who is set in his ways. He has his own opinions and outlooks on life and
because of that fact he is constantly reminded of his inadequacies within
society. His refusal to look at his mother one last time after she had passed
away seemed pointless to Meursault at the time, where as the funeral director
viewed this as extremely odd: “We put the cover on, but Im supposed to
unscrew the casket so you can see her.” He was moving toward the casket when I
stopped him. He said, “You dont want to?” I answered, “No.” He was
quiet, 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 he
just wanted to know. I said, “I dont know.” (Camus 6) The difference of
opinion between Meursault and all of society, but in this example the funeral
director, brought about a feeling of inadequacy to Meursault and an appearance
of him as a stranger to society. Alice J. Strange explains his situation
perfectly by saying: Holding Meursault to his words, and recognizing the voids
they reveal, the reader sees Meursault as the stranger…. (Strange 3)
Throughout the novel, these encounters and/or relationships gradually set
Meursault aside from society. His encounter with the Arab shows how the presence
of other people in his life makes absolutely no impression on him. Taking the
Arabs life was something he did as a natural reaction, he pulled the trigger
thinking it was justified where as any normal human being would think other
wise. Once on trial, Meursault constantly observed the people in the courtroom
as if he had no idea of how the rest of society lived. Every thing he saw was
new to him and it brought him a feeling of excitement, as if he was enjoying
being on trial. Fear only came after his verdict. He didnt even consider his
fate early on in the trial because he was in awe of the rest of society; their
behaviors and actions were all new to him. In chapter three part two Meursault
explained this by saying: Usually people didnt pay much attention to me. It
took some doing on my part to understand that I was the cause of all the
excitement. I said to the policeman, “Some crowd!” He told me it was because
of the press and he pointed to a group of men at a table just below the jury
box. He said, “Thats them.” (83-84) The only thing Meursault is worried
about is the press, not the fact that his fate is about to be determined by a
group of people that dont even know him. He doesnt even care about death
at this point, only how he is excited to see all these new people and be able to
watch the court proceedings. Before Meursaults incarceration, he lived a life
of desire based on his own satisfaction. His life was completely self-centered
and focused on his own physical pleasures. Meursaults obsession with his own
desires can be explained by saying that: His contempt for man-made
necessities, such as religion, morality, government, is supreme; but his
attitude toward natural coercion, hunger, sex, the weather, etc., though less
explicit, seems almost equally disdainful. Meursault is a non-participant (Carruth
8-9). He took absolutely no consideration of others feelings and how his
actions affected them. Meursaults love of smoking, eating, drinking, having
sex, swimming and being outside, all of which are physical pleasures, are taken
to extremes. Take away these and try to imagine what Meursault would be like. He
would be practically lifeless because he wouldnt enjoy anything. He is never
concerned with what is going on in other areas of his life or others. His
satisfaction comes above everything else in his life and controls everything he
does. Also, Meursaults relationship with Marie was totally based on sex
rather than love. He had sex with her purely out of lust and only to satisfy
himself. At no point did he intentionally have sex with her to express his love
for her; love was never part of his intentions. Another example of how he based
his own satisfaction ahead of everything else was how Meursault went to see a
comical movie the day after he buried his mother. He wasnt worried about his
mother at all; the only thing that he was concentrating on was having a good
time. He was able to laugh and enjoy himself knowing that his own mother had
just passed away, something that obviously made little impact on him. His
physical pleasures dominated his life and forced him to behave the way he did.

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By letting these physical pleasures dominate his life, he created an attitude
and behavior that was unaccepted and seen as wrong to the rest of society. Even
though Meursault let his physical pleasures control his life, he was however
satisfied with the life he was living; completely content with where he was in
his life. He never asked anything from anyone and never once expected anything
from others. Stephen Bronner puts this into perspective by saying: “Meursault
is passive, unreflective, and compulsive. He is a prototype of the absurd
man who seeks no questions and tells no lies.” (Bronner, The Thinker 44)
Mr. Bronner explained that Meursault set himself apart from others through his
passive nature and lived extremely independent. This attitude is proven even
further when Meursault refused a promotion based on the fact that he was
satisfied with the life he had then: He was planning to open an office in Paris
that would handle his business directly with the big companies, on the spot, and
he wanted to know how I felt about going there. Id be able to live in Paris
and to travel around for part of the year as well. “Youre young, and it
seems to me its the kind of life that would appeal to you.” I said yes but
that really it was all the same to me. Then he asked me if I wasnt interested
in a change of life. I said that people never change their lives, that in any
case one life was as good as another and that I wasnt dissatisfied with mine
here at all. He looked upset and told me that I never gave him a straight
answer, that I had no ambition, and that I was disastrous in business. (41) The
thought of ambition and success never even crossed his mind and turning down the
opportunity made no difference to him. He could care less about what his boss
and others thought because he was only concerned about himself. This would
appear extremely strange to anyone because why in the world would anyone not
want to earn more money, respect, power and even have the opportunity to live in
Paris? Meursaults problem was obviously that he had absolutely no ambition.


