An Analysis of Mersault’s Moral Decline in the Stranger

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The moral decline of Meursault in “The Stranger” reflects the era of the author, Albert Camus. Meursault’s rationalizations for his definition of morals is how he ends up finding himself on death row, instead of going with society and preserving the morals he was given before his mother died. Albert Camus lived in a situation much similar to this with World War II and the Algerian Revolution during the 1940s, where moral decline and absurdity was more prevalent to those who were witnessing destruction and oppression.

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Therefore, Albert Camus was, more or less, enticed to write the existential and absurdist character of Meursault, rationalizing himself to doom like the world around Camus, who was feeling like an alienated outsider.

Meursault’s refusal of social convention is the representation of the 1940s era in which the author lived in, with an unexplained tragedy that does not build up enough emotion in the people of the 1940s. For Meursault, this tragedy was the death of his mother and how he could not express his feelings toward it because he felt nothing for his mother. This can be looked at as Germany’s loss in World War II and the rest of the world acting as if they had lost nothing to the point of rudeness, allowing this new thought of Nazism to rise. Camus showed this aloofness within Meursault to the point of rudeness with his thoughts toward his mother’s friend at the home when he just wanted her to shut up instead of crying for his mother’s death, “The woman kept on crying. It surprised me that I didn’t even know who she was, I wished I didn’t have to listen to her anymore, but I didn’t dare say anything,” (Camus, 10). Just as with the Algerian Revolutionary rise, the French settlers – being Meursault – felt pity towards the Algerians, but put them into a position where the settlers were more accepted by the country’s leadership. The events eventually lead up to social conventional refusal within the world, and more importantly Algeria, where Camus was located in the 1940s.

At the beginning of the book, the reader can see that Meursault is like a stranger even to his own mother, in that he didn’t know much about her. As for the Pied-noirs, they were stuck in the middle of the Algerians and the French due to their dependence on the French, even while the rest of their nation strived for independence. When the warden asked if Meursault wanted to see his deceased mother at her final rest, he refused because he didn’t want to feel the remorse of not really knowing her. To the warden, it seemed as if he never really cared about his mother and never mourned her. Thus, Meursault’s lack of mourning symbolizes his moral decline, likened to that of the Nazi party in Germany. His initial reactions to his mother’s death were filled with remorse and numbness, as he stated, “For the present, it’s almost as if Mother weren’t really dead. The funeral will bring it home to me; put an official seal on it, so to speak…” (Camus,4). Camus himself travelled back and forth to Paris to find work as a reporter for the leftist press, but instead found Paris under Nazi invasion, leading to his exile. This experience influenced Camus’s concept of the stranger and the feeling of alienation, reminiscent of a death of his old self that he no longer recognized. This sensation can be related to Meursault’s feelings when his mother died, as well as his feeling of being an outsider to her death.

In the part of the book where Meursault is preparing for his mother’s funeral, a minor character, an Arab nurse with a tumor, foreshadows events to come. This character is symbolic of the era of Camus. Meursault doesn’t notice the tumor until the caretaker mentions it while they smoke cigarettes and drink together. This act later haunts him in the courtroom as a monstrous deed. He is tried for shooting the Arab multiple times after he was already dead, not for the fact that he killed him. “I didn’t understand, so I looked over at the nurse and saw that she had a bandage wrapped around her head just below the eyes. Where her nose should have been, the bandage was flat. All you could see in her face was the whiteness of the bandage” (Camus, 7) is how Meursault describes the nurse, with various foreshadowing elements. At first, Meursault didn’t understand what the abscess meant to the nurse and then realized she had a bandage. Just like how he didn’t understand why he was in the jail until it was too late.

The Arabs within the story convey a reflection of the time frame in which Camus lived, specifically during the Algerian Revolution. The Algerian Revolution began when the Nazis invaded France and subsequently Algeria, forcing Algerians into Nazi concentration camps or killing them until 1942, which was also the year of “The Stranger’s” publication. Following the Allies’ liberation of Algeria, a desire for independence culminated in a bloody conflict between the Algerian people and the government. Camus was anti-war, but he observed economic collapse and social mistreatment of Algerians by the French. The Pied-noirs, who were second-class citizens in the eyes of the French and heavily reliant on the French for employment, feared that the Arabs would fill job slots due to their cheaper labor costs. To illustrate this, Camus initially introduces Meursault as a Pied-noir, granting readers insight into the Pied-noir lifestyle. During this period, many espoused French-Algerian myths, particularly within Meursault’s social milieu amidst the enormous power struggle between Algeria and France.

