Camus' The Stranger: Meursault's Journey
In examining the differences between the free Meursault and the imprisoned Meursault we find that there are a few commonalities. We also discover that by the end of the novel something has changed inside Meursault and he is no longer the same person. He begins to see things differently when, after killing a stranger, his life is put on trial. This is a turning point in Meursault's life. After turning the last page of the novel Meursault is no longer the stranger but instead the complete opposite.
Despite his circumstances there are some things that remain unchanged about Meursault from the first half of the book to the second half. Expressing feelings comes natural to Meursault and he is not afraid to express them even if they tend to be callous or inappropriate. It shows that he doesn't consider the feelings of others as important as his own. A perfect example of this is his nonchalant attitude towards marrying Marie. He tells her if she is not to be his bride, then someone else would do as well. Meursault's callous demeanor appears again when he tells the chaplain in prison exactly where he can stick his belief in the afterlife.
Meursault goes about his daily life not really involved. He is apart from society and he likes it this way. He lives his life in a very solitary way moving from one experience to another. During his trial the prosecutor highlights the fact that the way Meursault behaves is unusual and scandalous. The jury rejects him because of this; they don't see him as one of them but rather as an outsider.
For example, his friend Raymond is considered a womanizer and some what of an unsavory character. Their neighbors speak badly of Raymond behind his back but Meursault doesn't seem to care and befriends him anyways. This attitude casts him in the light of an outsider and makes him sort of socially awkward. He doesn't have very many friends and those that he does have are sort of social misfits or outcasts themselves. Meursault goes about his daily life not really involved. He is apart from society and he likes it this way. He lives his life in a very solitary way moving from one experience to another.
Another characteristic that Meursault keeps from beginning to end is a lack of remorse. He never feels bad for the things that society thinks he should. He even says as much during his trial, he says that he's too busy always thinking of what's next. And his actions show it was well. His actions and those of others don't evoke much, if any, of an emotional response. He says on several occasions that his mother's death doesn't make him feel sad. His actions certainly corroborate in this case as well. After he buries his mother he goes for a swim, meets an old co-worker, and flirts with her for a little while. After the swim he takes her out to a funny movie and then home for a tumble in the hay. This is obviously not a period of emotional upheaval for Meursault. In another demonstration of Meursault's super human emotion suppression abilities he doesn't feel bad about killing the Arab. Even with the suggestion of his lawyer and the urging of his presiding judge that he should feel distraught about his mother and remorse for killing the Arab. He refuses to even try to feign remorse for killing the Arab or blaming it on his mother's death. Meursault is more than happy to proclaim that he killed the man for no reason and that he didn't feel any remorse for it whatsoever.
Meursault also clings to his insensitivity; it's part of him and he wouldn't be Meursault without it. He demonstrates this thoroughly by the way he treated his mother. He decided after having her live with him for awhile that it would be best if he put her in a home. So he did and left her there to rot, not even visiting her once. He also didn't seem to give any consideration to his mother's feelings. She cried after moving in with her son and he attributed it to her just being her and crying because everything was new. He also thought the same when he moved her into the home. He figured it was just his mom's way and didn't consider that she really could have been upset. When asked he wasn't able to produce a known age of his mother. He also never knew when she died exactly and he wasn't bothered by that fact either. Then, to add insult to injury, when she dies he falls asleep at her viewing, smokes cigarettes and drinks coffee as if he was visiting with an old friend. The next day he goes for a swim, meets up with an old co-worker, takes her to a funny movie and then takes her home for some fun.
The calamities that befall our poor Meursault do change him in some way. He learns that some of his characteristics are better left in the past. During the first half of the story Meursault doesn't hesitate to lie. He helps Raymond when he asks him to write a letter to his girlfriend so that he can get her to come back and smack her around a bit. When the police arrive after the resulting scuffle Meursault lies and says that Raymond didn't hit the girl and agrees to testify on his behalf in court.
When Meursault still had his freedom he was very concerned with physical happiness. He was very prone to just doing whatever feels good at the moment which would prove to be his fatal flaw. A great example of this is when he visits his mother's corpse he feels tired so he just decides to fall asleep right there at the old folks home like he was just resting in his family room.
Once Meursault is imprisoned he refuses to make even the smallest fabrication. His lawyer tries to get him to say that he was greatly distressed over his mother's death and that is why he shot the Arab. The judge also pressures Meursault to say that he was under the influence of his mother's death and that he was powerless to contain his own rage. If only Meursault would place the blame on someone else he could avoid this whole mess and return to his normal life. Instead he refuses to cooperate and proclaims that he killed the man and that he didn't feel remorseful about it at all. The lawyer and the judge are baffled and can't understand why Meursault won't save himself
After Meursault's verdict is decided he still won't admit feeling guilty for killing the Arab. The chaplain tries to get Meursault to acknowledge his guilt and admit that there is an afterlife. He feels so adamantly about it that he gives the chaplain a conniption fit. In the end Meursault begins to form opinions about people and the way that people are. He starts becoming more judgmental and speaking his mind, specifically with the prison chaplain.
After being incarcerated for awhile Meursault isn't so preoccupied with physical happiness, instead he begins to look inward and starts to think about spirituality. While he is in prison he begins to consider the way people act and why people do the things they do. He comes to an understanding that society is just an act and that people don't really care about what's real and that they often fear and reject those that expose the truth of their lies.
The final conclusion that Meursault comes to is that when he is executed he wants to have a large group of people there to watch him die. He feels that everyone hates him and that because of that when he dies it will finally give his life meaning – as opposed to how his life is now, meaningless.
There are many differences between the free Meursault and the prisoner. In the beginning we know Meursault as a stranger. “The Stranger” is a journey; a man's metamorphosis from a stranger into a friend. He is no longer apart from society and by killing a stranger his life is put on trial. This is a turning point for Meursault's life. He begins to see things differently especially as witness after witness his atrocious insensitivity is proclaimed, and all of his dirty little character flaws are revealed only as true friends can be.