Albert Camus, born on the 7th of November 1913 in Algeria, was a French journalist, author and philosopher. After World War I many Europeans lost faith and began to question certain aspects of life. Camus and various existential writers, such as Samuel Beckett, judged that life was mainly monotonous and grey and that the “loss of human ultimate certainties” occurred. Although Camus openly said: “No, I am not an existentialist”, mainly two philosophical notions can be found in The Outsider. Absurdism is “the belief that human beings exist in a purposeless, chaotic universe”, thus all efforts of humans to find rationality will ultimately fail as no such meaning in life exists.
Another philosophy which is pervasive in the novel is existentialism, which is the belief “that people are searching to find out who and what they are throughout life as they make choices based on their experiences, beliefs, and outlook without the help of laws, ethnic rules, or traditions”. The Outsider is the story about Meursault, the narrator and protagonist, who, following a series of irrational events commits homicide and is put on trial. Through different key elements, like the character of Meursault and momentous situations, one is able to determine these tenets on the absurd and meaninglessness of human life. These elements play an important role of the perception of the philosophy woven into the content of the novel. Meursault and Camus both are part of an alienated ethnic group called the Pieds-Noirs, which neither belong to their native land France, nor their adopted country Algeria. They are alienated and rejected from society because of political reasons such as their responsibility for the defeat in the Algerian War.
The awkwardness of how Camus’ character deals with emotional situations could portray the author’s tendency to existentialism and absurdism. Therefore this paper will focus on the analysis of the portrayal of the Meursault’s reaction and feelings towards 3the emotions of grief, love and guilt. By such the reader is trying to find evidence of philosophical tenets through the content of the novel.
In the very first paragraph of the book, Meursault receives information about his mother’s passing away. As the book also closes with an event of death, the novel is framed with a sad situation, as one would generally perceive it.
“Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: “Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours. That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.”
The syntax is short, easily understandable, with caesura marking his dull process of thought. Such a situation normally establishes empathy within the reader, because one can identify with the thoughts and emotions of the protagonist. Meursault’s reaction however contradicts the reader’s natural reception of death. Due to the author’s repeated usage of the adverb “maybe”, one is not able to relate to the character’s response. It remains uncertain whether Meursault hesitates to grieve out of an emotional shock, or out of lack of affection. This absence of emotion is underlined by the short and cold telegram, as the text is minimized and no word of condolence is stated. Normally the reader identifies with a grieving protagonist, how ever Camus achieves confusion by not allowing such.
This is further highlighted by a second paragraph which situated after the funeral of his mother. Here Meursault’s indifference and attitude towards death is clearly perceived.
“It occurred to me that anyway one more Sunday was over, that Maman was buried now, that I was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed.” (Camus, p. 24)
Camus implies that for Meursault “nothing had changed”. This triggers the reader to conceive that Meursault is not grieving his mother’s death. One could argue that it might have been the author’s intention to leave the question about Meursault’s past with his family open to the reader. Or does Camus animate the reader draw upon her own experiences?
Another emotion that reveal Camus’ philosophical thoughts is love. Meursault shows a certain callousness towards his girlfriend Marie. The following paragraph creates a straight forward picture of the protagonist’s relationship.
“A minute later she asked me if I loved her. I told her it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so. She looked sad. But as we were fixing lunch, and for no apparent reason, she laughed in such a way that I kissed her.” (Part 1 Chapter 4)
This might provoke a hostile feeling within the conservative reader. By definition, love is an “intense feeling of deep affection”, it can bring meaning and purpose into life. This contradiction implies that the protagonist is a loveless person. The reader is poised to perceive a sense of rejection towards Meursault; his lack of altruism seems to portray his meaningless attitude towards life. Yet again the reader can only empathize on a minimalistic base with the protagonist. This lack of identification creates doubt within of what the character of Meursault lives for. At this point one is able to see how Camus uses the notion of love and Meursault’s indifference concerning it, to guide the reader towards re-thinking the purpose of life.
During the interrogation after his arrest for homicide, Meursault is asked to recall the events. Here again the reader is exposed to Camus’ philosophical views. This time the notion of existentialism. The author uses the feeling of guilt and the character’s unemotional perspective, is yet another way to shape the reader’s thoughts.
“I realized that I’d destroyed the balance of the day and the perfect silence of this beach where I’d been happy. And I fired four more times at a lifeless body and the bullets sank in without leaving a mark.” (p 60)
The fact that he shoots “four more times” at the corpse could emphasize again the detachment of Meursault from the world. What is his motive behind shooting at a dead body? Again Camus leaves his reader with a question, almost like an appeal to ones own consciousness. The author continues to trigger the reader’s comprehension of right and wrong. Camus states that Meursault’s motivation behind the homicide was mainly circumstantial; the sun “burning on [his] forehead” (P. 67) in combination with the sweat and “light” glinting of the gun. Despite the fact that Meursault was the knife in the Arab’s hand, he pulled the trigger due to an uncomfortable feeling rather than threat of the weapon.
It seems as though nature influenced his decision, and thus the murder. At this point Meursault’s emotional detachment of the situation can be translated into some way of existentialism or the development of such. The philosophical idea on existence is later highlighted by the fact hat Meursault does not understand why it is “necessary” to have a lawyer represent him. Furthermore the author creates confusion with Meursault’s motive for killing and the reader’s understanding of it. It does not seem logical for one that nature plays a great role in the decision for homicide. However Camus could impose this decision being based on the irrationality of the universe. Is nature a reason for murder or can there ever actually be an acceptable justification for murder? Therefore one can deduct that here Camus’ story to awake his audience, using the perception of his protagonist, to tell a fable on the absurd meaning of life.
In the last part of the novel, Meursault is convicted of homicide and imprisoned. When he is put on trial, Camus creates a new important scenario, one could perceive as the crescendo of the novel and the fable. The courtroom symbolizes society and the trial it’s contradictions. “I thought my case was very simple” – is what Meursault thinks of the trial. For the first time, the reader is not opposed towards Meursault’s reaction or feelings. But his conversations with the magistrate reveal that the trial is in fact about the protagonist’s view of certain aspects of his life and not about the malicious shooting. This becomes clear when Meursault confesses to the homicide.
However for the magistrate and the courtroom it is more complex than this conviction; they want an explanation. At this point the reader again the tenet of the irrationality of the universe. There is no logical explanation for the court to try to understand his indifference. Meursault took the decision to kill a human being, and stands straight for it. On the other hand society cannot accept his motive, thus his honesty, as a valid justification behind the crime, which proposes such irrationality. They cannot interpret the child like behavior of the convict, and come to the conclusion that he has “no place in a society whose most fundamental rules [he] ignored, nor [that he] knew nothing of the most basic human reactions” (2.4.) .
In conclusion Camus makes it hard for the reader to deduct these philosophical notions