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The Outsider Written by Albert Camus

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The outsider


  • The outsider is a novel written by Albert Camus that has modern existentialist thought at its core. The novel revolves around the life of Meursault (the main character) who remains detached from the world. We see how events that are so important to others aren’t of any real significance to him.
  • Emotional strangeness is portrayed through the character of Meursault in the novel the Outsider. He is portrayed as detached, unemotional and withdrawn. Camus portrays Meursault as one who has a lack of an inner emotional life.
  • Camus portrays Meursault in such a way that we find it hard to empathize with him. For example when he shoots the Arab man on the beach he blames the sun for that act of violence, “all I could feel was the sun crashing like cymbals against my forehead, and the knife a burning sword hovering above me.”
  • Meursault’s emotional strangeness is first portrayed by how he resists meeting the demands of society to “conform to the prevailing local social norms.” We see this throughout the novel one such instance was when his mother died, he cribbed about how he had to go running to catch the bus, “I had to run to catch the bus,” and the “bumpy ride,” rather than being upset about his mothers death. Now this portrays emotional strangeness as during such a difficult time society would expect Meursault to be upset and unhappy about his mothers death however he doesn’t seem to focus on that but instead focuses on menial things like the “the smell of petrol.”
  • As the essay suggests he has a problem understanding why people (society) feel his behavior or rather detached attitude make him strange. Camus portrays him as a man curious for reason that is why we see Meursault justifying everything he feels or thinks.  For example on his way to the old age home in the bus he felt drowsy and hence fell asleep, however before falling asleep he made it a point to justify why he felt drowsy, “rushing around, running like that, plus the bumpy ride… all that must have been why I felt so drowsy.” However the one thing that he can’t find a reason for is why society feels that his detached attitude is strange and this at times leads to frustration for him.
  • We see Meursault reporting his findings and actions almost like a factual account, rather than being emotionally invested in them. When he goes to the mortuary to see his mother rather than paying his respects to his mother he is busy examining the room, “room was very bright, whitewashed, with a glass roof. There were chairs and trestles in the shape of an X.”
  • He is depicted as someone who is incapable of portraying feelings the conventional way. When his mother dies he maintains a carefree and happy attitude, which as portrayed to us by Camus is no façade, but simply how Meursault is.  
  • His emotional strangeness is also conveyed through his relationship with Marie, his girlfriend. A relationship refers to the way in which two or more people are emotionally connected. However, this seems to be missing in his relationship with Marie. When Marie asks him to marry her he says yes and the reason he gives for saying yes is that since Marie asked him to marry her he did and he would do the same for any other woman. This shows how he doesn’t rely on his feeling to make such decisions but rather on a certain form of reason. This is why Camus describes him as quite “passive” who responds to events without any motivation of his own.
  • Camus portrays him as an honest character, who wouldn’t lie even to protect himself from execution, “he refuses to lie.” However, Camus takes another spin on the meaning of the word “lie” according to him lying is when someone says more than what is true. Meursault does readily commit perjury however when his lawyer asks him to say that he controlled his feelings at the funeral he replies, “no, because it wasn’t true.” This can again be linked to his emotional strangeness because how could he not have cried at his mother’s funeral; to society it just doesn’t make sense.
  • He has a lack of emotional connection with the feelings of other people that essentially are his major issue. We see that he understands others feeling for example when Raymond is pleased and Marie is annoyed however he does not understand these as reasons for his own actions instead his reasons are dependent on the sun, the sea etc. One such instance was when he met the Arab man at the beach he could have simply walked away but according to him, “the whole beach, throbbing in the sun, was pressing on my back.” When the Arab drew the knife the sun flashed off the knife blinding Meursault and that according to him was the reason the “trigger gave.” He maintains an indifference to the world, this is shown by the way he reacts to his mothers death and the death of the man he shot.
  • Camus as the essay suggests has written a novel in which it becomes impossible for the reader to empathize with the main character and vice versa. To the reader Meursault’s actions and behavior are unexplainable and completely irrational just as how society views it, making him the outsider. However for Meursault the reaction of society to things such as death are unexplainable and irrational. For example, when his mother died and as “normal,” he went to Céleste’s to grab lunch he saw everyone feeling sorry for him and that somehow made him feel “strange.” For Meursault it is hard to comprehend society’s emotions to certain phenomenon such as the death of someone close making society the outsider to him.
  • Meursault is also portrayed as the Hero of Absurdity in the novel. His absurdity is a result of his lack of emotional investment in himself and other people. According to Camus absurdity is caused due to the world being unable to meet our demand for meaning. It is essentially a search for answers in an answerless world. Camus believes that evading absurdity is not the right way to deal with it. Camus portrays his views on how to deal with absurdity through his character Meursault who not only recognizes the absurd but also understands the search for meaning.
  • Meursault is described as one who believes that things matter only because people make them matter. The world doesn’t come with a set meaning to every single thing but instead it is society who dictates this meaning. The world on the other hand is rather indifferent to this meaning. Meursault finds it hard to distinguish between what is rational and what isn’t. for example there was no reason for his act of violence at the beach however according to Meursault he isn’t guilty as his action somewhere in his mind is what he considers rational. After all it is people who attributed a meaning to murder and it is society who deemed murder as wrong and punishable. It is not till later on that he realizes that although he doesn’t see himself as guilty due to the rules that society has constructed in their eyes he is guilty.
  • Meursault struggles with understanding others but himself as well. It is only towards the end that he realizes he is a stranger to himself. This is because he has come to the realization that a persons mind and motivation will make it impossible to establish any kind of rational order within them.
  • Throughout the novel we see a huge progress in Meursault as a character. He learns how to accept the “tender indifference of the world, ” this happens as he forgets about his search for meaning that has driven the novel to this point. He realizes that he is different to society however his actions and decisions do matter because society has said they do.
  • Through Meursault, Camus portrays to us that morality is a concept created by society by humans and not something engraved in the order of the universe. Morality is created by emotion and that’s why Meursault finds it hard to decipher what is moral?



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