Free «the stranger by albert camus» Essay Sample
Within the scope of this research, we will analyze the character of Meursault as portrayed by Camus in his work “The Stranger”. As one becomes acquainted with Meursault, it becomes apparent that he is straightforward non conformist that does not want to accept the norms of society that surrounds him. The social order from which Meursault is so estranged is the world of ambition and the desire for advancement that his employer expects, as well as the decorum and grief to which all at the burial bear witness. It is the wearing of black as a show of mourning, and the sustained sadness that forbids the beginning of a liaison on the day following the burial of one's mother, not to say the sacrilege of viewing a Fernandel film. It is also the expectation that one ought to cry at the funeral of one's grandmother, about which Camus personally felt such conflict and hypocrisy. (Masters 79) And it is certainly viewing love as a serious matter and treating marriage as an important social institution. Here one glimpses the deeper social meaning to which normal people cling with ferocious tenacity. The rituals and ceremonies, the institutions and practices, by which society daily reenacts the drama of its cosmic significance are grounded in a system of values and beliefs that give shape to a living that might otherwise hover precariously close to the abyss of nothingness. Not to speak of the offices, hierarchies, and prerogatives by which the power and self-esteem of the few may be protected from the desires of the many. The personal appropriation of that ritualized belief system defines and valorizes an individual's place, giving us our sense of what it is important to do, to strive after, to avoid, and to become. People act in the belief that some things matter more than others, and because they feel that it is worth the effort.
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This is quite normal. Meursault had in fact given up on these beliefs when he gave up his ambition. One can take him to have been an intelligent working-class French Algerian whose social development was short-circuited by the need to leave school and get a job. One may even conjecture that this necessity followed upon an upbringing in which circumstances - perhaps including his more than average intelligence - had conspired to keep him somewhat apart from others, not fully integrated into social norms and practices. (Rizzuto 80) In any case, giving up ambition and, by implication, the belief system by which it is sustained, Meursault settles into a style of life in which inarticulate personal needs and satisfactions dictate spontaneous responses to the demands of nature and others. He goes along with the flow of habits and events. Such is the path of least resistance, except when his inclination moves him otherwise. And why act differently when "it's all the same to him"? But then the beach, where "the trigger gave way and Meursault understood that he had broken the harmony of the day, the marvelous silence of a beach where he had been happy. Then he pulled the trigger four more times on the motionless corpse where the bullets buried themselves effortlessly. And it was as if, with these four brief shots, he was knocking on the door of misfortune" (Camus 50). What could have been simpler or more natural? Heat, exhaustion, the beating of the sun, the shaft of light, the threatening confrontation - and the body tightens up to defend itself: the hand clenches the revolver, and the trigger gives way. With perhaps a touch of exasperation, even annoyance, at the intrusion of the threatening other into this already oppressive situation, the tension previously held coiled within his body bursts forth with those four fatal shots, as if it had been waiting for that moment of release.
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(Masters 114) All of which is, in one sense, no great deal. Oppressive conditions give rise to tension. The tension is released, and life goes on. Yet a person was killed. Surprisingly perhaps, the authorities initially show little interest in Meursault. As they become aware of his strangeness, their attitude changes. He does not live by the rules. He does not think like ordinary people. He does not pay his respects, but seems indifferent to everything that is usually taken seriously. Is not such an attitude offensive? Who is this person, to treat cavalierly what we hold so dear? How can he act this way? There must be something the matter with him. Otherwise there would have to be something the matter with society for taking so seriously that which is not worthy of such respect. If society can't get him to see the error of his ways, thus acknowledging the conformist Truth, society must treat him as a traitor to the human community, and make him pay for his transgression. Thus a transformed portrait of Meursault emerges. Initially he had simply appeared to be a bit odd, certainly not offensive or brutish. But he didn't want to see his mother's body, he smoked at her funeral, he rejected a chance to move to Paris, and he didn't take marriage seriously. He even seemed inordinately sensitive to trivial matters but awkward, even dense about the norms of social behavior. (Rizzuto 111) Now that queerness becomes perversity, indifference metamorphoses into insensitivity, and passivity into calculated criminality. No longer will Meursault's life be allowed to follow the trajectory of inclination and habit. The socialized demand for coherence and purposefulness now takes control. What may well have been lurking in the background now takes center stage, insisting that events conform to its terms. The portrait of a coldblooded, ruthless murderer takes shape. And why did Meursault fire those four extra shots into the body of a corpse, asks the prosecutor, if not to make sure that the job was well done? Returning to the beach and Meursault's description of what took place, the why seems about as relevant as asking a plant why it grows toward the light. Genetics, habit, and inclination seem sufficient. The why presupposes a world of purposeful beings who act for more or less premeditated reasons. But is that what took place on the beach? No interpretation, no motive, no conscious revolt is apparent. Only the quasi-instinctive, perhaps physiological, response of a natural animal to an oppressive situation. Under the pressure of the sun, he tenses up and the trigger yields. The Arab, the sun's rays striking off the blade of the knife, the taut grasp of the revolver - all are part of one natural environment whose elements are in tension with one another. Whom can one ask for a motive? The environment is returned to equilibrium by the removal of a nexus of tension. But Meursault is a human being and a member of society, and its officials soon see that much more is at stake than simply the killing of an Arab by a French Algerian - about which, it should be noted, little official concern was likely to have been expressed at that time. "For the magistrate," writes Barret, in his review of The Stranger, "a consciousness which is so non-human represents the grave threat of dismantling the entire edifice of values upon which the very order of society is based" (Barret 69).
Two points should be noted here. Meursault is portrayed as a brute, a person so cold and calculating as to smoke at his mother's funeral, begin a liaison on the following day, and commit pre-meditated murder without the least feeling of remorse. Such a "moral monster" would of course be a threat to any order. But Meursault is still more threatening, for he does not even recognize, not to say acknowledge, the values and norms by which the fabric of society is woven together. If he would repent and admit guilt, he would at least implicitly legitimize the claim of those values. Even a murderer can be pardoned - far more easily, Camus suggests, than one who not only refuses to acknowledge social norms, but fails even to perceive their existence. (Masters 119) His refusal thus constitutes a sort of inarticulate metaphysical rejection by which he places himself beyond the horizon of the normal social world. As a spiritual alien upon whom accepted social absolutes make no claim, his being can only appear to the "good people" as a threat to the values and beliefs that are dear to them. What would it mean to accept Meursault as he presents himself? How would one make sense of a world in which chance was pervasive, and in which natural processes predominated to no purpose? Meursault is inadvertently the most dangerous of rebels, for he rejects the metaphysical foundation of normal social order. (Masters 122) As a de facto rebel who becomes conscious of his rebellion only at the end, he must be "put in his place." Society must either obtain his complicity or his destruction.

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