“To Shoot or Not to Shoot”

The end of part one ends with Meursaults overkill of “the Arab.” I was confused as to why Meursault even shot the Arab once because the second time Raymond and he encounter him, Meursault keeps Raymond from shoot by saying, “It’d be pretty lousy to shoot him like that” (56). This seems to be one of the first times, if not the first where we see an ounce of morality in him. He understands that it would be wrong for Raymond to kill this man both because the man doesn’t deserve to die and it Raymond would face consequences.

However, once Meursault is handed the gun for safekeeping, he suddenly has this big realization that whether he kills the man or not kill made no difference in his life or in the world with the line, “It was then that I realized that you could either shoot or not shoot” (56). Although I want a different answer this line seems to show that Meursault killed for no apparent reason at all. He was indifferent to the shooting.

Except why 4 more shots?? He say’s it was like “knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness”(59). Maybe in this instance Meursault was trying to feel some sort of feeling (unhappiness) for what he had just. He knows that his indifference to everything is not normal and deep down wants to feel something even if it’s negative.

2 thoughts on ““To Shoot or Not to Shoot”

  1. Cory Y

    I think that your point about Meursault being indifferent in his attitude is correct, but I also think the situations where Meursault and Raymond were together versus when Meursault was by himself are markedly different. Meursault generally follows some kind of principle along the lines of “act fairly when there is no reason to act differently”, as evidenced by Meursault’s aiding Raymond in writing the letter to his mistress, stating, “I did it just as it came to me, but I tried my best to please Raymond because I didn’t have any reason not to please him” (32). When Meursault and Raymond were together, the Arab men did not show any aggression and in fact backed away. In the second encounter with just Meursault, the Arab man pulled out a knife and Meursault was blinded by sweat in the same instant, possibly panicking and shooting the gun. Therefore, I don’t think it is necessarily a question of Meursault’s morality changing, but the scenario.

    I think your point about Meursault just wanting to feel something is interesting. He states that he was previously happy on the beach and the shot broke that perception, and so it might very well be the case that since he can no longer obtain happiness, he might as well dive straight into unhappiness. The 4 extra shots really do seem irrational and unnecessary, given that it seems Meursault killed the man on the first shot anyway.



    This is a really interesting take and it makes me view that scene in a new way. Initially, I saw Mersault’s motivations for killing the “Arab” as a combination of the indifference you talk about above and the de-personification of the “Arab” seen in the way “Arab” is the only way the narrator references him. It shows a lack of mutual recognition which I think is what allows most killing to happen.
    The added layer of Marsault’s indifference enforces that he has no mutual recognition with his victim. I think the quote where he confirms that he thinks he could “shoot or not shoot”, that it wouldn’t matter is an example of existentialism in “The Stranger”. I disagree that he thinks it wouldn’t “make a difference in his life”. He may be deluded enough to think killing someone would have no effect on his life, but I think it is more likely that he thinks it makes no difference in the grand scheme of things.


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