One such myth was the portrayal of all French-Algerians as pagans who worshipped the devil and practiced witchcraft. Meursault embodies this perception when he states, “What difference could they make to me, the deaths of others, or a mother’s love, or his God; or the way a man decides to live, the fate he thinks he chooses, since one and the same fate was bound to ‘choose’ not only me but thousands of millions of privileged people who, like him, called themselves my brothers” (Camus, 151-152). He essentially denies the existence of God, citing the universal nature of fate, and this forms a key ‘paganistic’ theme within the novel. Meursault’s angry reaction to a priest offering him salvation further intensifies this notion, causing jailkeepers to physically separate Meursault and the priest. Conversely, Camus also depicts Meursault as a Christ-like figure, convicted and sentenced to death for his beliefs and altruistic actions, indicating the fundamentally good intentions of the Pied-noirs.

Another stereotype propagated by the French painted Algerians as promiscuous due to their non-conformity. In “The Stranger”, Camus communicates this through the relationship between Marie and Meursault. Marie, depicted as the primary sexual figure in the novel, desires a relationship so intensely that she sacrifices her ‘purity’ for a man incapable of reciprocating her love, consequently casting their relationship as impure; an unacceptable condition for the French at the time. Nevertheless, while crafting this impure relationship, Camus presents Marie as a desperate woman, seemingly justifying her impurity. This desperation is highlighted when Meursault dismisses the idea of love as meaningless (Camus, 35) during Marie’s proposal for marriage.

However this justification was never brought up to the people around Marie just as Meursault‘s actions were never justified by Meursault in the courtroom. The courtroom was the main existential theme in the book besides Meursault himself. It was significant from the fact that it shows the themes of absurdism and existentialism that Camus was influenced by at the time, The judge and lawyers inadvertently accused Meursault of being a killer based on his actions about his mother’s death rather than the actual murder itself to the Arab.

Therefore the trial of which he was put through seemed unjust and peculiar making Meursault think about the question “I‘d been right, I was still right, I was always right. I‘d passed my life In a certain way, and I might have passed it in a different way, if I‘d felt like it I’d acted thus, and I hadn’t acted otherwise; I hadn’t done x, whereas I had done y or 2. And what did that mean?” (Camus, 151). Which meant what difference did it make if he cried at his mother‘s funeral or not to justify him murdering someone and gave him pessimism in his trust in others like how the Algerians and Pied-noirs felt about the French during the time when they were put on trialr The murder of the Arab is intriguing by its nature and how it is presented when he is put on trial because he shoots the Arab six times which should be tried for instead of his mother‘s funeral, “Then everything began to reel before my eyes, a fiery gust came from the sea, while the sky cracked in two, from end to end, and a great sheet of flame poured down through the rift. Every nerve in my body was a steel spring, and my grip closed on the revolver, He trigger gave, and the smooth underbelly of the buttjogged in my palm, And so, with that crisp, whipcrack sound, it all began. I shook off my sweat and the clinging veil of light.

I knew I‘d shattered the balance of the day, the spacious calm of this beach on which I had been happy. But I fired four shots more into the inert body, on which they left no visible trace. And each successive shot was another loud, fateful rap on the door of my undoing” (Camus, 76) was how the murder actually occurred and in the courtroom the life he took was almost meaningless just because he killed an Arab man. The Arab being a criminal was never even taken into account when Meursault was on trial showing how much an Arabic and Pied- noir life meant to the French people of that time. On May 8, 1945 after the book was published, the French even killed civilian Arabs with no weapons just because they were protesting.

Later, this became known as the Setif Massacre. The Setif Massacre, like the book, brings the question of what life is more valuable than another life? As well as, what is the meaning of a meaningless world? This was from Camus’ era being full of racism and genocide in the fight for freedom, as well as new thoughts in existentialism and absurdism arising from the crevice of French oppression. Camus’ character brought the revolutionary ideas of how moral decline occurs, and in turn, showed the era’s struggles that Camus faced in the story of The Stranger.

Works Cited

  1. Eastern Graduate School. “Albert Camus – Biography” Albert Camus. Eastern Graduate School, n,d, Web. 3 Dec 2013 l “ALLIES IN ALGIERS-NOVEMBER 1942- British Pathé,” Horne-British Pathé, N.p.,n.d. Web 6 Jan. 2013. .
  2. “BBC – Religion: Paganism,” BBC- Homepage N.p.,n.d. Web, 6 Jan 2013, . “Literary Movements and Periods.” Sparknotes. Nlplndl Web 6 Jan 2013 “US Army Campaigns of World War II Series/Algeria-French Morocco.” Wikisource. N.p., 21 June 2009‘ Web 6 Jan, 2013, l “Camus,Albert. The Stranger. New York: Vintage, 1942. Print.
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An Analysis of Mersault's Moral Decline in The Stranger. (2022, Jul 05). Retrieved from