Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Stranger

Camus wastes no time in conveying the feelings (or lack thereof) of Meursault at the start of The Stranger. For the first part of the novel, Meursault is shown as unfeeling and uncaring, taking what most would consider the ups and downs of life (Love, his mother’s death, etc.) only by going through the motions. Yet Meursault also makes no bones about making his actions seem legitimate. Instead, he is candid about his lack of emotion and refuses to lie about it. However, Meursault’s character changes dramatically at the end of the novel. While throughout the novel Meursault has hints of emotion, by the time the trial begins he starts to feel the hatred of the jury and almost seems to enjoy their hatred, refusing to mitigate his dire situation. This transformation to a more emotive state is fully realized when he is finally condemned to death. Meursault spends the time left in his life reminiscing about the details of his life, finding solace and genuine happiness just as he is called to be executed.

Meursault’s change in personality ultimately spawned from abandoning the nonchalant existence he lived prior to his murder. Camus has a cynical view on the ruts men seems to be stuck in and believes that, until man breaks free from monotony, man cannot find emotion (including happiness) even in the extremes of death and love. While events that send Meursault out of his rut occur in the first few chapters, for a majority of his days the reader gets the impression that he is entrenched in routine and is truly apathetic towards what he is doing. Yet Meursault also wishes to live his life to the fullest, knowing sooner or later that we are all going to die anyways. In the last chapter of the novel, Meursault states that, “there was nothing more important than an execution,” and it was “the only thing a man could truly be interested in.” For the common man, a public execution is the only chance one has of witnessing death; the inevitable end of one’s existence that “all would be condemned [to] one day.” Meursault’s knowledge of his death is best exemplified by the use of the sun. The sun appears throughout the novel as the force that “pushes” Meursault through his mother’s funeral, the murder, and the trial. The strongest example of this meaning, however, occurs while he is in prison. Meursault knows that the guards will come at dawn to take him to the guillotine and he waits through the night for the sun to rise, signaling his doom. Although Meursault does not give much thought to his death before his sentence, he does realize that his life is short and, as shown through the use of the sun, he is willing to go to extremes to break through the confines of conformity and live his days like they are his last.

Once one broke through the monotony, one could truly find happiness in every aspect of one’s life. While Camus is critical of the routines man locks themselves into, he also believes that the second we break away from our Sisyphus-like fate society can realize what a good life we live in spite of the routine. For instance, in the first part of the novel Camus uses the relationship Salamano and his dog as comedic relief, halting the serious tone of the novel to mock the insane routine and anger-filled relationship these two beings have. It is clear that the man hates the dog the first time the two are brought up, yet the second the dog has gone missing, Salamano misses the dog, remembering that, in spite of the feuds that they would enter, “he was a good dog just the same.” Meursault has similar revelations while incarcerated. When his mind is not focused on death, his thoughts are directed towards the little pleasures he experienced prior to the murder. The room that he complained was “too big” for him in Part I, Chapter 2 soon became a preoccupation, spending days remembering every small detail of his abode. The feeling of being submerged in water that he held in indifference before the murder soon became a desire for him within the walls of the prison. The time that Meursault is in prison gave him an appreciation for his former life that he could not have gained otherwise. Although Meursault viewed his life as meaningless, his experiences of abandoning the routine of his life gave him a greater appreciation for everything in his life and, by the eve of his execution, he was ready to “live it all again.”

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