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Camus’ Exploration Of Existentialism Through Mersault’s Views And Thoughts On Life And Death, Throughout ‘The Outsider’

1817 words - 8 pages

The Outsider, written by Albert Camus, revolves around a protagonist - Mersault. The major theme the book explores is existentialism. According to Wikipedia, ‘Existentialism is a philosophical movement that views human existence as having a set of underlying themes and characteristics, such as anxiety, dread, freedom, and awareness of death. It is also an outlook, or a perspective, on life that pursues the question of the meaning of life or the meaning of existence.’ I am going to explore the change in Mersault’s perspective on life during his stay in prison. There are a lot of references to death in the book, as well - Mersault’s mother dies in the beginning, later on, Mersault ...view middle of the document...

When you step out of society, you would feel completely alone and isolated. Either way you lose out, yet you cannot avoid both of the outcomes. To stick with the physical world of society and the sun, or to escape through the spiritual world in the church, away from the sun, are the only choices available. As Mersault says ‘she was right, there is no way out.’ he too refers to the hidden meaning of the Sun, which is society. He claims that there is seemingly no way out of the oppression and conditioning of society on people. We can see this when Mersault is forced to murder the Arab, by the oppression of the Sun, later on in the novel. ‘The Sea swept ashore a great breath of fire. The sky seemed to be splitting from end to end and raining down sheets of rain. My whole being went tense’ Camus uses powerful vocabulary here to intensify the meaning of the sentence. Phrases such as ‘breath of fire’ ‘seemed to be splitting’ ‘sheets of rain’ ‘whole being went tense’ are all tools, creating clear and strong images of this rather powerful scene in the reader’s heads. Camus also uses personification of the sea, adding to the effect of this scene, as we in our heads picture the Sea breathing fire. All the factors of the sun‘s heat and light affecting Meursault send him into an uncontrollable frenzy. He could only think to shoot the Arab five times. Since the sun represents society, it can be argued that it was in fact society’s pressure on Mersault’s mind, at an unconscious level, that made him brutally commit the murder. Mersault’s thoughts on life were conditioned by society in such a way that he gave no meaning to it – he was not able see the calamity in murdering another man, thus he was able to pull the trigger, without thinking twice. This is Camus’ reference to existentialism, and that existentialism states life is simple, by chance, and meaningless.
Mersault is later put on trial for the murder. Mersault displays an emotionless and numb attitude during this time. He is asked whether he feels any remorse about his mother’s death- Mersault’s reflection on this is, ‘I probably loved mother quite a lot but that didn’t mean anything. To a certain extent all normal people sometimes wished their loved ones were dead.’ This not only shows his huge lack of remorse towards a loved one’s death, but total irrationality of thought according to society’s, so to say, ‘laws’ of thinking. The jury, being the representative of society, opposes Meursault and accuses him of not conforming to society's natural ways. They exclude him from society for his sincere demeanor, and for his manifestation of an inexpressive character. Mersault’s display of lack of emotion is linked with absurd reasoning, a reference to the meaninglessness of life. According to his insensitive attitude, Mersault thinks that life is meaningless, and does not particularly care for the death of a loved one, as we have seen.
As the trial...

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