This became blatantly obvious in chapter five when Meursault said: “When I was
a student, I had lots of ambitions like that. But when I had to give up my
studies I learned very quickly that none of it mattered.” (Camus 41) So, we
can see that Meursault did at one time have some ambition for something other
than physical pleasures, but once he lost the opportunity to continue his
education, he also lost all of his drive. This showed that Meursault was an
intelligent man and had the ability to expand his intelligence, but apparently
chose not to. That definitely appeared as bizarre to others. Meursaults
twisted relationship with Marie was totally based on his sexual desires, but
what became extremely clear was that he was unable to experience love. Meursault
never once showed any signs of emotion only until he was about to loose his own
life. Meursault had a hardened soul and could never bring himself to truly love
Marie. He proved just how irrelevant she was to him while he was incarcerated
when the thought of Marie brought him to say: ” Anyway, after that,
remembering Marie meant nothing to me. I wasnt interested in her dead. That
seemed perfectly normal to me, since I understood very well that people would
forget me when I was dead” (115). His words were just as hardened as his soul
was. Meursaults relationship with Marie was not the only odd relationship he
had with a female. Meursaults relationship with his mother was almost
non-existent from hindsight. He never saw her, or visited her, and until her
death she was out of his life so he didnt care much about her, or so it
seems. The fact is he did love her; it was just that he never showed it, just
like every other emotion. Meursault thought that putting Maman in the home was
the best choice for the time being, so she could be cared for better, and still
live a pleasant life. Yet, Meursault never realized that people considered him
as a bad person until his conversation with Old Salamano. In chapter five
Meursault said: “I still dont know why, but I said that until then I
hadnt realized that people thought badly of me for doing it, but that the
home had seemed like the natural thing since I didnt have enough money to
have Maman cared for.” (45) This realization shocked Meursault because he was
never aware of the reputation he had in his neighborhood. He didnt want to be
seen as a bad person, but his strange actions and self-centered behaviors
created his image and there was nothing he could do about it. Throughout the
novel, Meursault came into contact with society many times, but each time he
always received an awkward response leaving him with the feeling like an
intruder or an outsider. Meursaults interactions with society such as the
funeral director, Mamans friends, Raymond, the Chaplain, and the courtroom
all provide substantial reasoning for societys perception of him as a
stranger. Beginning with the funeral director, Meursault caused an awkward
feeling between him and the director because of his bizarre comments. Not
wanting to see his mother one last time, smoking during the memorial service,
and not even knowing his own mothers age proves to be outrageous when
compared to the average human beings social and moral standards. But the fact
is Meursault is not the average human being. Helene Poplyansky beautifully
explained this when she said: Meursault is far from social convention or
intellectual 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 himself
without trying to analyze his actions and their consequences. (Poplyansky 80) By
acting the way he did, Meursault almost forced his image as a stranger upon
himself. Also, the closest thing to a friend that Meursault had was Raymond.


