The Stranger by Albert Camus - Man or Monster?

The Stranger by Albert Camus - Man or Monster?

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Man or Monster in Camus’ The Stranger (The Outsider)

In Albert Camus’ absurdist novel, The Stranger, Meursault’s detachment from society and his killing of the Arab reveal moral and ethical implications for him and his society. As is common in many absurdist novels, Camus discusses the estrangement - and later development - of an individual in a benign and indifferent universe, one in which conformity prevails. Camus not only satirizes the conformity of society, but religion and the legal system as well. By writing in the first person (from the standpoint of Meursault), he draws in the reader, making the evils of society more prevalent.

The conflict is established at the end of Part I, when Meursault kills an Arab; an action not uncommon in Algiers during this period of social unrest (the 1930’s). He does not do it intentionally, but rather because of the intensity of the moment and the blinding sunlight reflecting off of the Arab’s blade.  The fact that Meursault kills an Arab is of little importance in this novel. The jury and the general population despise him because he is different, not because of the murder. Even Meursault’s lawyer predicts that the punishment will be minimal. Throughout the entire trial, the prosecution stresses Meursault’s lifestyle and his indifference to everything. They bring up his mother’s funeral and say that he showed no signs of emotion. To make things worse, he went to a Fernandel comedy and had sex with Marie on the very next day. The prosecutor once states, “...all I see is a monster.”

It is true that Meursault was different from the rest of society. However, he changes throughout the trial and eventually becomes an existentialist hero. This is because he finds meaning in life. It is ironic, though, that he learns to appreciate life after his is effectively over. His apathetic approach to life is made clear from the first page: “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.” This foreshadows his approach to everything else in the book. His indifference to Maman’s death contrast’s significantly to Salamano’s distress at losing his dog. Many of the characters in this book also function to highlight his qualities through contrast.

At the end of the book, after coming to a realization, Meursault does not want to die and for the first time, he shows emotion. He shakes and screams at the chaplain and says, “It was the first time in my life I wanted to kiss a man,” when Celeste speaks up for him at the trial.

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Camus again discusses society’s values when talking about the crowds flocking to the executions. This also emphasizes conformity and the alienation of people who are different. At the end of the book, Meursault hopes that a lot of people come to his execution with their burning hatred. At least then they will have found some meaning in life.
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