Danger to Societal Values in the Stranger
How it works
In Albert Camus‘s “The Stranger“, the protagonist’s, Meursault’s, social apathy towards the demeanors engraved into humanity’s history results in him being perceived as a social threat. In the first-person narrative Meursault embodies an absurdist viewpoint on life. He focuses on its physical aspects, believing that there is no meaning to human existence, hence he is a symbolic threat against social institutes which provide meaning to human lives. Meursault views social conduct as meaningless; the loss of his mother, specifically, does not appeal to him. He does not attribute importance to it due to his inverted moral standards. Meursault’s apathetic stance, as he is walking behind his mother’s coffin, reflects his struggle to comply with the social norms for what is deemed appropriate for a person‘s behavior at a funeral: expressing grief. He sees “no way out” (Camus 17) of attending the funeral; “Way out” denotes an escape, hence metaphorically suggesting that Meursault is feeling trapped in the obligation to attend the funeral. One typically escapes, runs away, from imprisonment.
Meursault’s detachment and aloofness result in him being imprisoned by the societal expectations for his presence and behavior at the funeral. Hence, his mother’s funeral is impossible for Meursault to avoid. Due to absurdity and existentialism of Meursault‘s character, the metaphor is extended to him seeing “no way out“ of finality of death, His mother’s life has elapsed, whilst he is trapped in his predetermined existence; he makes no value judgement, simply getting through life, Furthermore, Meursault never discusses the details concerning his mother’s death, because death, to him, eludes explanation. At the funeral Meursault‘s exhaustion is directly juxtaposed with actions of Monsieur Perez, his mother‘s “fiance’” (Camus 13). Perez, at the expense of eventually fainting, overcomes his physical discomfort in place of his emotional sorrow experienced from the loss of a loved one. His exhibit of grief directly contrasts and, hence, highlights the abnormality of Meursault’s apathetic attitude at the funeral. The concept of death, due to its fatality, fails to upset Meursault; contributing to his overall nonchalant existentialist attitude. Meursault‘s incompliance with the social norms is deemed immoral and abnormal in the Algerian society, hence his nonconformist character is the determinant in his conviction and sentencing for murder of the Arab.
How it works
When carrying out the case, the prosecutor focuses on Meursault’s belief in lack of purpose in social practices, specifically his mother‘s death, as evidence that he is a threat to the social hierarchy of values, Meursault’s his lack of emotional responses, results in him being half—jokingly referred to as “Monsieur Antichrist“ (Camus 71) by the magistrate, alluding to the religious beliefs of Christianity. “Antichrist” was said to be a satanic ‘man of sin’, who directly opposed the teachings of Christ. Hence, due to his detachment and failure to abide by the social stance, Meursault is hyperbolically viewed as the apotheosis of evil. However, ironically, Meursault is convicted to death mostly due to his absurdist beliefs. The four bullets fired by him were out of his unconsciousness, rather than out of brutality. He becomes a victim of “bad luck” (Camus 92), mirroring the fate of Christ himself, who dies for his principles opposing society’s ideologies, In contrast to society’s expectations, Meursault does not believe in God. He rejects the chaplain’s offer for “another [eternal] life” (Camus 119), denoting the spiritual existence of a soul after one dies, following the divine plan of religion. In
Meursault’s existential beliefs life in meaningless and the finality of death is inevitable, hence he does not want the promises of religion, In rejecting “another life”, he rejects the concept of God or a higher power, as it does not replace the absurdity of human lives In accepting the consequential finality of life, Meursault is “mourer than [the chaplain] could ever be” (Camus 120) about his existence. Meursault admits, in a definite tone, in an absolute, that “nothing mattered” (Camus 121) to him, while both the chaplain and the magistrate act as a foil to his character, as they look for purpose and justification for their life in religious practices. Both abide by society’s expectations in believing in the divine power and, hence, fail to understand Meursault. Both characters are astonished and perplexed by Meursault’s lack of beliefs, as religion provides meaning to their lives. The magistrate, when first encountering Meursault asserts that “all men [should] believe in god”(Camus 69). He utilizes an absolute, to underpin the abnormality of Meursault’s decision to not have fate in God, Religious institutions are created by society for its members to abide by, whilst Meursault openly rejects their purpose.
Meursault is aware of social norms and standards, but due to his detached and absurdist character he does not seek a higher power to justify his pre—determined life Hence, he refuses to conform to the ideals and expectations set by society Meursault is perceived as a social threat, as his apathy is viewed as amorality and social rebellion, However, Meursault is aware of his character and his viewpoint on life; he is honest about it to the extent where he is unwilling to lie, as lying is immoral, During his trial, he is candid about killing the Arab and is reluctant to defend himself through lies in opposition of his true inner beliefs, resulting in him being sentenced to death by guillotine. Meursault embraces his inherent detached character and lack of emotional engagement, which make him a social outcast. His indifference, refusal to conform with social values and belief in lack of meaning results in others perceiving him as a threat to social institutions and societal order.