The Effects of “Weather” on Monsieur Meursault

In Albert Camus’s novel, The Stranger, Monsieur Meursault either describes or complains about the heat multiple times. What effect does the heat have on Meursault?

The first instance in Chapter 1 is the most detailed description of the weather in the novel. When Meursault was pondering the weather at the location of his mother’s funeral, he noticed that “with the sun bearing down, making the whole landscape shimmer with heat, [the evening] was inhuman and oppressive” (15). It is clear that Meursault is bothered by the heat. Later, an old man begins a conversation with Meursault and they talk about the extreme heat during the funeral. The man asks Meursault if his mother was old, and he ambiguously responds “Fairly” (16). He then ponders “The glare from the sky was unbearable” (16). The heat brought confusion upon Meursault, causing him to forget key details about his mother.

At the end of part 1, Meursault makes comments about the heat a second time before he shoots a man. As Meursault approached the Arab, “the whole beach, throbbing in the sun, was pressing on [his] back” and “the sun was starting to burn [his] cheeks” (58). Again, the heat was the final topic on Meursault’s mind before he acted illogically.

There are many more cases where Meursault cannot help thinking about the heat. At the beginning of part 2, he can barely focus on his lawyer’s argument because “it was hot” (68). While he is in the courtroom, Meursault begins “feeling dizzy, with all [the] people in [the] stuffy room” and comments on the temperature becoming hotter twice (83, 86, 87, 101).

I would argue that Meursault was negatively affected by the heat, and made many mistakes because he hated hot temperatures.

How to Live a Happy Life as an Existentialist

If you are an existentialist, the central idea of your existence is that life is absurd. The structures of life that we blindly follow, such as family, wealth, power, or love, are nothing but illusions. At its core, life is a meaningless drift towards death. An existentialist will believe that holding this depressing view will free them to be true to themselves, allowing them to live as a complete individual and achieve authentic happiness. 

But how can one be truly happy from essentially accepting that life has no greater meaning other than life itself? It seems that an existentialist, if they wholeheartedly believe in these ideas, would always have a dark cloud around them from living a life only for themselves. No one, nothing in life, can give them any meaning. It is a lonely existence. They must create happiness from within themselves, letting nothing from the outside world be a source of their happiness. Then, and only then, can an existentialist be happy, by reaching a point where they are satisfied by themselves and are in full acceptance of the world.  

A great obstacle to an existentialist is reaching that point, as they need to give themselves over to those ideas with not an ounce of disbelief. All sources of happiness from any “illusions” must be completely forgotten. This can only be achieved if they have an experience that convinces them of the world’s absurdity, likely some sort of trauma, and separate themselves from all other sources of happiness, like human connections. At first, it will be hard, like Meursault’s first days in prison or Sisyphus’ initial attempts rolling the rock up the hill. Then they will adjust to their conditions, and reach a point where they can accept them. And finally, they will be able to create their own happiness from within themselves. 

This process is long and difficult and full of suffering, even though it can lead to a point of happiness. A life that is more happy might be better achieved by giving yourself over to the apparent illusions of life, becoming a part of a constructed society. If life is absurd, there is no difference between fake and authentic happiness. 

So it Goes

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five is primarily an anti-war novel, but it was also influenced by existentialism. In the novel, American soldier Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time” while fighting in WWII. This essentially means he goes through life out of order, constantly time travelling and never knowing when or where he’s going to end up next.

Pilgrim knows everything that happens in his life (and what death is like) and understands that his life has no purpose. Like Meursault, Pilgrim experiences life with little emotion (even when he’s abducted by aliens!). Both Meursault and Pilgrim are completely in the present. They never search for a purpose or for a bigger meaning.

Before reading The Stranger, I thought Slaughterhouse-Five was incredibly depressing. I would probably still find it sad, but reading it through the existentialist lense might give the book a new feel. Maybe Billy Pilgrim is actually the most free and happy person because he doesn’t have to worry about life, death, or what it all means.

Vonnegut uses the phrase “so it goes” throughout the novel. I think it’s a very existentialist phrase, as it recognizes that the things happening in life are random and have no meaning.

The Great Gatsby and Existentialism

While the Great Gatsby was not written from an existentialist point of view, it can certainly be tied back to it. The main theme of the book is money does not buy happiness. Gatsby ends up conquering his wildest dreams – and yet he is not satisfied. He realizes that he has achieved all there is to achieve in life, leaving him empty with no dreams to chase. He marries Daisy, and realizes she is not who he thought she was, and again is disappointed. He holds countless parties, and still he is removed from others.

