Meursault By Albert Camus

Testing the Boundaries of Algerian Conventional Society In this essay, I am
going to explore Albert Camus’ use of Meursault’s murder trial in The
Stranger to note the absurdity of the defined social behavior in Algeria while
forcing the reader to evaluate his or her own morality. Camus asks the reader to
form a mental and emotional relationship with Meursault through the descriptive
and, in the end, destructively honest narrative. He then asks the reader to
depend not on the law, which in this novel represents conventional social
behavior, but on this newfound relationship to decide Meursault fate. Camus’
introduction of Meursault uses straightforward and very honest language. While
the reader is aware from the beginning that Meursault deviates from the norm,
through factual, and almost play-by-play details, Meursault dares the reader to
judge him, and we do. We criticize him for not showing more emotion towards his
mother’s death. We expect him to show more affection towards Marie, whom he
claims to love and we want him to exert a more forceful voice in the situation
between Raymond and his girlfriend. However, we respect his honesty and
appreciate his need to almost separate himself from the emotions that seem to
drive us all a little crazy. Camus then challenges this respect and appreciation
with a violent act. As the story reaches the climax with the murder, our
opinions of Meursault change because, as Camus makes us aware, society has
condemned him not for murder but for being different. Indeed, the gentlemen of
the jury will take note of the fact. And they will conclude that a stranger may
offer a cup of coffee, but that beside the body of the one who brought him into
the world, a son should have refused it. (91) Meursault’s guilt, as the
prosecutor points out, stems from his odd behavior over the loss of his mother.

Unlike American society, although not by much, the Algerian social standards
call for Meursault to weep in sorrow and be distraught during the funeral
despite his relationship with his mother. As part of American society, we
attempt to create our own meaning for Meursault’s actions. We want his
relationship with his mother to explain these actions. On the other hand,
perhaps, we want to say that he was “taught not to show is emotions.”
American society searches for the psychological reasons for Meursault’s
actions. Our focus is not on the murder per say. It is on the reasons behind the
murder. What made him snap? However, we must separate ourselves from what
American society has taught us and focus only on what Camus tries to teach us
about Algerian society. Algerian society is about getting to the core of
Meursault’s defiance not because it will help to better explain his actions,
but because when one defies the rules of society he, or she, must pay. The trial
is not a murder trial. It is a trial of morals and emotion. Why else would the
prosecutor focus so much on the death of Meursault’s mother? Why else would
the later part of the book turn into a self-evaluation of Meursault and of
ourselves? During the preparation for the trial, the reader becomes increasingly
aware of Meursault’s sensitivity. Meursault has to explain his feelings and
not his actions to the court, something that seems impossible for even the most
socially acceptable. We feel pity for him because his past torments him. Camus
uses this pity for Meursault. He wants the reader to identify with Meursault and
sympathize with his situation. Once Camus sets up the link between the reader
and Meursault, he makes the reader resent the judges. Camus provokes the reader
to resent the judges of Meursault by having us feel that the judges are
questioning our behavior as well. This resentment towards the judges, and
ultimately towards society, becomes the basis for our decision to either support
or condemn Meursault. Camus forces the reader to revaluate his or her morals in
order to avoid condemnation by society. We envy Meursault because he is able to
be honest and true to himself, and although Meursault could have saved himself
had he repented or showed remorse, he saves himself by not doing that, and this
is what we respect because Meursault has done what we are afraid of doing: he
questions society. Let us look at the actual murder. Meursault, in what seems to
be an act of pure evil, fires an involuntary shot followed by four voluntary
ones. The four voluntary and unnecessary shots start Meursault’s process of
questioning society, and the reader’s process of questioning him or her self.

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As the judges connect Meursault’s emotionless past to his crime, the reader
explores exactly how they are like Meursault. Camus wants the reader to feel
that at any moment society can condemn him or her in the same way that Meursault
is condemned. This is not to say, however, that Camus want us to forget about
the violent murder. Rather, Camus intentionally disassociates the act of the
murder from the actual sentence. This separation reveals the absurdity of
Algerian, and in many ways American society. Camus needs the reader to believe
that the court kills Meursault for his indifference, in order for the reader to
feel unsatisfied with the verdict. Because we see Meursault as an innocent
force, almost child like, we begin to question our own innocence. And yet, we
are, because of society’s conditioning, unable to separate the murder from the
verdict. The reader, like the judges, begins to prosecute Meursault for opposing
society, and uses the murder to justify this prosecution. Camus then, after the
reader feels satisfied with not having defied society, uses Meursault’s moment
of self-evaluation to make the reader self-evaluate himself. On page 121,
Meursault asks, What did other people’s deaths or a mother’s love matter to
me; what did his God of the lives people choose of the fate they think they
elect matter to me when we’re all elected the same fate, me and billions of
privileged people like him who also called themselves my brothers? …What would
it matter if he were accused of murder and then executed because he did not cry
at his mother’s funeral? Meursault’s newfound awareness compels the reader
to ask: “in what way am I Meursault?” “Am I guilty of being different?”
“How will I act when a parent passes away?” “In prosecuting Meursault, the
readers prosecute themselves.” Camus forces us to make a connection that is
entirely different, better yet, independent of society’s connection to murder
and guilt. Camus has the reader put Meursault on trial to determine his own
innocence. The Stranger, and ultimately the murder trial, is a process of
self-awareness based not on what society has taught us, but on what Camus
teaches us through Meursault’s situation. Through this self-awareness, Camus
is able to provide a valid argument against the absurdity of what society calls”appropriate behavior”. We see that there is no such thing as appropriate
behavior because in the end, society condemns us all. The reader becomes
Meursault’s source of strength, Camus source of truth, and society’s judges.


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