, Research Paper
Mersaults’ Animal Nature
Albert Camus’ The Stranger starts with the death of a mother, maybe. Her son, Mersault, is unsure. He is also oblivious to the concepts of marriage, God, and repentance, as well as other institutions of society. According to social law, this is reason to execute him for a senseless murder. Mersault discovers that he is going to be tried and eventually die because of his nature and not due to the act he committed. Society is the collected human interaction and thought, and it requires that a social being worries about the afterlife, repents for its bad deeds, and mourns at one’s death. However, Mersault thinks differently, and does not follow society’s norms. Instead, he acts and lives like an animal. Mersault tries to survive in a society that is not suited for him. He attempts to abide by its rules, but such an animal can never be tamed. Mersault does not grasp the idea that he is an outsider and he always will be, just as society will never understand him. Mersualts’ situation is similar to Jean-Paul Sartre’ s view of the individual. He believed that one is “situated in a massive and oppressive social structure which limits and alienates his activities” (9). Mersault finds that his animal-like lifestyle and views about life contrast dangerously with the world around him.
One of the main reasons Mersault was executed was because of his treatment to his mother. “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe. I don t know” (3). Those are not the thoughts of a disillusioned son mourning his deceased mother, but of a unfeeling, beast-like character. Her death was insignificant to him, but it could not have been otherwise. In the wild, when a mother dies, its offspring does not think anything of it as long as it is old enough to get along with out her. Mersault did not need his mother anymore, and so he acts uncaring towards her death. This is why he put her away in the house, in addition to the reason that he did not have enough money and time to support both of them. Leaving its mother is a normal act in an animal’s life, and so it is the same for Mersault. When his mother died, it was more of an inconvenience that anything else. As soon as Mersault arrived at the nursing home he wanted to go back home, much like an animal would want to return to its known territory. While at the nursing home Mersault lets others see his unnatural behavior. He has a cup of coffee and a cigarette while keeping vigil over her, he doesn t want to take a last look at her face, he doesn’t cry once, nor does he visit the grave after she was buried. These are pointed out at Mersault’s trial, as well as his suprising calmness over the death. Everyone is shocked at how he acted towards a depressing moment in one’s life. Mersault notices that after this was found, out no one listened to the rest of the trial. No matter how low society looks down on his treatment to his mother, there is nothing he can do. It is who he is. Another incidence of Mersaults’ animalistic view is the passage “It had been a long time since I’d been out in the country, and I could feel how much I’d enjoy going for a walk if it hadn’t been for Maman” (12). It not only shows Mersault’s apathetic nature, but also his need to be out in nature. When the funeral is over and he is back in his own territory he feels safe again. Even though the woman who had just brought him into the world has just died, Mersault feels that “nothing had changed”(24).
Mersault’s relationships with other people is similar to the one between him and his mother. His mother had little affect on him, and this applies to his friends too. Being “pals” with Raymond, or getting married to Marie means the same to him. His relationship with Marie shows his beast-like nature dramatically. He starts going out with her the day after he gets back from his mother’s funeral. Even after an unusual start, Marie grows to love him. However, love is not a word that Mersault uses because he neither believes nor understands it. Animals do not love their mates and most do not stay with only one mate for very long. Mersault has a passion for women but, like an animal, who the mate is isn’t important, as long as she’s young and attractive. Marie asks him twice if he loves her and both times Mersault answers that he probably does not. When she asked him if he’s going to marry her, he answered, “it didn’t make any difference to me and we could if she wanted to”(41). He would have said the same thing if any other girl had asked him. Marriage is not a serious commitment to him, and if he had his way, he would prefer not to get involved in it. Marie is confused because she does not fully comprehend his nature. She wants him to love her, but animals do not possess as many emotions as humans do. One the emotions they lack is love. Marie is willing to overlook this as long as she can be with him.
Mersault’s nature associates most with Raymond’s. He is like Mersault in that he too is really an animal. He is physical and manly. Many times he lets his beast nature control him such has when he beats his ex-girlfriend and the Arabs. While Mersault is not as physical as Raymond, he can relate to him. Some animals work together to get their meal, and this is the case for the two. Their motivation, though, is revenge.
Twice in the novel Mersault lets the beast take complete control over him. One of the times is when he shoots an Arab to death at the beach. The murder is both the climax of the novel and of Mersaults’ life. After that, Mersault can no longer live in the society that is so different from him. There are two reasons seen in this scene that made Mersault lose control of himself. One is the sun and its light. These represent nature in its confusion and unpredictability; they clutter his human judgement. Another is the knife that the Arab draws. Mersault sees this has an attack and the animal inside of him panics. He realizes that he is in danger, and so he does what any animal would do in such a situation; he attacks. Most humans have the ability to stop themselves before murdering another person. Mersault lacks this vital morality and finds himself judged a criminal. The concept that he is a criminal is hard for him to grasp because he killed for survival. To be a criminal he must be human, which contrast with his true nature. Mersault also finds himself forgetting about his deed. At the end of a conversation with the examining magistrate, Mersault almost shakes his hand, but then he remembered that he just killed someone. His feelings about his murder are the same as any animal who just killed. They do it for survival and do not think about it again.
A characteristic that makes Merasault stand out from other humans is his thoughts of life and death. Animals are only preoccupied with the present. They do not think of the past, which explains Mersaults’ lack of remorse, nor do they think of the future. One of the conversations Mersault has with his boss explains his view on life. He comments that “one life was as good as another”(41). Just like an animal, Merasault does not think of life and why he is here; he even does not care. This leads to his thoughts of afterlife, which he concludes is that there is none. He does not believe in any God, and this disturbs those who talk to him. The afterlife is not important to Mersault, and he does not want to waste his life worrying about it. The second time Mersault gives himself up to the animal in him is when the chaplain tries to force a belief unto him. Mersault can never be tamed and he attacks those who try. Having a priest being the one who is attacked creates a more disturbing tone. Mersault does not judge who the person is, just as an animal would not, as long as it is reasonable at the moment.
There are many other incidents in the novel that reveal Mersaults’ nature. One is that he is intimidated by the guillotine. Not only is it the weapon that will kill him, but it also reminds Mersault of a human being. He notices that one “walks up to it the way you walk up to another person” (112). The thought of that disturbs him. Another is when he and the chaplain stare at each other. Mersault points out that he has played this game before and he always wins. Mersault never takes his eyes of his opponent just has an animal never takes its eyes off its enemy. Mersualt is also lured to a strange woman that he sees at Celeste one day. He is interested in her because she is everything that he is not. The lady carefully orders her food and checks off the radio programs in a magazine. Mersault is puzzled at her behavior because animals do not trifle over little things like humans do. This is just another example of how Mersault is confused in the world.
Because of Mersaults’ inability to conform to the system, society feels it is its duty to get rid of him. The actual murder plays a small role in his trial. It is dominated by his animal nature. Everyone is convinced that because of his actions towards the death of his mother, as well as other things, he is a cruel and evil being. Mersault describes himself being in the courtroom as the “odd man out, a kind of intruder”(84). That is precisely what he is in the courtroom and out in the world. Society will not tolerate a man who doesn’t feel remorse, compassion, or other normal human traits. The prosecutor calls Mersault “a monster, a man with out morals”(96). This is true; however, he failed to realize that Mersault could never have morals because of his nature. Just as Mersault does not understand society, society does not understand him.
Camus, Albert. The Stranger. New York: Vintage International, 1989.
Craib, Ian. Existentialism and Sociology: A Study of Jean-Paul Sartre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976