Who is Meursault?

In the novel The Stranger we are introduced to the character named Meursault is someone who does not seem to make true emotional connections and is emotionless for most of the story. An example of this behavior can be noted after Marie, Meursault’s girlfriend, asks him if he wants to marry her, “I said it didn’t make any difference and that we could if she wanted to. Then she wanted to know if I loved her. I answered the same way I had last time, that it didn’t mean anything but that I probably didn’t love her” (41). Meursault’s behavior is interesting because he doesn’t seem to have or even want to have an emotional connection and makes that evident. His mannerisms are interesting as well because he consistently describes what he’s doing, whether that’s waking up in the morning after spending the night with Marie as he “rolled over, tried to find the salty smell Marie’s hair had left on the pillow”(21) or following a girl home whom he did not know.

It’s interesting that he does this because it allows us (the readers) to see how he views things and his thought processes behind some of his actions. From this we can conclude that he thinks in a more realistic but also beautiful way. In Chapter 2, while Meursault is at home watching the events taking place over the balcony, he describes, “…the passing clouds had left a hint of rain hanging over the street, which made it look darker…The sky changed again. Above the rooftops the sky had taken a reddish glow, and with an evening coming on the streets came to life”(23). Meursault is a very descriptive when he talks about a person or thing that he sees, and this allows the reader to see how beautifully he sees the world, which sparks the inference that his mindset (being more closed off from people and living in the moment) allows someone to see the beauty of the world and the beauty of life really. However, in Meursault’s case, though he sees the world with such beauty, he also does not refect any emotion towards anyone which seems confusing. Meursault is a complex character and his view of the world, for the most part is interesting, while he does not seem to be interested in emotional connections, to the point where he kills a man.

Living to Live

Throughout Albert Camus’, The Stranger, Mersault struggles deriving the true meaning of his life. He at first struggles with conforming to social expectation and what people say the meaning of life is. Throughout the novel we see Mersault’s attitude towards Marie as emotionless and disconnected, but towards the end of the novel we get a true insight into his feelings, “I had been looking at the stones in these walls for months. There wasn’t 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 f desire – and it belonged to Marie” (119). This seems to show that Mersault felt more that just a physical attraction to Marie and one could even say he loved her, but as we approach the end of the novel Mersault’s confrontation with the priest seems to shatter his attachment to any socially expected means of life and his attachment to the idea of love. After becoming annoyed with the priest Mersault says, “I..told him not to wast his prayers on me…. None of his certainties was worth one hair of a woman head. He wasn’t even sure he was alive because he was living like a dead man…we’re all elected by the same fate” (120-121). His confrontation with the priest caused him to realize the only meaning to life was living because everyone died in the end, regardless of what they did during their lives.

I personally agree with this outlook on life. The compliance to the falsified meanings of life such as success, money, power, religion, or love seem to cause more pain than they do happiness. People try to achieve these things before they die, often focused on the past or future. This disconnect from the present moment causes them to miss the experiences right in front of them, and in the end then only thing you really have before death is what you have done and experienced.

Sociopath or Sane?

Mersault, the main character in Camus’ novel The Stranger appears to have no true emotion. He senselessly shoots an Arab man on the beach, and seems to feel no remorse although he understands he is guilty. He confides, “I knew I’d shattered the balance of the day, the spacious calm of this beach on which I had been happy. But I fired four shots more into the inert body, on which they left no visible trace.” Mersault’s lack of guilt and continuous display of disinterest with his mother’s death, his friends, and the woman he is romantically involved with gives the reader good reason to believe he is not normal, seeing as he exhibits many sociopathic tendencies. However, existentialists may argue he is completely sane. Existentialists believe there is no overarching meaning to life – that we are all free and responsible for determining our own existence. An existentialist would argue that Mersault is not crazy, he is free. He is free from the social expectations that cause guilt, pain, and suffering. In that sense, perhaps Mersault is not crazy. Perhaps he is simply free from society’s expectations and is living exactly the way he wants to.

My Thoughts

I honestly don’t know how to judge Mersault’s character. I have had times in my life where I have agreed with some existentialist ideals, but I always go back and forth. Critics of existentialism would say existentialists are cynics, unable to find joy in life. Existentialists would say their critics are slaves who derive life’s meaning from what they have been told to believe in. They would say they are not cynics, they are simply free. Whose to say which side of the argument is right? I have no idea which I agree with. I know there is nothing more to our existence besides ourselves, I understand that I rule my path. But I, as I’m sure most do, hate the idea that there is nothing more. That there isn’t really love, philanthropy, or individual values. I think it’s a really interesting debate, and The Stranger gives an excellent explanation to existentialism and the essence of life, especially in the last few pages. It really helped me grasp the existentialist point of view. As of now, I really don’t have an answer, but I look forward to continuing this conversation in class and learning more so I can broaden my perspective.

