The Stranger Essay, Research Paper
The Stranger, by Albert Camus, is about the life of a very complex character named Meursault. Meursault is a very quiet person who rarely shows any external emotions when a situation in which most people would. He displays limited feelings for his girlfriend, Marie Cardona, and shows no remorse at all for killing an Arab. He remains this way through most of the book, but towards the end he starts to understand his feelings better. Meursault s reactions to life and to people tend to distance him from his emotions and from his relationships with others.
In the opening scene of the book, we find out that his mother has just died. The first page alone gives many hints about Meursault’s character and it shows him to be almost unaware of his emotions. He feels the need to apologize for things that are out of his control and to thank people for things that they had nothing to do with. He basically apologizes to his boss when he asks for two days off of work to go the funeral for his dead mother. He goes through the entire funeral without displaying any external emotions, saying that he doesn’t want to see the body and that he doesn’t want to pay his last respects. He smokes and drinks coffee with the caretaker, which is considered strange in the place and time the story takes place.
At the end of Part 1, Meursault shoots and kills an Arab man. After he kills the Arab, he describes the feeling like, “it was like knocking four quick times at the door of unhappiness.” (59) He only describes it as unhappiness, something relatively mild on a scale of emotions. Toward the end of the book he comments that he wanted to kiss a man, and tells us that this is the first time he has ever had this feeling. He wants to give thanks to Celeste, a man who owns a restaurant under the same name and where Meursault frequently eats. This shows that he experiences emotions and even though he doesn’t usually act on it, it’s still there. There is one other instance towards the end of the book where Meursault’s emotions almost break through to the surface. He says that he feels like crying, which he hasn’t felt like in years, because he could feel how much everyone at his trial hates him.
Meursault believes love doesn t exist, he doesn’t understand what it is and thinks that it is meaningless. When Marie, his girlfriend, asks him if he loves her, he replies that he doesn’t think love means anything, but that he also doesn’t think so. When she asks him a second time, his response is the same. She asks him to marry her and he is very non-reactive about it. Instead of saying a definite yes or no, he says that it is up to her and that if she wants them to be married then he will go along with it. The relationship with his mother also shows a lack of love, although, there is one instance where he says that he probably did love his mother, but that it still didn’t mean anything. At his trial, the prosecutor shows these characteristics to the jury to convince them that he is not a normal person and this leads them to the decision that he is a cold blooded murderer.
Meursault illustrates that man has freedom of choice, “It was then that I realized that you could either shoot or not shoot.” (56) He sees the choices that he can make and that consequences of his actions are going to affect him. At this point he does not shoot, but later on he rethinks his decision and shoots the Arab. He ends up paying the consequences after he is arrested and eventually he realizes what he has done. “I was about to say that exactly, because they were criminals, but then I realized that I was one too.” (69) There is also a scene in the courtroom when he thinks to himself that he is guilty. He admits that he has to pay for what he has done and thinks to himself, “I was guilty, I was paying for it, and nothing more could be asked of me.” (75)
Towards the end of the book he thinks a lot about his death, but not in a negative way, almost in a curious way. He thinks about his father going to witness an execution and thinks to himself, “There s nothing more important than an execution and that it’s the only thing a man could truly be interested in.” (110) He wonders what it will feel like to climb the scaffolding up to the guillotine. He believes that the world is indifferent or hostile, and that there really is no point to it.
Meursault believes that there is no such thing as human nature. By eliminating emotions, romance, and attachments, not much of what is considered human nature remains. People may choose to do what they wish as long as they are responsible for their actions and face the consequences.
He reads a story in the newspaper while he is in jail about a man being beaten to death by his own sister and mother who didn’t know that it was their relative, “perfectly natural.” (80) This shows that he believes there is a lack of human nature, or at least that he believes in a different human nature than most. Another quote that supports the fact that there is no such thing as human nature and that people are unique is when he talks about the lawyer, saying that, “He didn’t understand me, and was sort of holding it against me.” (66)
Meursault is isolated and unique; he finds the world to be hostile, life to be unexplainable and romance to be a figment of your imagination. These are all shown in various instances throughout the book. The complexity of this character and trying to figure out what is going through Meursault’s mind is why this is such a great book.