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11LIT - The Outsider: Home

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Are you an Absurdist at heart? Which statements don't belong?
The world is indifferent to me: 0 votes (0%)
Life doesn't offer me meaning: 0 votes (0%)
There is no God: 0 votes (0%)
Nature has a grand plan for me and my Life: 0 votes (0%)
I need to create my own meaning and purpose to be fully happy: 0 votes (0%)
Total Votes: 0

Quotes from "The Outsider":

Spoken by Meursault, the novel’s narrator and protagonist, these are the opening lines of the novel. They introduce Meursault’s emotional indifference, one his most important character traits. Meursault does not express any remorse upon learning of his mother’s death—he merely reports the fact in a plain and straightforward manner. His chief concern is the precise day of his mother’s death—a seemingly trivial detail.

Mersault’s comment, “That doesn’t mean anything,” has at least two possible meanings. It could be taken as part of his discussion about which day Madame Meursault died. That is, Meursault could mean that the telegram does not reveal any meaningful information about the date of his mother’s death. However, the comment could also be read more broadly, with a significance that perhaps Meursault does not consciously intend; Meursault might be implying that it does not matter that his mother died at all. This possible reading introduces the idea of the meaninglessness of human existence, a theme that resounds throughout the novel.

The nurse speaks these words to Meursault during the long, hot funeral procession in Part One, Chapter 1. On a literal level, the nurse’s words describe the dilemma the weather presents: the heat’s influence is inescapable. But Meursault’s comment, “There was no way out,” broadens the implications of the nurse’s words. As Meursault eventually realizes, the nurse’s words describe the human condition: man is born into a life that can only end in death. Death, like the harsh effects of the sun, is unavoidable. This idea is central to Camus’s philosophy in The Stranger, which posits death as the one central, inescapable fact of life.

In this passage from Part One, Chapter 4, Meursault relates an exchange he has with Marie. With characteristic emotional indifference and detachment, Meursault answers Marie’s question completely and honestly. Always blunt, he never alters what he says to be tactful or to conform to societal expectations. However, Meursault’s honesty reflects his ignorance. His blunt words suggest that he does not understand fully the emotional stakes in Marie’s question. Also, in Meursault’s assertion that love “didn’t mean anything,” we see an early form of a central idea Meursault later comes to understand—the meaninglessness of human life.

This quotation is Meursault’s response in Part One, Chapter 5, to his boss’s offer of a position in Paris. Meursault’s statement shows his belief in a certain rigidity or inertia to human existence. His comment that “one life was as good as another” maintains that although details may change, one’s life remains essentially constant. The comment also implies that each person’s life is essentially equal to everyone else’s.

At this point in the novel, Meursault offers no explanation for his belief in the equality of human lives. In the novel’s final chapter, he identifies death as the force responsible for the constant and unchangeable nature of human life. A comparison of this quotation to Meursault’s ideas following his death sentence highlights Meursault’s development as a character whose understanding of the human condition deepens as a result of his experiences.

These are the last lines of the novel. After his meeting with the chaplain, whose insistence that Meursault turn to God in the wake of his death sentence puts Meursault into a “blind rage,” Meursault fully accepts the absurdist idea that the universe is indifferent to human affairs and that life lacks rational order and meaning. He moves toward this revelation through the course of the novel, but does not fully grasp it until he accepts the impossibility of avoiding his death. Meursault realizes that the universe’s indifference to human affairs echoes his own personal indifference to human affairs, and the similarity evokes a feeling of companionship in him that leads him to label the world “a brother.”

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Themes:

Indifference toward humanity and human passions is another crucial theme explored in The Stranger. This indifference results in an extreme and cruel form of apathy. Meursault is branded as a monster. At the end of the novel, he does not follow the instructions of his lawyer. As he has not shed any tears and has not shown any remorse for leaving her alone, he is a monster and therefore does not deserve to be shown sympathy. Even in the narration, it appears at some point that Meursault is showing an extreme form of indifference toward others, including his own mother and girlfriend. That is why he faces the indifference of the world when he is incarcerated for killing the Arab.

Passivity is another theme that recurs in the novel. Meursault is the first example of this passivity: he only wants to observe life passing before his very eyes. He feels himself alienated and detached from the stream of life as if he exists only to watch. He watches his mother pass away and even watches his girlfriend asking him to marry her. Even his own reaction to his would-be hanging is a passive one. He just reflects upon the mob looking at his execution.

