Is Meursault a Bad Person?

Meursault clearly sees the world analytically — he is highly observational, he doesn’t express high emotional attachment, and he makes decisions based on what little wants and what he thinks makes sense. This does not mean that he is selfish, in fact, he often acts unselfishly, agreeing to others’ requests even if he gains nothing from completing those requests.

Even though as readers we may judge the lack of attachment, ambition, or emotional understanding expressed by Meursault, this itself does not make him a bad person. It is simply a different view of life. Where this becomes tricky is how Meursault’s incapability to emotionally connect with others affect his decision making and relationships with others. 

For example, Meursault seems to be emotionally abusive to Marie. When she asks him if he loves her, he bluntly responds, “It didn’t mean anything but I probably didn’t love her” (41). Such a harsh answer seems like a horrible thing to say, and it is evident that he doesn’t really care for her on a deep level, even though she expresses a desire to be cared about. But, even though he can treat Marie poorly like this, he still respects her decision making in the sense that he won’t consciously try to hurt her, and if she left him for being hurtful then he would let her. Therefore, if Marie is hurt, it is partly her fault too, for allowing herself to be hurt. This definitely does not make Meursault’s treatment of Marie okay, but the complexity behind it means that it does not make him a fully bad person, just a flawed one.

Similar logic can be applied to many other of Meursault’s actions, such as agreeing to help Raymond abuse his girlfriend, turning a blind eye to his neighbor’s treatment of the dog, and even when he killed the man on the beach. Not one of these times did he do these things in an attempt to be hurtful, which would theoretically make him a flawed person. However, this argument must be used carefully. The difference in these situations and Marie is the agency of the other person involved. Unlike Marie, the girlfriend could not choose not to be abused. The dog cannot freely escape his owner. The man could not decide not to be shot. It is here where Meursault’s inability to empathize becomes not just a flaw but something that makes him a bad person. 

I conclude that Meursault is a bad person in the sense that he is the sole contributor of harm caused to other people. Of course, the definition of “bad person” can be slippery, depending on one’s own interpretation of the meaning. It follows that this would change the nature of the conclusion on whether Meursault is or is not a bad person.

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