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The Outsider – Albert Camus Essay

The universe is often viewed as irrational and absurd. The French literature novel, The Outside, written by Albert Camus focuses on the judicious meaning of human existence and the lives of individuals. In 1957, Camus was awarded with the Nobel Prize in literature “for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.” (Novel Prize Literature)

The Outsider concentrates on the rational meaning of human existence and the lives of individuals. This written work follows the life of our Algerian protagonist, Mersault, who becomes involved with a violent murder after his mom demises and is indifferent by her death, denying grief. Camus incorporates the existentialism characteristics, Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory into the text.

Freud believes that human beings are motivated, even driven by desires, fears, needs, and conflicts of which they are unaware…” (Brizee and Tompkins) Lacan believes in the developmental concepts of the imaginary and symbolic orders, “As a child once lured by its mirror image (Lacan’s ‘imaginary order’), which promised it a wholeness which is lacked, so the test lures the reader by the force of its representation. But at the same time the text is also law (Lacan’s ‘symbolic order’ of language).” (PAGE 7 AND 8)

Novels such as, The Outsider, emphasize humanity’s consciousness of its mortality and its need to find meaning in the universe and a life that has no purpose. Through this novel, Camus remarkable shows the effects of the conscious, unconscious, imaginary and symbolic psychoanalysis through the death of his mother, the murder of the Arab and the ignorance of the inevitable trial and death. The concepts of symbolic orders, imaginary orders, conscious and unconscious mind have consistently reoccurred during the text.

With the enhancement of psychoanalysis and how it’s applied to a literary piece allows the reader to interpret different explanations and motivations for the characters actions. In the first part of the text, Mersault’s mother as passed away and his is unmoved by this information, “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know…That doesn’t mean anything” (Camus 9) When Meursault received the telegram message of his mother’s death he said that does not mean anything, which could imply the meaningless of life. This also shows that Mersault chooses not to attach any meaning to his actions.

He uses this contrivance to deal with the anguished situation by burying his feelings in his subconscious. When a child is born they become attached to their mother and develop a desire for her. It’s the same feeling for mothers; they develop a desire for a child. The first experience encountered in Lacan’s imaginary order is the separation from others, “Once a child begins to feel begins to recognize that its body is separate from the world and its mother, it begins to feel anxiety, which is caused by the sense of something lost.” (Felluga)

This shows that after the separation from his mother, the protagonist, Mersault feels a loss of safety and security in the world. Mersault could have a desire to have that connection and feeling he had with his mother, again. In order to meet that desire Lacan states that individuals need to project their desire onto the other person. Lacan calls this the objet petit, meaning the small object, which in this circumstance would be Mersault’s mother.

Camus delineates the protagonist’s unconscious search for the objet petit. According to Lacan, the search will be frivolous since the objet petit denotes a loss that can never be replaced but will always be longed for, such as Mersault’s mother. She can never be replaced or brought back to life but Mersault’s unconscious mind will always conceal the desire for the imaginary order for being amalgamated with his mother, again.

During his mother’s funeral, he starts to feel sleepy which could insinuate a drowsy conscious, “The day I buried Maman I was very tired and sleepy,…I wasn’t really aware of what was going on. (Camus 65) This quote shows that Mersault is unable to face the physical reality of his mother’s death so he uses the ability to force out from his consciousness to avoid the painful affects that follow. This also shows his unwillingness to grieve for a loved one and separate from his mother.

Camus also implies that physical needs dominate feelings, “nature was such that my physical needs often got in the way of my feelings. ” (Camus 65). Thus, an individual is expected to grieve when a loved one that is deeply close to you, such as a mother, has passed away. Essentially, the concepts of symbolic orders, imaginary orders, conscious and unconscious mind have consistently reoccurred during the text through the death of his mother, his inability to accept separation and the dominance of his physical self over any expected societal behavior.


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