The role of judgement in The Outsider

The role of judgement in The Outsider

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The role of judgement in The Outsider

The actions of Meursault, the protagonist in The Outsider by Albert
Camus, are characterized by irrationality. For example, there is no
clear logical reason for his decision to marry Marie or to kill the
Arab. “That evening, Marie came round for me and asked me if I wanted
to marry her. I said I didn’t mind and we could do if she wanted to”
(Camus 44).

However, the idea that things sometimes happen for no reason is
disturbing and threatening to society, because, as a logical
conclusion from that, individual existence could have happened for no
reason and would therefore be purposeless. Hence, society always
attempts to find logical reasons for everything. In this novel,
society superimposes its rational nature upon

Meursault’s irrational character, which has the consequence of society
making judgements upon Meursault that are false, because the
judgements do not agree with his irrational personality. The
prosecutor’s speech and the meetings between the magistrate and
Meursault will be used as examples to show this. Before getting into
them, it must be explained that the prosecutor and the magistrate both
symbolize society, since they are part of the court, which stands for
society as a whole. The idea of a court already represents very much
society, since the law functions as the will of the people, and the
jury sits in judgement on behalf of the entire community. But Camus
clearly emphasizes upon this image of “court-as-society” in this novel
by making almost all of the characters from the first half reappear to
witness in the trial: The warden and the caretaker from the home,
Thomas Pérez, Raymond, Masson, Salamano, Marie and Céleste.

First of all, the fact that the prosecutor interprets Meursault’s
irrational action of killing the Arab in a rational way shows that
society imposes its rational character upon Meursault’s irrational
personality. “[Meursault retelling the prosecutor’s argument] I’d
asked him for his gun. I’d gone back with the intention of using it. I’d
shot the Arab as I’d planned. I’d waited. And ‘to make sure I’d done
the job properly’, I’d fired four more shots, deliberately and at
point-blank range and with some kind of forethought” (96). The
prosecutor provides here a rational explanation for Meursault’s murder
of the Arab, that is, he explains how every step that lead to the
murder was planned by Meursault. However, nothing in Meursault’s
narrative explains why he shot the Arab (let alone that there would be
evidence in his narrative that he planned the murder), which suggests
that there is no rational explanation for his action. Thus, the fact
that the prosecutor, who represents society, interprets here Meursault’s

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irrational action of killing the Arab in a rational way shows that
society superimposes its rational nature upon Meursault’s irrational
character.

Using these rational interpretations of Meursault’s irrational
actions, like the one that I just pointed out, the prosecutor manages
to convince the jury in his speech of his conclusion that Meursault is
an immoral “monster”.

‘For though in the course of my long career I have often had occasion
to demand capital punishment, never before have I felt this onerous
task so fully compensated and counterbalanced, not to say enlightened
by a sense of urgent and sacred duty as well as by the horror which I
feel at the sight of a man in whom I see nothing but a monster’.

When the prosecutor sat down again, there was quite a long silence.
(99)

The long silence after the prosecutor sat down suggests that the court
is awestruck by the prosecutor’s arguments. However, his conclusion
that Meursault is a “monster” is a false judgement made upon
Meursault. It can be assumed that the prosecutor uses the term “monster”
here, because he finds that Meursault is extremely immoral, since the
day before during the trial, the prosecutor called Meursault clearly
an immoral monster: “[Indirect speech of the prosecutor] In fact the
whole affair was of the most sordid description and what rendered it
all the more iniquitous was the fact that they were dealing with an
immoral monster” (92). However, Meursault is not immoral at all, but
amoral, that is, he simply does not make any distinction between right
and wrong. A good example for Meursault’s amorality is on page 36,
when Raymond asks him to write a letter that will help Raymond torture
his mistress: “I wrote the letter. I did it rather haphazardly, but I
did my best to please Raymond, because I had no reason not to please
him” (36). That Meursault does his best to please Raymond in the
morally wrong act of writing the letter, just because he does not see
any reason not to do so, shows very much how indifferent he is to
whether the act is morally right or wrong. Meursault does not care
about morally right and wrong and does not follow any moral standards,
because it conflicts with his irrational nature. That is, to follow
consciously certain moral standards would require Meursault to make
the distinction between good and bad in his own mind, which demands,
although only a bit, some amount of logical thought, but his
irrational nature does not allow him to think in a logical way.