Alienation is another minor theme of the novel shown through Meursault. Not only does Meursault feel alienated from himself, but he also feels alienated from others and the whole social fabric. He feels alienated as he is a Frenchman living in Algeria. He feels alienated from others as his mother has left him, and he has no sadness about the event. He is so alienated from society that others consider him to be a monster.

Lack of communication or miscommunication is another significant aspect of The Stranger. Whether it is the communication of human passions, sorrow or love, there is a general lack of misunderstanding among the characters of the intended meanings. The most misinterpreted character is Meursault, whose indifference comes across as inhumanity. Raymond, too, misinterprets him despite his close friendship. Although he kills the Arab for brandishing a knife at him, Raymond believes that killing the Arab was a kind act. Even his lawyer and the chaplain fail to understand his communication, his passions, and his final words.

 

Though The Stranger is a work of fiction, it contains a strong resonance of Camus’s philosophical notion of absurdity. In his essays, Camus asserts that individual lives and human existence in general have no rational meaning or order. However, because people have difficulty accepting this notion, they constantly attempt to identify or create rational structure and meaning in their lives. The term “absurdity” describes humanity’s futile attempt to find rational order where none exists.

Though Camus does not explicitly refer to the notion of absurdity in The Stranger, the tenets of absurdity operate within the novel. Neither the external world in which Meursault lives nor the internal world of his thoughts and attitudes possesses any rational order. Meursault has no discernable reason for his actions, such as his decision to marry Marie and his decision to kill the Arab.

Society nonetheless attempts to fabricate or impose rational explanations for Meursault’s irrational actions. The idea that things sometimes happen for no reason, and that events sometimes have no meaning is disruptive and threatening to society. The trial sequence in Part Two of the novel represents society’s attempt to manufacture rational order. The prosecutor and Meursault’s lawyer both offer explanations for Meursault’s crime that are based on logic, reason, and the concept of cause and effect. Yet these explanations have no basis in fact and serve only as attempts to defuse the frightening idea that the universe is irrational. The entire trial is therefore an example of absurdity—an instance of humankind’s futile attempt to impose rationality on an irrational universe.

 

A second major component of Camus’s absurdist philosophy is the idea that human life has no redeeming meaning or purpose. Camus argues that the only certain thing in life is the inevitability of death, and, because all humans will eventually meet death, all lives are all equally meaningless. Meursault gradually moves toward this realization throughout the novel, but he does not fully grasp it until after his argument with the chaplain in the final chapter. Meursault realizes that, just as he is indifferent to much of the universe, so is the universe indifferent to him. Like all people, Meursault has been born, will die, and will have no further importance.

Paradoxically, only after Meursault reaches this seemingly dismal realization is he able to attain happiness. When he fully comes to terms with the inevitability of death, he understands that it does not matter whether he dies by execution or lives to die a natural death at an old age. This understanding enables Meursault to put aside his fantasies of escaping execution by filing a successful legal appeal. He realizes that these illusory hopes, which had previously preoccupied his mind, would do little more than create in him a false sense that death is avoidable. Meursault sees that his hope for sustained life has been a burden. His liberation from this false hope means he is free to live life for what it is, and to make the most of his remaining days.

 

The Stranger shows Meursault to be interested far more in the physical aspects of the world around him than in its social or emotional aspects. This focus on the sensate world results from the novel’s assertion that there exists no higher meaning or order to human life. Throughout The Stranger, Meursault’s attention centers on his own body, on his physical relationship with Marie, on the weather, and on other physical elements of his surroundings. For example, the heat during the funeral procession causes Meursault far more pain than the thought of burying his mother. The sun on the beach torments Meursault, and during his trial Meursault even identifies his suffering under the sun as the reason he killed the Arab. The style of Meursault’s narration also reflects his interest in the physical. Though he offers terse, plain descriptions when glossing over emotional or social situations, his descriptions become vivid and ornate when he discusses topics such as nature and the weather.

 

Meursault as a character is detached from the world around him, experiencing events as serious as his mother's death without emotion. He does not attach any deep feelings to his romantic relationship with Marie, to his job, or to his neighbors and friends. Ultimately, this isolation from the world that Meursault experiences leads him to commit an act of senseless murder, a crime without any real motive. Isolation as a key theme in The Stranger is even evident in the novel's title (L'Ètranger), which can also be translated as The Outsider: Meursault feels separated from people, events, and emotions.

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