Peaking Thinker, But Still Normal

Throughout the book The Stranger by Albert Camus, Meursault is seen as a kind of strange and detached character. And only through further close reading do readers notice the existentialism connections between Meursalt and his surprising presentness and acceptance of the absurdity of life (including his willingness to give up on some illusions). However, towards the end of the book I think he finally lets go completely and reaches the peak of existentialism that we talk about in class. I think before that he was not fully there yet. When he brings up his Maman, I originally thought it was gonna be about him playing into his bond to her or a profound comment about them and their relationship. Camus instead steers along this questioning path and talks about how Meursault begins to understand his mom, “playing at the beginning again” and how Meursault, “opened myself (himself) to the gentle indifference of the world” (122). I think the realization of Meursault, after the aggressive confrontation earlier, confirms to readers that he truly/fully started to free himself of the burdens of illusions in the book only towards the end. Additionally, it prompts the discussion of how people like Merusault’s mom decide on how they want to live their lives and freely change their path if they desire something different.

Another part of the book I would like to comment on is the times where Meursault does not just come across as this existentialist being and instead more like a normal person living and thinking. When he is waiting for his sentence to be acted upon he describes that he must distract himself and tries to look at the sky and find something interesting about it (112). The stressful waiting situation Meursault is in has put his reactions to the forefront and I think they exemplify that he does not feel nothing about death and instead is trying to process his fate anxiously. As humans I think we all have been in extreme situations that get us on edge and I think it is important that we acknowledge Meursault as a human and not just the ideas of believing in nothing at all. The anxiety he has while waiting as he describes hearing himself breathing, “like a dog’s panting” illustrates the normal behaviors he has, like anyone else would while waiting for their looming fate (113). And other times throughout the book when he wants ways to waste time whether to distract himself from his emotions or use it as an excuse to feel nothing, I think most everyone has a part of themselves that feels this way at times. Although it might be a flying thought that people want to dismiss, it still occurs at times when we simply wish something would end quicker so maybe we stare at a clock to waste time. The normal tendencies in Meursault are interesting to note and I think do not diminish his other strange actions but combine as a whole to form this complex character. And I wonder if in existentialism death is another illusion to diminish or if it is to be accepted as an absurdity of life. 

The Stranger and No Longer Human

As I’ve been reading The Stranger by Albert Camus this last week or so, I have constantly been reflecting and comparing it to a previous book I´d read this summer, No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai.

Through further inspectional and revisiting of No Longer Human, I’ve found that the two books, especially the characters, are both opposites and somewhat parallel. 

The main character in No Longer Human, Oba Yozo, is a more sensitive and emotional person but feels no joy, only an overwhelming feeling of estrangement. While Meursault the narrator of The Stranger is very nonchalant and emotionally dull. However, both of these characters bring about a feeling of unease and emptiness to the reader. An aspect of these two characters that binds them together is their indifference to other people and life itself.

To grasp this better, the following are both books opening lines:

“Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.”

The Stranger

¨Mine has been a life of much shame. I can’t even guess myself what it must be to live the life of a human being. ¨

No Longer Human

Both these lines pull the reader in through uncomfortability, from the get-go they leave the impression of being an outsider and mentally peculiar, not being normal. 

The two books have the same destination, or rather these two characters have the same outlook on life but have different ways of getting there. I think this line from No Longer Human Shows their similar mental state well, “Now I have neither happiness nor unhappiness. Everything passes. That is the one and only thing that I have thought resembled a truth in the society of human beings where I have dwelled up to now as in a burning hell. Everything passes.”(169) Oba is a reflective person, Meursault just accepts his belief, “I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.”(122) Meursault feels too little and finds life meaningless and on the flip side, Oba Yozo feels too much, too inferior, that he finds life meaningless.  

 The approach to this mindset though is a stark difference, Meursault does not show or feel emotions. Oba cannot feel happiness, he is stuck in a deep depression to the point that nothing matters. By this same principle, Meursault sees nothing wrong with his nature, Oba understands that he is not normal, thinking of himself as other or not human, he’s a “clown”, acting in a way acceptable by society (laughing and joking around).

Both the Stranger and No Longer Human illustrate that life isn’t full but futile, by following abnormal figures through a span of time and observing the experience and insight they gain as rejects from society.

Meursault’s Universal Moral Character

Albert Camus’s The Stranger has contributed writing styles and ideas to modern-day culture. For a great example, WAYNE, a well-rated show (not about Batman) that has received little press and a cult-like following, follows a title character Wayne as he avenges his father while possessing little to no social skills. A strong relationship can be drawn from the way that Camus’s Meursault and Shawn Simmons’s Wayne express their morals, emotions, & sense of justice to the outside world. Towards the beginning of our discussion as well as the very of The Stranger, we noted some interesting things about Meursault, namely that he got in a relationship just after his mother’s passing, him helping to lure a woman so that her ex-boyfriend could beat her up, and his quiet observing nature. The plot of the first episode of WAYNE follows a similar structure, although in a different order. I think that this is because Meursault’s character has become a guideline for writing a questionable protagonist.

When I first was reading The Stranger, I knew that Meursault reminded me of someone. His lack of response towards his mother’s passing, specifically that he did not cry and simply did something that he enjoyed doing gave me a sense of deja vu. Meursault’s reaction to others feeling sad for him and questioning why, to our class hypothesizing that he could still be in slight shock at the suddenness of the whole affair of the burial. The more that we talked, however, the more it seemed to be that he did the things he probably would have done anyway. This lack of change in the character’s demeanor when facing a life-changing event began to remind me more and more of Wayne and his unchanging morals. Once I made the initial connection, I saw more similarities in their demeanors. Another example was Meursault’s observational skills, as he would often observe the world around him and then choose how to respond to his surroundings, often not responding at all. Meursault will just accept things how they are and move on with his life, only stopping to do something when it is convenient for him to do so. Although I found this bothersome to read because he had no ambitions and it was hard to root for him as a protagonist, I found it easy to understand his motives and not become too attached to the character instead of focusing on his personal dilemmas and private life. Finally, Meuraults odd understanding of his friend’s want to punish his ex-lover allows the observer to become fully intrigued by his character. We see that he understands others and will try to help them when they ask for it, but must be approached by this person to even look twice at them. I don’t think that this kind of morally ambiguous character has ever been done quite as well as it was in The Stranger, but if you were to look for similar characters, you would be able to find them everywhere in modern media.