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Meursault in The Stranger: Analysis & Quotes

Instructor: Joseph Altnether

Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.

Meursault's character appears to be that of an individual who is indifferent to the world. His only care is to satisfy his own needs. In Albert Camus's 'The Stranger,' Mersault does care about others; he just shows it in a different manner.

Meursault

Character is difficult to judge. In most instances, it is based on a scant few seconds without taking an opportunity to get to know the person. In the case of Albert Camus's main protagonist from the French novel The Stranger, Meursault, is literally put on trial. Rather than decide whether he is guilty of murder, the prosecutor seeks to prove how Meursault is an unloving and uncaring individual, that he has 'no soul.'

Should this trial define who Meursault really is? The evidence presented during the hearing gives impressions and perceptions of how others see him. None of these people know Meursault. Those who do know him are not given the opportunity to explain what type of person he really is. Instead of examining the type of man Meursault has become, the prosecution attacks him for being an uncaring son.

As a Son

The opening words of The Stranger are perhaps some of the most famous in literature. Yet they also give a sense of how close Meursault was to his mother. Meursault opens the novel with the words 'Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe. . .' (Maman is French for mom). This is not an indication of indifference toward her passing, though. Instead, the fact that he used an endearing term for his mother rather than just 'mother' shows he is not an unfeeling person.

Of course, one of the complaints against Meursault is that he doesn't show any emotion over his mother's passing. He doesn't cry at her funeral. The director of the home where Meursault's mother lived notices that he doesn't 'pay his last respects at her grave.' He also mentions how she never wanted to be put in a home in the first place. So, was Meursault just trying to get her out of his life?

In regard to her death, no. Meursault's attitude toward death is that it happens to everyone. According to Meursault, 'it's obvious that when and where doesn't matter.' The director of the home knows that Meursault places her here because 'he wasn't able to provide for her properly.' He needs someone who can care for her better than he can. He does what is best for his mother to make her comfortable. By putting her in a home, he makes a difficult choice, but one that is for the best.

As a Friend

How does Meursault interact with others? He doesn't really have any person he would call a friend. He goes to the same café every day to eat. The owner, Celeste, considers Meursault to be a friend.' Salmano, a neighbor who is cruel yet loving to his dog, notes how Meursault is 'good to him and his dog.' Despite his kindness toward these people, it is Meursault's relationship with Marie Cardona and Raymond Sintes that help define his character.

Even though Marie worked at the same office as Meursault, it isn't until 'the day after his mother's death' that the two begin a relationship. Meursault meets her at the swimming park, they go to the movies, and then spend the night together. Although Meursault says he doesn't love her, because to him 'what is love,' he would marry her and care for her, because these ideas are important to Marie.

In his own way, Meursault cares about Marie. This attitude becomes more clear in the days leading up to his death sentence. He remembers Marie, and thinks that maybe she is tired of being the girlfriend of a condemned man. Since their separation prevents them from being together, he lets his memories of her go. At one point, he thinks, 'Supposing she were dead, her memory would mean nothing; I couldn't feel an interest in a dead girl. This seemed to me quite normal; just as I realized people would soon forget me once I was dead.' This logical rationalization replaces the expected emotional expression. In a sense, Meursault emotes.

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