Meursault or Society: Which Committed the Crime?
In a world where people are determined to find meaning to life and everything that is, what would be the reaction if the value of meaning was stripped away? Imagine this. Life has no meaning. Every event that has happened in the past, every event that is happening in the present, and every event that will happen in the future has and will never a hold any significance. In the novel, The Stranger by Albert Camus, Meursault takes on this viewpoint. He believes that trying to find meaning is absurd and irrational; it does nothing to change the fact that each and every person living on this Earth is destined to perish. Despite Meursault being portrayed as a mad individual, Camus argues that the world he lives in is what has gone mad.
A major oddity that serves as the main focus for Meursault’s madness deals with his behavior at his mother’s funeral and the overall reaction to her death. “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” (1). Meursault's response to the telegram seem inconsiderate, out of the ordinary. It is later learned he did not shed a single tear at the funeral, nor knew the age of his mother. The amount of ridicule would seem acceptable in a world that finds comfort in mourning for the loss of loved ones. In the lense of an outsider, like the general public, Meursault's reaction was viewed as inhuman and ultimately demonstrative of his lack of love and affection for his mother. But from Meursault’s point of view, the over emphasis on emotion after a death is absurd. Death is a part of life and cannot be prevented. It is the only thing that is certain, other than taxes. There is no point to grieving when the outcome can be expected; it has no significance or value. Years down the road it is not going to matter if a tear was shed; it has no bearing over the overall outcome of life.
Meursault also received criticism for putting his mother in the home from the start. It was seen as a selfish act, in that there was no thought towards himself caring for his mother. Yet, the public’s ridicule was out of place given Meursault's actual mindset. “...some people in the neighborhood thought badly of me for having sent Maman to the home, but he knew me and he knew I loved her very much. I still don’t know why, but I said that until then I hadn’t realized that people thought badly of me for doing it, but that the home had seemed like the natural thing since I didn’t have enough money to have Maman cared for.” (45). The act was not done out of bitterness or lack of feeling towards his mother. Society is cruel for its harsh judgements, and illegitimate accusations. If Meursault is being criminalized for doing right, then there is not a problem with him but a problem with the way others view him.
After the killing of the Arab, it can be seen that in all situations Meursault tends to shy away from emotion. This is what the prosecutor chooses to narrow in on during the trail. “He stated that I had no place in a society whose most fundamental rules I ignored and that I could not appeal to the same human heart whose elementary response I knew nothing of”(102). This argument pointed towards the idea that Meursault was a nuisance to society, has no purpose. It is impossible for the general public to understand his way of thinking and processing life. The emphasis on widely held views is what corrupts individuals and
As he headed to deathrow after the verdict of guilty was given, the humanity inside of Meursault edged to the surface as the priest gave him a final chance to reach out to God for strength. “He wanted to talk to me about God again, but I went up to him and made one last attempt to explain to him that I had only a little time left and I didn't want to it on God” (114). After this exclamation, an emotional swell of anger came over the once perceived emotionless man. It was like the first breath of freedom that Meursault had, leasing the tension that was kept pent up inside. It showed the injustices that were prevalent in the world that Meursault lived in and the faulty reasoning behind the reason of his imprisonment and death sentence. The outburst lead him to the realization that he was pardoned, not by the judge but from himself, knowing that despite what others thought he was not guilty based off the focus of his trial. His death, whether that day or twenty years in the future, is destined to happen just as it is for each and every individual.
Just like Meursault, they live an absurd life that will have no meaning once death knocks on their door. “Everybody is privileged. There were only privileged people. The others would be all condemned one day” At that point, it was Meursault fighting back against the hatred and basically saying that karma is a bitch. If one inflicts harm on another, that same harm will be returned to the perpetrator of the initial harm. It is like judgment day, where all the faults of mankind will come to light and determine how the end shall come: heaven or hell. So as Meursault was hours away from heath he “had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that the greet me with cries of hate.” (123). No one had the right to cry at his mother’s funeral and likewise, no one had the right to cry at his. He wants them to be angry, not for the fact that he killed the Arab, but instead for the way that death is held in society.
Meursault, although an outcast, was not the threat to society as he was seen by others. He was the absurd hero that loved the little things in life, feared death, and ultimately scorned God for not being his image of a savior. He sees that people are not living in a world of freedom, but instead, letting materialistic things control their lives. Meursault was on the right path, being more connected with himself and straying away from what entices the rest.