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.