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.
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.
3 thoughts on “Sociopath or Sane?”
I personally side more with the existentialist take on life. I think not being captive to social expectations is true freedom. From my experience, the strive for success and money, as well as love and other things, causes much more pain than happiness and by freeing yourself from the captivity of those social norms you would also be freeing yourself from the suffering associated with them. I also think that achieving what people believe to be the meaning of life, such as success or love, ends up not mattering because it is all ends. I think that the best way to live a good life is to just live and experience and that’s all.
I love the debate between existentialism and an outsider view. I am also caught in this question of sane or sociopath, because, based on existentialist views, as you stated Mersault is a very strange person who has a very emotionless point of view and seems disinterested in almost everything but something that has to do with him. Though I do think that he views things in a way that detach him from pain and suffering, the killing of someone is contradicting to that thought, because existentialist would believe that he’s a good person and just being free but that fact that he killed a man and shot him multiple times and he still doesn’t seem to think that there’s something wrong with it, leads me to believe that Mersault is more sociopath than sane.
I agree with your take on Meursault, I kept going back and forth between if I thought there was something wrong with him, or if he was just living how he wanted to and thought he should. I agree with the existentialist perspective to a certain extent, but I also agree and I don’t think I can accept the idea that there is nothing more.