Initially, Raymond appeared as a crude man without any morals, comparable to
Meursault at times, and he behaved in an absurd manner. Yet, he attempted to
create a bond with Meursault and some could say that Meursault accepted it, I
however do not. From the first time Raymond appeared in the novel Meursault
seemed uneasy to Raymonds motives, as if he didnt trust him. This feeling
never went away either. Even though the two did spend time together and
Meursault did him a favor by writing him a letter, Meursault always seemed to
never truly consider his friendship. Not only was Meursault unable to show any
signs of emotion with women, he is unable to show any signs of emotion to his
somewhat of a companion. Meursaults final interaction with the chaplain
showed how Meursault was unable to connect with and understand others
perspectives. Meursault did enjoy their meetings, but only because he had no
other contact with the outside world; he only wanted to be entertained instead
of sharing any sort of friendship. The difference between Meursault and the rest
of society, courtesy of the chaplain, became blatantly clear when he and the
chaplain discussed their views of after life and religion. Meursault never
thought that the way in which he was living was wrong or even sinful and that is
what set him apart from every other human being. His lack of awareness and
ignorance 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 could
be asked to see. See what?” (Camus 118) The chaplain was only asking Meursault
to try and understand where he was coming from and what he believed in. Religion
never played a role in Meursaults life and he was too stubborn to try and be
open-minded about it. His stubborn attitude and close-mindedness never permitted
him to even understand where others were coming form, he didnt have to accept
it but he could have at least given others beliefs a chance. You could even say
Meursault was blind in a sense that he never opened up so that he could get
along with others. He always saw life in a totally different perspective than
everyone else and could never be rationed with. The obvious difference between
Meursault and others became clear when the chaplain explained to Meursault that
the 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 been
looking at the stones in those walls for months. There wasnt anything or
anyone in the world I knew better. Maybe at one time, way back, I had searched
for a face in them. But the face I was looking for was as bright as the sun and
the 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 any
sweating stones.” (119) The chaplains perspective of the stone walls in
Meursaults cell was totally different from what Meursault perceived them as,
and within those lines it symbolized Meursaults and societys conflicting
views. The cell represented society and the stones represented the people within
Meursaults life. He lived his entire life around those stones and had never
seen any faces like the chaplain had. The only face he was looking for was
Maries, or, in actuality, lust. He lived his life pursuing his desires and it
eventually led him to the cell. But how Meursault didnt see the faces
represented him as a total stranger to society because society was the faces,
symbolically speaking. Meursaults own perception of his life and society is
only half of the evidence that proved him to be the stranger. Society too had
their perceptions of him and it also left us with the same conclusion, that
Meursault was the stranger. Meursault did live his life on his own and never
depended on others for anything, but the fact remains that he left a lasting
impression on those whom he encountered. During Meursaults trial, the
prosecutor basically reviewed all of societys impressions of Meursault and
how he was a self-absorbed bastard. He constantly accused Meursault of being
inconsiderate and cold-hearted by bringing up instances in his life that had
nothing to do with the actual shooting. Stephen Bronner also stated:
“Meursault is innocent of the crimes for which he is actually sentenced and
guilty of what is essentially ignored” (Bronner, Portrait 34) This proves how
Meursaults previous actions of indifference even caused the prosecutor to
portray him as an evil person. The prosecutor molded an image of Meursault that
appeared as if he was the devil incarnate, and he made it seem as if Meursault
intentionally set out to cause pain and anguish, when really Meursaults only
crime was ignorance. It was as if he intentionally set out to cause others pain
and anguish, when really Meursaults only crime was that of ignorance. Yes he
was inconsiderate, but the fact is that he didnt know any better and no one
is able to change that without the help from others. People perceived Meursault
as though he didnt care about their feelings, causing him to be labeled as a
horrible person. Another contributing factor to societys perception of
Meursault was his quiet nature. Meursault did not speak unless he feels it was
totally necessary, and even then he sometimes will still keep to himself. Other
people expect reactions out of people in social interactions and when they
dont receive one, what are they supposed to assume? In this case, people saw
his quiet nature as an insult and refuse to understand his true nature.


Meursaults removed himself from a lot of lifes complications and tried to
live the most simple life possible. Unlike the rest of society, he didnt
bother with things that required effort, which seemed as if he didnt like to
express himself. However, a lot can be misunderstood from silence. Meursaults
silence appeared as ignorance, yet, Jean Paul Sartre stated: “A mans
virility lies more in what he keeps to himself than in what he says.”(Sartre
3) His silence didnt represent insecurity or a lack of consideration. How are
others to know what someone else is really thinking? Meursaults appearance to
society was judged from the wrong criteria. People overlooked what his true
personality was and what his true intentions were, causing him to appear as an
unwanted stranger. Meursaults character and interactions throughout the novel
can 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 Meursaults
problems and complications were all because of his appearance as a stranger,
which he caused through his ignorance of social conventions. Yet, it makes me
wonder why are strangers always seen as unwanted and why does a natural fear of
them arise? The fact is that strangers are labeled and in some way disrupt a
persons 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 because
when 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, since
Meursault was so oblivious to others, I realized that the possibility of
Meursault not having a father figure around could have been a cause of some of
his problems. The absence of a father causes a child to grow up differently from
most of society, which usually does grow up with a father, and it creates the
question, is the father to blame? We assume not, but since Meursault is
definitely an odd character it makes us wonder. Meursault lived his life
different from any other, never aware of others and completely focused on his
personal satisfaction. Yet, after understanding his mentality and motivations
that caused people to label him as a stranger, he can not be totally blamed for
his actions. I am not saying that the way Meursault lived his life was justified
nor were his actions because he did live a self-centered life. What I am saying
is that his true crime was ignorance. Meursault was almost like a young child
that was never taught right from wrong and how to be considerate of others. He
never deliberately set out to cause harm or pain on anyone, he just didnt
know any better. Yet, Meursault was given a chance to realize how he lived his
life was wrong only after his judgement. He understood that what he had done was
wrong 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 is
because they should have taken the responsibility of teaching him social values
and even morals. Meursault deserved to be punished for his actions, but being
put to death is never justified for being inconsiderate. Now, his fate would
never leave him, but neither would his past. So, Meursaults actions could not
be erased from time and his appearance as the actual stranger to society that is
something he can never change. Justified or unjustified, Meursault will always
be the stranger.


Bibliography
Bronner, Stephen Eric Albert Camus: The Thinker, The Artist, The Man. Groiler
Publishing 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. Camuss
LEtranger: Fifty Years On. New York: St. Martins Press, Inc., 1992 Sartre,
Jean-Paul. An Explication of The Stranger Prentice Hall, Inc., 1962
Strange, Alice J. “Camus The Stranger.” The Explicator (1997): 36-37

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