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The Character of Meursault in The Stranger



Albert Camus wrote The Stranger during the Existentialist movement, which explains why the main character in the novel, Meursault, is characterized as detached and emotionless, two of the aspects of existentialism. In Meursault, Camus creates a character he intends his readers to relate to, because he creates characters placed in realistic situations. He wants the reader to form a changing, ambiguous opinion of Meursault. From what Meursault narrates to the reader in the novel, the reader can understand why he attempts to find order and understanding in a confused and mystifying world.


Camus writes in a simple, direct, and uncomplicated style. The choice of language serves well to convey the thoughts of Meursault. The story is told in the first person and traces the development of the narrator's attitude toward himself and the rest of the world. Through this sort of simple grammatical structure, Camus gives the reader the opportunity to become part of the awareness of Meursault. In Part I, what Meursault decides to mention are just concrete facts. He describes objects and people, but makes no attempt to analyze them. Since he makes no effort to analyze things around him, that job is given to the reader. The reader therefore creates his own meaning for Meursault's actions. When he is forced to confront his past and reflect on his experiences, he attempts to understand the reasons for existence. At first, Meursault makes references to his inability to understand what's happening around him, but often what he tells us seems the result of his own indifference or detachment. He is frequently inattentive to his surroundings. His mind wanders in the middle of conversations. Rarely does he make judgments or express opinions about what he or other characters are doing. Meursault walks through life largely unaware of the effect of his actions on others.


Meursault is distant from set plans, ambitions, desires, love, and emotions in general. He has a difficult time with emotions such as regret and compassion. The reader sees the nature of his personality in the first few lines of the novel: "Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know." When he hears of the death of his mother through a telegram, he is unattached, and can be considered uncaring. His mother's death serves to interrupt the flow of Meursault's life, a life dedicated to appreciating tangible things. He wished she had not died, but her death made no real impact on his life other than temporarily disturbing his daily lifestyle. The discomfort on the bus and the overbearingly hot burial were caused by her death. He recalls this discomfort as he shoots the Arab. But Meursault does not force himself to fake emotions, which is probably why he harbors so little resentment. His apparent lack of emotion is what lands him in trouble in the courtroom, for people think his nature to be that of a heartless murderer. He does have some relatively good characteristics, such as his honesty. Meursault also possesses the ability to logically evaluate a situation without becoming panic-stricken. Everything he does and says is in such a nonchalant manner that one wonders what it takes to make him tense.


Camus's way of creating a contrast between the two faces of Meursault is by separating the book into parts. The first part describes Meursault as an indifferent character, the second as a changed and intellectual man. This separation is helpful in understanding the changing nature of Meursault. Part I of the novel is just Meursault's commentary on the events going on around him.. Part II is Meursault's commentary on his life in which he attempts to understand existence and what it stands for. He is conscious of every aspect of his experience, both past and present. In Part I, the reader sees that Meursault is devoid of emotion and lacks the sort of emotion that makes a person vulnerable. However, in Part II, he has little choice but to reflect on his past because in his jail cell, that is the only thing he can do. He learns to do without the experiences he loves and he sleeps much of the time. However, he does suffer a great deal thinking about the executioner and his blade. For the first time in his life, he thinks about his relationship with society. The final encounter with the chaplain forces him to articulate his ideas on life and death. He is faithful to his beliefs, though they are limited. The confrontation with death causes Meursault to open up his heart to the indifference of the universe. The only thing that could make his death happy is to maintain his beliefs and set a standard for those to come.


As a thoughtful reader, my response to Meursault is that he is a very interesting character. His character is interesting for several reasons, the most important being his contrast to members of conventional society. At the beginning of the book he is an almost completely indifferent character. This is definitely different from the image of a well-rounded person that society puts forth. Meursault cares only for the physical world. He does not dwell on other things, such as knowledge or intelligence. He is also indifferent to many things that conventional society is emotional about. He cannot find anything in his life worth making an effort for.


It is the actions of Meursault, the main character, that make the novel and define existentialism. With his complete indifference to the world, Meursault becomes the example of an existentialist. He sees the world as a meaningless string of events that give no purpose to existence. Meursault has a passion for the truth. He is an outcast for this reason, and is detached from others because they cannot face the truths of the world as he perceives them. Meursault has an indifference to other humans and their feelings, and stands out in sharp contrast to the rest of the world. The novel did introduce the ideas of existentialism to me. Upon finishing the book, the reader is left to ponder the meaning of life as presented by existentialism. Meursault is so indifferent that he does not recognize his emotions until he is about to die. Existentialism in the novel really shows through Meursault's character. It is not really obvious as to whether or not he believes there is a meaning to life until the end when he understands it. It is most likely that his indifference allows him to care less about whether life has meaning. It was odd that Meursault becomes so preoccupied or maybe fascinated by his own death. He at least thinks about it, which shows that he cares. Perhaps it is a way for him to redeem himself. He is an existentialist hero through his understanding of the meaning of life. It is a complex theory in a short, simple novel.


By the close of the novel, Meursault has changed. He does not concentrate as much on the physical world. His greatest change comes in the form of deep thinking. He begins this while in prison, where he has nothing else to do. This is definitely different from his former stance. He also discovers that there is something to live for: life itself. Ironically, he finds meaning in his life only when he is sentenced to die.


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