Monsieur Meursault: Basic Nihilist or Trapped Sentimentalist?

Throughout Albert Camus’s novel, The Stranger, it is clear that Meursault lives a painfully neutral life and is emotionally detached from others. Is he truly this basic and plain, or is there some emotion inside of him?

First, it is important to ask if Meursault has always been the way he is now. When Meursault is offered an opportunity to work in Paris from his boss, he is unsurprisingly unenthusiastic. However, we receive some of his own personal insight when he debates changing his life. He recalls that when he was a student, “[he] had lots of ambitions….” (41). Holding any type of ambition contradicts Meursault’s current personality. He most likely was not so emotionless when he was younger….

Occasionally, Meursault will subtly reveal that he cares about what others think. When Meursault and his girlfriend are hanging out with some friends, a character called Masson makes Meursault’s girlfriend laugh “for some reason” in Meursault’s perspective. It seems that Meursault doesn’t know why. Meursault proceeds to believe that “she’d had a little too much to drink” (52). Meursault feels a little bit jealous, and cares that he is not the one making his girlfriend laugh.

Glimmers of Meursault’s emotional connections to others appear throughout The Stranger. When Meursault heard his neighbor crying about his lost dog, he “for some reason [he] thought of his mom” (39). It seems like Meursault feels a bit of remorse for his deceased mother, but something is preventing him from understanding why.

I would argue that Meursault used to be much more emotional, but something caused him to become disconnected from others.

4 thoughts on “Monsieur Meursault: Basic Nihilist or Trapped Sentimentalist?

  1. Maggie B.

    I agree with this as well and I like your examination of simple comments he makes throughout the passages and events. I actually was thinking something similar in the way that initially Meursault is perceived as not caring, but in reality there are hints of his opinion or emtions that are pointing readers in unexpected directions as we are trying to define who he is. I think you were right in your assumption that he used to feel more emotionally free to express who he is or what he was thinking more often.


  2. LEO G

    I like this idea of some sort of underlying sentiment behind Meursault. I, too, recognized his hint at having more ambition when he was younger and living the motivated life of a student. Yet, it does contrast a little too much with his current state that it makes me a bit suspicious. Was there some sort of life-changing event or even an existential crisis that transformed his perspective about his own free will, causing him to fall into this endless cycle of indifference? I think it would be interesting to find any evidence that would suggest this.


  3. Bella N.

    I definitely agree with the points that you are making. I think that the lack of emotion he displays throughout the first part of the story make the little bits of emotion we do get from him all the more important. I almost wonder if he’s afraid to allow himself to feel too much. Going off of what you said at the end of your post, perhaps he got hurt in the past because due to his emotions and is unwilling to go through that experience again.



    Lovely article, but I would classify his personality not as nihilistic but as apathetic. Nihilism is the belief that life lacks any true meaning or moral system, apathy is someone who does not care. Nihilists can care about their surroundings, but someone who is apathetic is someone who cannot care. Now, most people who experience apathy would probably care about some things, but they would be apathetic about a certain thing or they just might not have the ability to express feelings at that moment. Apathy is not permanent, at least not intrinsically, and I think this might be true for him too. I bet he cares about some things.


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