Is Existentialism Deterministic?

In “The Myth of Sisyphus”, Albert Camus argues that Sisyphus, the hero of the absurd, is happy in his supposed punishment to eternally push a boulder up a hill. He reasons that in order for the punishment to be real, Sisyphus must be conscious of his own condition. Since Sisyphus continues to press on regardless of the futility of his task, Camus reasons that Sisyphus must therefore be content with his fate. “[A]ll is well” (20) and Sisyphus can find fulfillment in the endless task of rolling the boulder up the hill and watching it fall back down. He is therefore happy.

According to Camus, “If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is, but one which [the absurd man] concludes is inevitable and despicable” (20). The crux of the existentialist viewpoint as endorsed by “The Myth of Sisyphus” is that life is full of random violence, the most brutal of which being the inevitability of death. We are therefore free from any obligation to any societal constraints or illusions imposed upon us, since the inevitability of death means that none of it matters. This seems to result in the conclusion that people freed by existentialism can now act out their own lives with a free will as radical subjects. As Camus writes in The Stranger from the perspective of Meursault, “I had lived my life one way and I could just as well have lived it another. I had done this and I hadn’t done that. I hadn’t done this thing but I had done another. And so?…Nothing, nothing mattered, and I knew why” (121). An absurd hero controls their own fate.

Determinism, or the idea that all things that have and will happen are inevitable consequences of the ‘initial event’, seems to be clearly incompatible with the concept of ‘radical subjectivism’. Free will is defined in this blogpost as the inverse of determinism, that each person is ultimately free to act outside of the influence of their environment. This idea is clearly expressed in Baron d’Holbach’s article “We Are Completely Determined”, in which he explains that if science is to be accepted as being fundamentally true, then free will can be concluded as an illusion made up by our minds to provide the veneer of control. According to d’Holbach, “Man’s life is a line that nature commands him to describe upon the surface of the earth, without his ever being able to swerve from it.” Free will is an illusion created by the complexity of the mind, where one is “unable to unravel all these motions…and supposes himself a free agent.”

The structure of this argument is curiously similar to those made by existentialists to destroy societal notions, but it would seem a lack of free will would contradict the idea that once one was free from societal notions, they could now be master of their own fate – under the doctrine of determinism, that person was always going to become an existentialist, and the actions they take now as a ‘radical subjectivist’ were already predetermined by the fundamental laws of the universe.

To resolve this seeming contradiction, there must be one of two conclusions made about determinism and free will:

  • The world is deterministic and our belief in free will is an illusion. However, this illusion is acceptable as a substitute for real free will in our actions as individuals.
  • The world is not completely deterministic.

The first conclusion would be unacceptable to any self-respecting illusion-breaker. If existentialism and its conclusions about the human condition are taken as a fact, in a deterministic world, we still do not really control our fates. The second conclusion is exceedingly difficult to prove, but its existence as the only other option means that if we are to understand Camus as being correct and Sisyphus to be happy, then d’Holbach must be wrong. Existence precedes essence and necessitates freedom of will.

Meursault and His Mother

Meursault, throughout The Stranger by Albert Camus, is characterized by having very little emotional connections with anyone. The prosecutor portrayed him as soulless, failing to even cry at his own mother’s funeral. In fact, the prosecutor happily pointed out that Meursault was “swimming, starting up a dubious liaison, and going to the movies, a comedy, for laughs” the day after his mother had died (94). While Meursault may have not outwardly displayed affection or traditional grief towards his mother, he clearly listened to her and took her words to heart while she was alive.

In part 2, Meursault mentions the words and advice of his mother that help him get through prison. Meursault after acknowledging Maman’s often repeated philosophy “that after a while you could get used to anything,” concedes that he too could have gotten used to living in the trunk of a dead tree (77). During his time of thought he chooses to remember his mother (which is significant since he barely thinks about other important people in his life such as Marie) and ponder her expressions. Meursault thinks of his mother again when he contemplates her death and his own. He can relate to the sense of freedom and finally understands that even “where lives were fading out, evening was a kind of wistful respite” (122). Impeding death, when accepted, is a sense of freedom that allows an individual to be ready to live all over again. Meursault realizes that “nobody had the right to cry over her” (122).

Meursault was able to commemorate his mother in a way that felt authentic to himself. Thinking of her during meaningful times allowed him to keep her alive in his mind. Meursault finally comes to the conclusion that while everyone was telling him that he was “weird” and “different” for not crying, he may have been the one doing the most appropriate thing by not being sad and continuing to live his own life.