I have to admit, this post I have been a little resistant to writing. The Outsider, or The Stranger as it’s known by other translations is an unusual read. Meursault, the protagonist of the novel is a product of his modern culture, aimless, half-hearted, half involved with his own life and somehow lacking in real desire and reflectiveness. He is an absurd hero, participating in observing the solitude of his own life with little cynicism or hope. It appears to Meursault that one act is the same as another in the long run, and as indifferent as he himself is, I feel quite indifferent to him as a character.
Of course, I feel pity for him, I feel a benign tenderness for poor Meursault. But the general indifference I feel for him also has been bothering me. It is like an itch in my mind that I can’t quite scratch. Perhaps this is the aim of Camus’s writing, he wants to position the reader as mildly tender but mostly indifferent to Meursault. Perhaps I am not supposed to dive into sympathy for a man who rejects religious comfort on facing his own death, or when he is placed in a dislocated state of shock on finding his mother has died or when he makes a half-hearted attempted at a relationship with a pretty girl.
I feel there is something heartless about Meursault, as if the lights are all on, but nobody is really home. I’m not entirely sure if I can call him an anti-hero, I’m not entirely sure if I can reduce him down to a set of traits that define him as a character beyond, ‘aimless’ and perhaps ‘apathetic’. I feel as if he is a bit useless, a bit dislocated, a bit like someone pretending to be a person if that someone had looked at photographs of people but had never really encountered one.
We are welcomed into the novel with a sudden death. Meursault’s mother has passed away and we find him in what would be loosely termed as a dislocated state of shock. After the inconvenience of her funeral, Meursault carries on with his week, describing in detail the habits of his neighbours and the lighthearted encounter with a young woman. Then while on the beach with his new found friend and lady friend, Meursault does a stupid thing.
He is blinded by the sun and foolishly in that moment he shoots a man.
The second half of the novel Meursault is verbally assaulted from all sides and told he lacks empathy and it is implied heavily that he is a sociopath. His actions from the death of his Mother are traced by the prosecution who suggests that the murder he has committed is premeditated and therefore deserves the highest penalty. But for some reason I just perceive Meursault as stupid, as loosing himself to an impulse that lacked all motivation and then accepting the consequences of his actions. His guilt is undeniable, and while it is not an accidental shooting, Meursault is not a rampaging murderer. It is here that Meursault appears at his most passive and submissive. He is quite simply surrounded by things happening to him and not really absorbing anything around him.
It is only when a Priest repeatedly questions him on his immortal soul that he looses his temper and in a fit of rage and passion throws the man out of his cell. Now the end of the novel Meursault is facing his death, staring it eye to eye and square in the face. But his minor reflections on his own emotional state that come in the afterglow of his rage are surprisingly simple – he looks forward to it. Relishes the idea even! Welcomes the idea that his death will be welcomed by spectators filled with hatred. It is in these lines of reflections I have found some influential lines that I have been harbouring:
“I opened myself for the first time to the tender indifference of the world. To feel it so like me, so like a brother in fact, that I understood that I had been happy, and I was still happy.” p. 111
This is an uncomfortable novel. It is a novel of accepting consequence and of accepting the inevitability of death. It has moral questions, it has raised ideas of perception and how our actions can be sign posted into ideas we may not anticipate projecting. It is a remarkably straightforward narrative but it has really gotten under my skin. I imagine I will have to reread this again and puzzle over it some more because I genuinely do not feel like I am finished with this one.