The Great Gatsby emphasizes the existentialist view that there is nothing more to life than existence. One can work until they have made all of their dreams come true, and yet, they will still feel unfulfilled. By assuming that artificial things – money, material wealth, etc – will make you happy, you are buying into the power structure. Existentialists would say that we have been taught to believe that money will make us happy. We have been taught how to love in a certain way, and believe that will make us happy. We spend our whole lives chasing what we think will bring us joy, and yet, the greatest joy is freedom.

Had Gatsby been able to understand that true power and happiness comes not from wealth, but from freedom; perhaps he would have been better off.

Is Death the Happy Ending?

Albert Camus’s book The Stranger attempts to answer the question, what is the meaning of life? Camus doesn’t take the average approach claiming a cliche like love, family, or friendship is the meaning of life, in fact, he looks in the opposite direction. The main character Meursault is portrayed as a cold, emotionless, and remorseless man, who at the start confuses the readers. As the book continues, Camus shows us more of Meursault’s thoughts which lay parallel with the theme of “Myth of Sisyphus.” The theme in the “Myth of Sisyphus” is that you can only truly be happy when you do not shy away from the inevitable of life. In The Stranger Meursault says, while in prison, “I wasn’t too unhappy. Once again the main problem was killing time.” This quote could also be a metaphor for life, showing that all people do in their years on Earth is kill time until death comes. This means that love, friends, and family is all one big distraction for people so they don’t have to think about death. But, Meursault said he wasn’t too unhappy with a life in prison which shows the readers that he isn’t cold for no reason, he just sees no reason to be always friendly or get caught up in the distractions of life because he sees the end. In the “Myth of Sisyphus,” Sisyphus has to live the rest of his life pushing a boulder up a mountain only to watch is role down the mountain where he starts the process all over again and Camus interprets that as Sisyphus is the happiest man alive.

At a first read, that seems so wrong because for anyone pushing a boulder up a rock than watching it fall seems boring, pointless, and infuriating because they would never be successful. But, in life no one every truly is successful at life because no one lives forever. Camus, believes that humans can only truly be happy in life if they accept their fate as that is portrayed through the life of Meursault. This brings back the idea that, what we do in life can be described as pointless. Which than answers the question what is the true meaning of life, according to Camus Ever since a young age movies, TV shows, and books have taught us to always find the happy ending, and most times that consists of finding your prince charming, or receiving the gold medal, but both The Stranger and “Myth of Sisyphus” emphasize that happy or not happy about it the ending is death. Although, I believe that there is a way to be swept up in the distractions and recognize that life ends in death regardless of what you accomplish and still be truly happy in life.

the Stanger and SCP:5000, is empathy overrated?

Here is the original article if you want to read it, although it lacks greater context.

If you aren’t aware of what the SCP foundation is, it is a collaborative science fiction website which describes the secretive and fictional SCP foundation, a shadowy group dedicated to Securing, Containing, and Protecting so-called “anomalies” from the general public (Think men in black).

A short synopsis of SCP 5000 follows that somehow the SCP foundation, the ends-justifies-the-means protectors of humanity, have decided to exterminate all of humankind. The article goes into detail about one rogue agent named Pietro Wilson travel across the country and summarize in what horrible ways the foundation destroyed all resistance and what terrible monsters they have unleashed to finish the job. Eventually Wilson uses some time travel shenanigans to ‘save the day’ and prevent it all from happening in the first place.

The real story only begins after one looks at the source code for the website and cracks the secret code at the bottom of the webpage. Long story short it turned out that empathy, fear and pain core tenants of the human experience all exist unnaturally within humans, planted there by something else in an attempt to control people (although love and happiness are still natural). The foundation couldn’t “cure” everybody therefore the only logical option would be to erase every human off the planet that could feel pain, thereby preventing any human ever from experiencing pain of fear ever again. Because the foundation leaders were free from feeling bad about themselves, the decision was easy. To them, it was perfectly logical.

This logical analysis connects with The Stanger, wherein Meursault feels very little empathy and expresses almost no pain throughout the course of the novel. Even his mother’s funeral did nothing to him except make him complain about the heat. But this time he was the one to get killed.

