Is it Valid to Label Meursault with Antisocial Personality Disorder?

At the start of part two of The Stranger Meursalt states, “I probably did love Maman, but that didn’t mean anything… he asked me if he could say that that day I held back my natural feelings. I said, ‘No, because it’s not true’ (65).” Once I got to this point of the story it really got me thinking, Is Meursault a psychopath? Or is he just living life correctly? I was sure that he exhibited similar characteristics, but here I will take time to analyze his behavior and determine whether he is a psychopath or not. 

Psychopaths have what is called antisocial personality disorder. According to the encyclopedia Britannica, “Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a pervasive pattern of disregard for the feelings of others and often accompanied by violation of the rights of others through negligence or overt action.” I feel that upon first glance it is easy for readers to make this connection. Meursault throughout the story shows a lack of empathy for others, especially when considering how he acted at his mothers funeral. He does not seem to care about much other than physical disturbances and he did not even feel remorse for killing the Arab. This is jarring, considering that most people would feel quite the opposite in all of these situations. 

However, after thinking more about it, antisocial personality disorder is not only a matter of lacking empathy, there is far more too it. For example, people with the disorder have issues maintaining social norms, causing them to have difficulties with employment. Although Meursault does not care much for social norms, he seems to be perfectly fine at work. He does not show any instances of challenging his boss or the people around him, he is simply indifferent. Additionally, people with the disorder tend to use charming mechanisms to manipulate or treat others badly with harsh indifference. Meanwhile Meursault is indeed indifferent in many of his relationships, he does not try to manipulate people close to him or treat them poorly. Finally, I wanted to highlight that most people with antisocial personality disorder lie in an excessive amount. However, it is evident that Meursault is quite the opposite. There has never really been an instance in which he has lied after being asked a question. This is especially seen when he was questioned by his lawyer. When the lawyer asked whether he held back his natural feelings, Meursault answered honestly, no. This is only one case of Meursault answering with pure honesty despite consideration of how the truth will impact others’ outlook on him.

Therefore, upon initial glance of Meursault’s character in the story, it is easy to label him as a psychopath. However, his lack of empathy is the only strong psychopath characteristic he exhibits. Other than that, he does not exhibit the other symptoms enough to label him with the disorder and instead is simply indifferent. I would like to conclude that Meursault does not have antisocial personality disorder, he just has a different view on life and how to live it. He is an existentialist.

7 thoughts on “Is it Valid to Label Meursault with Antisocial Personality Disorder?

  1. Josephine D

    I’m really glad that someone finally brought up this point. There has been a lot of throwing around of the term “psychopath” in my class’s discussions about Meursault, without really thinking critically about what the term means or why we are so quick to label Meursault with it. I agree with you that Meursault does not exhibit most of the standard symptoms of antisocial personality disorder such as deceitfulness, manipulation, or being motivated by personal gain. I think the fact that we are so quick to label Meursault with a mental illness definitely says something about how we are quick to pathologize people who don’t conform to society’s expectations of behavior.

    On the other hand, Meursault does kill someone, which probably demonstrates that he is not entirely mentally healthy! The definition of a mental illness, according to the American Psychiatric Association, is “a major disturbance in an individual’s thinking, feelings, or behavior that reflects a problem in mental function. Mental disorders cause distress or disability in social, work, or family activities.”

    While Meursault’s atypical behavior and mental state do not cause him distress, they definitely cause distress for others, as well as causing disability by making it impossible for him to function in society (he gets thrown in jail). Therefore, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Meursault is mentally ill.

    That said, a hardcore existentialist might say that it is society’s problem that it won’t accept Meursault, that Meursault is living out a true, honest life. But when it comes down to it, if everyone behaved the way Meursault did, killing senselessly and without remorse, our society would be mass chaos full of even more suffering than it already is. So I believe that there is actually something mentally wrong with Meursault, even if it is not antisocial personality disorder.

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  2. Asta S

    I agree with this completely. I find Meursault’s character to be far more complex than simply labeling him with antisocial personality disorder. Meursault is obsessed with telling the truth and I love how you highlighted that as one of your reasons for Meursault not being an antisocial personality disorder. Overall I agree with this analysis on Meursault’s persona, he is much more an existentialist than a sociopath.

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  3. mayap

    I think this analysis is really interesting, because when I first read this book, I initially thought he had some sociopathic tendencies as well. But the breakdown of his actions relating to existentialism is really interesting and proves a very cool point, that he isn’t a sociopath, he just has a unique outlook on life.

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  4. SYDNEY G

    This is a very interesting point to bring up, and it has sparked my interest as well. I think that you could make an argument on either side, either he does have antisocial personality disorder or he doesn’t, but I believe the argument you made was the most accurate and the reasons you provided successfully supported your point. Meursault’s characterization is not one that reflects the true aspects of antisocial personality disorder, rather those of an existentialist. Great post!

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  5. EMILY I

    I really like this analysis of Meursault. You mentioned how initially people consider him a psychopath, but his other characteristics reveal that he does not have antisocial personality disorder. In fact, Meursault’s lawyer describes him as “an honest man, a steadily employed, tireless worker, loyal… well liked, and sympathetic” (104). Although Meursault may come off as a little strange because he does not follow social norms, he continues to live a normal life.

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  6. Geneva D

    When I was reading I also was wondering if Meursault was a psychopath. In my class we also discussed if Meursault was on the spectrum. I think that these are very interesting arguments especially because I would assume that Camus didn’t write the book for us to dissect the main character. I think it would be really interesting to have longer class discussions on this.

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  7. Lily D

    I agree with what you said. I feel like Meursault isn’t evil enough to be a psychopath. However his lack of emotion is very questionable. This breakdown helped me understand the character of Meursault better.

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