Meursault’s Apathy

How would you react if you heard that your mother passed away? Would you be saddened? Devastated? Shattered? Meursault, the protagonist of Albert Camus’s novel The Stranger, reacts in a way that defies expectations: apathy. He shows no emotion to news that many would never want to hear. When he shows to her funeral, everyone else is confused or offended by his lack of remorse. Why does he act in such a way? Why would Camus put such a character in his work?

Meursault’s indifference to the world is the trait that separates him from everyone else. He has asked with similar detachment in other scenes. In Chapter 2 — the day after the funeral, he runs into Marie, and old coworker of his, at the beach. After some playful swimming and flirting, she asks him about his mother’s funeral and is shocked to hear that it was yesterday, most likely because of Meursault’s calmness about it. They then see a movie and spend the night together. The following morning, Marie is gone, and Meursault decides to not go to his usual place for lunch, lest he be asked about his mother’s funeral again by her. He spends afternoon in his apartment, thinking about how his life has not changed at all. Despite falling in love with someone, he forgets about it quickly. He acts as if it never happened at all. However, I believe that there is a reason to his apathy. Meursault is written as such because he represents the author’s own opinion of life.

In 1942, the same year he published The Stranger, he also wrote an essay called “The Myth of Sisyphus”. In it, he introduces his idea of the absurd, which is formed by the conflict between the human desire to find purpose and order in life and the universe’s indifference of creating it. Meursault embodies this philosophy, with him accepting every action in his life without much care. He is indifferent to his mother’s death because the universe is also indifferent to it. The same can be said for his date with Marie, with him seeing it as just the world’s carelessness in action. Meursault is apathetic because he has become indifferent of the universe.

Lessons

Lessons come in many forms, ranging from the mundane to the epiphanizing. But what sort of lessons were taught in Toni Bambara’s short story “The Lesson”? What lessons would be expected from a story about children from 1970’s Harlem and a neighbor who’s enthusiastic about teaching them. The answer may resonate with some, as it is one of economic disparity.

Bambara’s story involves the narrator, Sylvia, and her groups of friends as they have a typical summer day. Much to their chagrin, their neighbor Miss Moore, wants to teach them a lesson, as she always does. She tells them about the importance of money and how they don’t have much of it. She then hails a taxi to take them from Harlem, at the time a poverty-stricken area of Manhattan, to Fifth Avenue, a world famous shopping district. Arriving at a toy store, the kids are baffled at the prices of the toys displayed; a microscope for $480, and a sailboat for $1400 strike them with their high cost. They wonder how anyone could afford such goods. In their neighborhood, $1400 could feed a family for a year. In this nieghborhood, it can get one high-quality toy. Sylvia then eyes a clown toy, this time only $35. She then imagines a scenaio where she asks her mom for the toy. Her mother goes on a tyrade, stating that the $35 could be used to pay off rent or buy a new bed. When the kids return home, Miss Moore asks them what they learned. Sugar, in a speech that the other kids blow off, states that this nation is not much of a democracy if everyone doesn’t have an equal chance at wealth. The kids then go off and play, as if the lesson never happened.

However, the lesson they learned has impacted their understanding of the world. Harlem is a historically black neighborhood in Upper Manhattan. At the time this story was written and from the writer’s life there, Harlem was in poverty and riddled with crime; it was a neighborhood that few wanted to live in. By making Sylvia and her friends go to Fifth Avenue, Miss Moore shows the ugly truth behind wealth disparity. Despite the fact that both area are on the same island, the amount of wealth they have is drastically different. For one area, $1000 can pay for many months of living. In the other, it can pay for one commodity. The kids are shown first hand how different their lives, and for things they cannot change.

Should Emotions Be Synthesised?

Can human emotion be created from substances created in a lab? If they can, should they be used in lieu of life’s experiences? “Escape from Spiderhead” by George Sanders shows a world where this moral ambiguity becomes a reality.

Jeff is a test subject in a pharmaceutical lab creating chemicals that affect people’s behaviors. He’s given Verbulace, a new substance from the lab, which makes him feel a strong sense of love. He falls in love with the only other person in the room, Heather, and they get busy quickly. Once the substance is withdrawn, however, both Jeff and his newly found partner feeling embarrassed about their ordeal. The next day, the same procedure occurs with a different woman, Rachel. The emotions and actions are the same. Jeff wipes the experiences with Heather and replaces them with his time with Rachel. As with the first test, they’re both tapered off Verbulace and are embarrassed.

Jeff, from these two trials, becomes sad, he ponders the experiences with Heather and Rachel. “I guess I was sad that love was not real? Or not all that real, anyway?” His love was strong, he felt amazing. But when Verbulace was taken away, any feeling he had for someone vanished. The substances can create powerful versions of emotions. Piloting a person with feelings rather than the thought they had before. Jeff wants to get back to the high he felt with Heather and Rachel, but without Verbulace.

After such a reading, what would you decide. Would you want chemical that can replicate human emotion to be readily available? Or would you rather have people experience emotions for themselves?