The Stranger Essay, Research Paper
The Stranger by Albert Camus is a story of a sequence of events in one man’s life that cause him to question the nature of the universe and his position in it. The book is written in two parts and each part seems to reflect in large degree the actions occurring in the other. There are curious parallels throughout the two parts that seem to indicate the emotional state of Meursault, the protagonist, and his view of the world. Meursault is a fairly average individual who is distinctive more in his apathy and passive pessimism than in anything else. He rarely talks because he generally has nothing to say, and he does what is requested of him because he feels that resisting commands is more of a bother than it is worth. Meursault never did anything notable or distinctive in his life: a fact which makes the events of the book all the more intriguing. Part I of The Stranger begins with Meursault’s attendance at his mother’s funeral. It ends with Meursault on the beach at Algiers killing a man. Part II is concerned with Meursault’s trial for that same murder, his ultimate sentencing to death and the mental anguish that he experiences as a result of this sentence. Several curious parallels emerge here, especially with regard to Meursault’s perception of the world. In Part I, Meursault is spending the night next to his mother’s coffin at a sort of pre-funeral vigil. With him are several old people who were friends of his mother at the home in which she had been living at the time of her death. Meursault has the strange feeling that he can see all of their faces really clearly, that he can observe every detail of their clothing and that they will be indelibly imprinted on his mind. He also gets the strange feeling that they are all watching him or sitting in judgment over him and that they hold him responsible for his mother’s death. This particular scene is echoed in Part II, at Meursault’s own trial, where he has the again unsettling feeling that he is being judged–only this time it is for something he actually did, and it’s official. He has the weird impression, again, that he will remember the faces of the jurors forever because he can see them with a sort of heightened vision; he observes every detail of their clothing and can see every little blemish and feature on their bodies. Another curious parallel emerges with regard to the weather in The Stranger. On the day of his mother’s funeral, Meursault is feeling very tired because he stayed awake the entire previous night, and that tiredness combined with the excruciatingly hot weather makes Meursault feel really dizzy and not quite sure of what he is doing. The same thing happens at the time when Meursault commits the murder; he is hot and dizzy, the sun is blinding him, and he loses all sense of reality. He tries to explain this to the court to defend himself: at his own trial, but again he is dizzy from the heat and his speech comes out as nonsense. Events seem to be conspiring to prevent Meursault from saving himself.
These parallel events in The Stranger (and there are many more) emphasize Meursault’s emotions and view of the world. Each particular point is a turning point for him. At the vigil, the old people sitting with Meursault are blaming him for his mother’s death, although he had nothing to do with it. At the trial, Meursault is being blamed for killing an Arab–an action which Meursault actually performed although he doesn’t feel guilty because he didn’t intend to do it; it was just an accident. In neither case does Meursault defend himself. He doesn’t apologize to the mourners at the vigil (even though he feels slightly guilty) because his mother’s death wasn’t his fault at all. And he doesn’t defend himself at the trial until much later, because at the time he considers himself innocent and he doesn’t see why he should bother to apologize; With regard to Meursault’s recurring dizziness from the heat, at each instance that this occurs he loses a little of the hope for his acquittal at the trial. He tries to tell the court that his behavior at the funeral and his accidental murder of the Arab were due to his feelings of dizziness, but he cannot explain this to the court because he is too dizzy to speak properly. And each time, he gets a flashing glimpse of the eternal truth of the universe: that what a man has or has not done makes no essential difference at the end. The nurse at the funeral tells him, “if you walk too slowly, you’ll get heat exhaustion, but if you walk too fast, then the cool air in church will give you a chill. As he kills the Arab, he thinks, “Whether I fire or don’t fire is irrelevant; the ending will be the same. And at the trial, Meursault tells the prosecutor, “I have lived my life thus and did x, but if I had done y or z instead, it wouldn’t have mattered. And, ultimately, Meursault turns out to be correct; he discovers that when death approaches, all men are equal, no matter what their ages or previous lives. Meursault views death as an escape: you can’t escape from it, but you can escape into it, and he prepares himself to do so, bit by bit. Each parellel incident is just one more winding round of the rope that will bind him completely.