In Camus’ The Stranger, the author exposes a tension between society and the protagonist’s perspective of society. The reader comes to understand the pointlessness of existence through the protagonist’s lens. Although society defines people by actions, Meursault rejects ideas of categorization and embraces a nihilistic view of life. This judgment passed on individuals is based on an individual’s actions. Meursault realizes that everything that lives must die, therefore no matter what one does in life, one is still doomed to the same fate that everyone else is. Meursault makes all of his decisions based on his notion that his actions are unimportant because no matter how society classifies him, he will still die. It is Meursault’s utter rejection of all things irrational that separate him from his fellow man and make him a “stranger”.
The fact that Meursault doesn’t cry at his own mother’s funeral demonstrates how Meursault is disconnected from the normal human emotions of grief that usually accompany death. Meursault is not even sure when his mother died. “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know”(3). He seems to view the rest of humanity as the “others,” as if he is a mere observer rather than a part of humanity that he was born into. For example, the image of the elderly people gathered around the caretaker “nodding their heads” at Meursault conjures up the feeling of vultures surveying their prey. Even Meursault himself feels “that they were there to judge”(10).
His behavior only reinforces this division as he finds himself unable to share in the emotional connection and experience of the vigil. For instance, when one of the women starts to cry, his only response to the tender display of love is, “I wish I didn’t have to listen to her anymore”(10). He does not relate to nor understand the woman’s humanity–as if he were a “stranger” to the essential elements of what it means to be human. Moreover, when the vigil ends and the elderly friends leave they shake his hand, a gesture to which he mockingly thinks “…as if that night … had somehow brought us closer together” (12). This sarcasm underscores how utterly detached he feels from the rest of the world.
After returning from the funeral for his mother, Meursault really demonstrates the meaninglessness of his life. What could possibly be more boring and meaningless than walking around your apartment for a while? This passage is interesting because it gives the reader a rare glimpse of reflection about his mother. Even here, though, it is ultimately selfish in nature. Now that his mother is gone, he feels that his apartment is too big for him. He still lacks remorse or grief, but he’s realizing how his mother’s death affects him: abstractly and physically. The fact that Meursault thinks the apartment is too big for only him symbolizes his aloneness. Just as the apartment is too big and he lives only in one little part, the world is too big, and he is fundamentally alone.
By killing the Arab, Meursault proves that his actions define him, and even if society labels him as a murderer, it does not matter because he is going to die anyway. The murder of the Arab takes place at the climax of the story and it makes the reader wonder why Meursault has no remorse. He is aware of what he is doing and is aware that it is wrong, however he does it anyway. Most people would care if they shot another man, but since he has no cares, he does it with no worries or remorse. “If the other one moves in, or if he draws his knife, I’ll let him have it” (56). This moment in particular is an example of his detached, passive, and psychotic nature. He offers to kill so nonchalantly that it shows no moral stance whatsoever. He’s so mentally detached that the thought of murder poses no great emotion or even feared remorse.
Meursault starts to question why he should care about his life before he dies. He does not question what things would make his life worthwhile, but he questions why he should even question the things that would benefit his life. “As far as I could see, it didn’t have anything to do with me”(69). This emphasizes the point that Meursault is strongly disjointed from society and his and other peoples’ happiness. All Meursault knows is that it is not worth his time to worry about classifying things as good or bad because he will die regardless of his classification.
Meursault is asked about emotions and feelings he doesn’t have or care to have. Meursault is annoyed because this is all a worthless examination into something that will seemingly bring no real conclusion to anything, because life is absurd. Meursault was sure about one thing–death. He was sure he would die, just like everyone else. “But I was sure about me, about everything, surer than he could ever be, sure of my life and sure of the death I had waiting for me” (120). In his death, Meursault finally becomes part of the mainstream society, along with everyone else.
The only guarantee in life is death. Meursault would die regardless of whether he killed the Arab or not. Meursault has reached the understanding that his life is not affected by his actions; it is only affected by his inevitable death. Meursault justifies his actions with his indifference. Whatever he has done in his life could not save him from his death. Meursault’s emotional detachment and disconnect from everyday emotions make him a stranger to humanity.