Is it preferable to not feel pain, fear or empathy? For Meursault, he was free to enjoy swimming and sleeping and napping all without worrying about another person or even his own fate. Meursault was almost more free even in prison because he was not constrained by societal expectations for behavior or chained by remorse. This is similar to the future envisioned by the Foundation leaders when they decided to remove empathetic humans from the world. Their goal has always been the mitigation of human suffering, and with just one large burst of it they could have been rid of it forever, guaranteeing that every human being ever would be able to live without worrying about literally anything, just like Meursault.

Would you give up your empathy to never suffer again?

Why Were Almost All of the Characters So 1-Dimensional?

I couldn’t help but feel that so many of the characters were in the story to do one thing and one thing alone. the nameless Arab never speaks, Salamano is never relevant outside the context of his dog, and the judge, Celeste, and the robot lady all only make momentary appearances. as far as more major characters go, the priest only acts as a priest, granted a nervous and emotional priest. Mersault’s mom is dead for the entirety of the runtime of the book, and most of the other background characters fulfill their role in the story with little depth to their own person being explored.

One could argue that this is a consequence of the book being in first person. Meursault doesn’t strike me as a particularly emotionally intelligent person. he is incredibly observant of behavior, but as far as emotions go he seems a step removed given Meursault’s own emotional behavior. this is compounded by the fact that the three characters that I would say have the greatest degree of depth to them, Maman, Raymond, and Marie, are the closest people to Meursault, and so he can see their own depth more clearly.

Life and Death

Throughout the story we are taken on a journey through the perspective of Meursault, although his perspective is often one impartial to the happenings of his own life. Although Meursault does not seem to care one way or the other for most things, throughout the story small pieces of insight are introduced as to why he acts with such impartiality, and does not react “appropriately” in many situations. For example, frequently during the story it is held over Meursault’s head that he did not cry at his mothers funeral. During his trial, when questioned, “The director then looked down at the tips of his shoes and said I hadn’t wanted to see Maman, that I hadn’t cried once”(89). The reoccurring mention of Meursault’s lack of tears for his mother adds another air of mystery to the story, as we know of Meursault’s mundane nature. However, in a way it is still confusing to see his reaction based on the societal imprint, and how society’s standards of how we are “meant to react” to something may not always apply. Continuing through the story the question of why Meursault did not cry was at the back of my head, as again, it is so ingrained that it seems ridiculous almost to react in the way Meursault did. However, nearing the end of the story Meursault begins to open up his perspective and speak more about the meaning of life and death. It is during this time that he again reflects on his mother, something he does often throughout the novel despite his seeming indifference.

Meursault gives us some final insight near the ending of the story, as he is making realizations as he knows he will not be free or alive much longer. Meursault states, “So close to death, Maman must have felt free then and ready to live it all again. Nobody, nobody had the right to cry over her”(122).

Although the characters in the story shame Meursault for his reaction to his mother’s death, in a way I find it admirable. In the beginning of the story, with no context, it seems like something is purely wrong with Meursault. However, I believe with this simple line he somehow explained everything. I find it admirable that he has enough consciousness to recognize the meaning of his mother’s life, and to know and acknowledge how she wished or deserved to have her life celebrated.

The Death Penalty Debate

Sense forever, our society has been debating the idea if the death penalty should be abolished or not. Some feel that some people deserve to die and not even get the opportunity to be in prison and others feel that killing someone is wrong if we are punishing them for likely killing someone too. Plus, you are really just giving them the easy way out. As we follow the journey of Meursault on death row we really get to see up close what this looks like. For me, it was hard to read. Usually when you hear about someone who is on death row you have no connection to them and don’t know anything about them. After reading The Stranger I feel like I got to know Meursault and it was hard for me to watch him sit in cell and fear his death no matter the crime he committed. The prosecutor in the court case argues that they should use the death penalty by saying “I felt this painful duty made easier, lighter, clearer by the certain knowledge of a sacred imperative and by the horror I feel when I look into a man’s face and all I see is a monster”(102). This argues one side of this argument about the death penalty being used on monster who shouldn’t deserve to live. However, Meursults defense attorney makes another argument to defend him by saying that Meusault “was already suffering the most agonizing of punishments- eternal remorse”(105). This is another view some people have. They believe dying is easy and spending your life in prison and feeling eternal remorse is worse. I think The Stranger does a really good job of showing both views up close. I just think it hits home and feels more real when you actually feel something for the person on death row, in this case Meusault.