Hence, the fact that the prosecutor, who represents society,
interprets Meursault’s irrational actions in a rational way and uses
these explanations to come to the conclusion that Meursault is an
immoral monster, which is false since Meursault’s irrational side does
not allow him to be immoral but only amoral, shows that society
imposes its rational nature upon Meursault’s irrational personality,
which has the consequence of society making judgements upon Meursault
that are false, because the judgements do not agree with his
irrational personality.

Another occurrence of society superimposing its rational nature upon
Meursault’s irrational character is when the magistrate calls
Meursault “Mr Antichrist”: “… I must say I was almost surprised that
I’d ever enjoyed anything other than those rare moments when the
magistrate would escort me to the door of his study, slap me on the
shoulder and say in a friendly voice, ‘That’s all for today ‘Mr
Antichrist’’” (70). Meursault’s irrational personality stands quite in
contrast with the idea of religion and Christianity, which provides
rational explanations for everything: The origin of the earth and
humanity, the reason for our existence, what happens after death, etc.
By calling Meursault “Mr Antichrist”, the magistrate categorizes
Meursault in terms of Christianity and hence, in terms of his rational
system of belief. Therefore, the magistrate imposes here his and also
society’s rational nature, since Christianity is the dominant religion
of the French colonizers in Algeria, upon Meursault’s irrational
character.

Little later, the magistrate makes then his judgement upon Meursault:”Then
he looked at me intently and rather sadly. He murmured, ‘I have never
seen a soul as hardened as yours. The criminals who have come to me
before have always wept at the sight of this symbol of suffering’”
(69). To judge upon someone as being the most hardened soul one has
ever encountered is very much a judgement made in terms of
Christianity. The word soul clearly evokes the notion of a
metaphysical world, since after all it is the soul, which rises to
heavens or goes to hell after death according to Christianity. Hence,
as a result of superimposing his Christian system of belief upon
Meursault’s irrational nature, the magistrate also judges upon
Meursault in terms of Christianity.

However, the judgement that Meursault is an extremely hardened soul is
false. To have a hardened soul means that one has lost all feelings of
remorse, guilt, regret, etc. about a morally wrong act, because one’s
conscience has been hardened by numerous immoral activity committed
before. However, Meursault does not have any feelings of remorse and
guilt, because he got used to immoral activity, but because his
irrational point of view does not allow him to be rueful about
anything that happened in the past. “I’d have liked to have explained
to him in a friendly way, almost affectionately, that I’d never really
been able to regret anything. I was always preoccupied by what was
about to happen, today or tomorrow” (97). Being able to regret or
feeling guilty about something would require Meursault to see his life
as having apart from a present also a past, because one can obviously
only regret something that has happened in the past. However, to see
one’s life as having a past apart from a present requires some
capability of analyzing one’s life, which demands a certain amount of
logical thought and Meursault’s irrational nature does not allow him
to have this logical thinking ability.

To summarize, by calling Meursault “Mr Antichrist”, the magistrate
superimposes society’s rational nature, which is in this case
represented by Christianity, upon Meursault’s irrational character and
this leads to the fact that the magistrate also judges upon Meursault
in terms of Christianity. However, the judgement that Meursault is the
most hardened soul he has ever seen is false, because it does not
agree with Meursault’s irrational nature, since it is not numerous
immoral activity that hardened his conscience, but his irrational
side.

To conclude overall, in The Outsider society superimposes its rational
nature upon Meursault’s irrational character, which has the
consequence of society making judgements upon Meursault that are
false, because the judgements do not agree with his irrational
personality. Firstly, this is shown by the fact that the prosecutor,
who represents society, interprets Meursault’s irrational actions in a
rational way and uses these explanations to come to the conclusion
that Meursault is an immoral monster, which is a false judgement since
Meursault’s irrational side does not allow him to be immoral but only
amoral. Secondly, it is shown by the fact that the magistrate
superimposes society’s rational nature, in this case represented by
Christianity, upon Meursault’s irrational character by calling
Meursault “Mr Antichrist” and this leads to the fact that the
magistrate also judges upon Meursault in terms of Christianity.
However, the judgement that Meursault is the most hardened soul he has
ever seen is false, because it does not agree with Meursault’s
irrational nature, since it is not numerous immoral activity that
hardened his conscience, but his irrational side.

Works cited

Camus, Albert. The Outsider. London: Penguin books Ltd, 1982.
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