Why is Meursault so emotionless?

The novel starts with Meursault preparing to attend his mothers funeral, a very sad time for any person, but surprisingly Meursault doesn’t seem to bothered at all. When I first read the opening pages, I actually had to re read them to make sure that I was understanding the story correctly. I simply could’t understand how Meursault could be so indifferent the weekend of his mothers funeral and during the funeral itself. This lack of emotion, sympathy, and awareness Meursault displays in the beginning of the story is something that you get to know as Meursaults character throughout the Stranger. As the prosecutor states multiple times during the trial, Meursault did not shed a single tear during his mothers funeral, in fact his demeanor didn’t even seem sad, as stated by multiple witnesses. His explanation for this is that “no one had the right to cry over his mother’s death because she was ready to live her life all over again”.

Meursault portrays this lack of emotion when he kills the Arab. He acts without thinking, but then shows no remorse, sympathy, or understanding of the repercussion for killing the man, nor did he have any reason to do so. Context clues from the story hint that Meursault understands what he did but for some reason feels no remorse or guilt, he doesn’t seem to be bothered by jail, or the fact that he can no longer see Marrie which also further proves he never had an emotional connection to her because he has no emotions. Even when he is sentenced to death by the judge, he doesn’t seem bothered, he even has it in him to say that he hopes people show up at his execution and greet him with cries of hate, he says “I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.” This is the last sentence of the book, why does Meursault hope to be hated by the spectators of his execution, when throughout the entire novel he couldn’t care less about other people’s opinion on him?

One thought on “Why is Meursault so emotionless?

  1. JJ

    I read Meursault as having very strong emotions at times, but as Meursault himself explains it, these emotions tend to be overshadowed by his body’s physical needs and reactions. Meursault is a sensualist, he relishes in his senses and how his body interfaces with the world. However, one notices that Meursault is much more sensitive physically at moments of heightened emotion. This is especially noticeable in his reactions to light and to his need for sleep. The clearest example of this to me is the harsh light that seems to oppress Meursault at every moment where one would expect him to be oppressed by negative emotion. Meursault himself recognizes the sunlight at the moment of his murder of the Moor as being identical to the sunlight on the day of his mother’s funeral. One can read his murder as a reaction to grief and inability to cope emotionally, squeezing the trigger in order to stop the blades of light slashing at his eyes from the Moor’s knife.

    As to why he wants to be hated at his execution, it is because he has come to see himself as a sort of reflection of the world. People around him see him as monstrously indifferent. Meursault recognizes that it is actually the world that is indifferent to the greatest tragedy that every human must face: the termination of life. Meursault refuses to accept the ways people have of lying to themselves about this certitude, such as religion. These lies are rooted in a hatred of the world’s indifference towards death. Meursault finds comfort in not being alone during his execution: he is being executed out of hatred of his supposed indifference and the reason people hate his indifference is that they hate the world’s indifference towards death. This is of course complicated by the fact that Meursault, as I have argued, is not entirely indifferent. If Meursault is not emotionless, perhaps the world is not either. However, Meursault does come to accept his death with a degree of indifference, which reflects Camus’s philosophy of absurdism in which life can still have meaning despite the all-consuming nature of death.

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