Things Have Changed

The distinction between parts 1 and 2 of The Stranger is something to take note of, both from a regular writing standpoint and a broader thematic standpoint. The most basic change was to the setting, but the prison environment forced the writing to change as well. Because of Meursault’s lack of freedom, there are fewer instances of landscape description (this bleeds into the once ever-present sky motif–it doesn’t get mentioned nearly as much in part 2). Also, due to prison’s daily tedium, we don’t get descriptions of actions or events as much, which was kind of jarring after going through all of Part 1.

The gaps left by the change in scenery are filled in with monologuing and character interaction. This part has a lot more focus on people’s opinions rather than facts of a certain situation (compare the descriptions of Meursault meeting the funeral director to him meeting the magistrate–the latter scene goes a lot more in-depth into the thoughts of the characters than the former), whether they were Meursault’s own opinions (like those on his cell or desire for a woman) or someone else’s. Even though Meursault is just as detached as ever, I got the sense that he was engaging more with the people around him, since he just has to be there, has to listen to their positions.

This introduces the most striking aspect of part 2 in general: a lot more people are challenging Meursault on his way of life. Meursault can’t catch a break in this regard; throughout part 2, he has encounters with his lawyer, the magistrate, and the chaplain, and the entire trial is just one big example of this. In every interaction, Meursault is the one being put on the spot, since his lifestyle and logical processes are just incomprehensible to people. He goes through life having wants and needs like any other person, but he doesn’t make anything more out of what they are, doesn’t try to give them some sort of higher meaning.

It seems like the other people in the book–the “normal” people–cannot function without some obligatory sense of meaning, derived from their common experiences… like, say, crying at a loved one’s funeral. It’s viewed as unheard of because if someone were to go against it, that would force them to look at the situations in life they’ve created and question why they were made. Why does the idea of family carry so much societal weight? If we’re looking at it head-on, families are units of people that aid in each other’s survival; important, yes, but to a life-defining degree? Meursault surely doesn’t think so. In this way, if part 1 was an establishment of The Stranger‘s philosophy through Meursault’s apathetic lifestyle, then part 2 is where this philosophy is directly challenged and must be reasserted by Meursault (which does happen at the very end of the book).

The Constant Funeral Face

In part one of The Stranger, it becomes clear that the main character is not like the common main character. Camus’ Meursault differs from the stereotypical idea of a main character, lacking morals and emotions. Meursault disconnects from the world through his not pessimistic view of the world, but his “who cares” view. Putting together possible explanations as I was reading through the pages, I found a quote that, to me, was a correct way to view his personality. “Marie made fun of me because, she said, I had on a ‘funeral face’”(47). Some readers may look right over that comment, however it stood out in particular. 

Throughout the previous chapters and the following chapters where that line takes place, it can be easily inferred that Meursault doesn’t understand and lacks knowledge about his surroundings. He walks into every room with a straight face and just agrees with what others around him are saying. Meursault struggles to locate his own emotions towards events, people, and places. Meursault acts as if he has no meaning or explanation to the everyday activities that he involves himself in, he just does them without any justification. 

Immediately after starting the first chapter of part one, I could pick up that Meursault was not a character in books I have read about before. Following his mother’s death, he had no reaction whatsoever. The first thought and concern he had was whether his boss would be mad at him for leaving work. Whether he is just an unemotional person or leaning more towards lacking morals and social cues, it still didn’t sit well with me. 

From the ending of part one, Meursault killing the Arab was just the beginning for the world and his “friends” to understand his lack of meaning and morals. 

Expression Of Awareness

Meursault is characterized as an insensible and emotionless character. As we have seen in many examples throughout the book, this characterization is supported by his actions and thoughts. However, in the second part of the novel, Camus begins to reveal a bit more into Meursault’s internal conflict and reasoning. His awareness of topics can be very easily misinterpreted and I believe that he is misunderstood in many situations. From the first part of the novel, Meursault doesn’t seem to have weighted opinions on matters, but in part two when he is experiencing life in prison, he seems to be more aware of his surroundings and to details. This may be a factor that is simply revealing in his character, or that developed from his shift to life in prison, but in many instances he finds himself “noticing” things he previously wouldn’t have seen.

I think that Meursault’s way of interpreting events such as his mothers death is simply different than the stereotypical reactions one would have, and this seems so out of the ordinary to the judges and courtroom. The judge characterizes Meursault as “calm” because he didn’t cry at his mothers funeral. I understand how this may seem insensitive from the outside but everyone processes events differently and the fact that it was such a big factor in his case seemed unfair to me.

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