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In Albert Camus’ novel, The Stranger, the protagonist Meursault is a character who has definite values and opinions concerning the society in which he lives. His self-inflicted alienation from society and all its habits and customs is clear throughout the book. The novel itself is an exercise in absurdity that challenges the reader to face the nagging questions concerning the meaning of human existence. Meursault is an existentialist character who views his life in an unemotional and noncommittal manner, which enhances his obvious opinion that in the end life is utterly meaningless.
The novel opens with Meursault having just learned that his mother has died. His reaction to her death is far from typical, and he simply says, “Maman died today, or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.” As he prepares to leave town to attend the funeral, he expresses a sort of general discomfort. This discomfort can be seen in his extremely uncomfortable conversation with his boss, in which Meursault simply tells his boss, “it’s not my fault.” Meursault also wishes that the funeral were already over so that, “the case would be closed, and everything will have a more official feel to it.”
On the way to the funeral Meursault is greatly affected by the sounds and smells of the bus and sleeps the whole way to escape his physical discomfort. When he arrives at the home the caretaker asks him if he would like to see his mother one last time before the casket is closed and he declines. Sitting down near the casket, his attention is focused not on his mother, but rather on his own physical discomfort and the “two hornets buzzing against the glass roof.” After listening listlessly to the caretaker’s endless stream of chatter, Meursault drinks a cup of coffee and smokes a cigarette. Meursault, never shedding a single tear, keeps an all-night vigil at the casket, surrounded by his mother’s sobbing friends. He seems to regard the whole night as somewhat pointless, and comes away feeling very tired.
On the day of the funeral Meursault immediately notices details such as, “the screws on the casket had been tightened and that there were four men wearing black in the room.” Throughout the day he does not display any signs of grief, and hardly seems to pay any attention to the fact that he is at his own mother’s funeral.
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After the procession, Meursault remembers little about the funeral itself. The only thing that he remembers were the words of the nurse who spoke to him as they entered the village. She told Meursault, “if you go slowly, you risk getting sunstroke. But if you go too fast, you work up a sweat and then catch a chill inside the church.” These words have a powerful effect on Meursault and he seems to regard them as a metaphor for life when he says, “she was right, there was no way out.” His actions and attitude at the funeral are indicative of the rest of his life. Meursault is truly a stranger in his own life. His is caught up in the absurdity of human existence, and is utterly unable to find any sort of meaning in his life. Nothing matters to him because he realizes that his own mortal existence, as well as everyone else’s, will eventually come to an end. His preoccupation with his inescapable doom prevents him from caring about anything or anyone. His unemotional manner enables him to commit murder set on a sun-drenched Algerian beach,” which leads to his execution.