Analysis of Major Characters
Meursault is psychologically detached from the world around him. Events that would be very significant for most people, such as a marriage proposal or a parent’s death, do not matter to him, at least not on a sentimental level. He simply does not care that his mother is dead, or that Marie loves him.
Meursault is also honest, which means that he does not think of hiding his lack of feeling by shedding false tears over his mother’s death. In displaying his indifference, Meursault implicitly challenges society’s accepted moral standards, which dictate that one should grieve over death. Because Meursault does not grieve, society sees him as an outsider, a threat, even a monster. At his trial, the fact that he had no reaction to his mother’s death damages his reputation far more than his taking of another person’s life.
Meursault is neither moral nor immoral. Rather, he is amoral—he simply does not make the distinction between good and bad in his own mind. When Raymond asks him to write a letter that will help Raymond torment his mistress, Meursault indifferently agrees because he “didn’t have any reason not to.” He does not place any value judgment on his act, and writes the letter mainly because he has the time and the ability to do so.
At the novel’s outset, Meursault’s indifference seems to apply solely to his understanding of himself. Aside from his atheism, Meursault makes few assumptions about the nature of the world around him. However, his thinking begins to broaden once he is sentenced to death. After his encounter with the chaplain, Meursault concludes that the universe is, like him, totally indifferent to human life. He decides that people’s lives have no grand meaning or importance, and that their actions, their comings and goings, have no effect on the world. This realization is the culmination of all the events of the novel. When Meursault accepts “the gentle indifference of the world,” he finds peace with himself and with the society around him, and his development as a character is complete.
Raymond acts as a catalyst to The Stranger’s plot. After Raymond beats and abuses his mistress, he comes into conflict with her brother, an Arab. Raymond draws Meursault into conflict with “the Arab,” and eventually Meursault kills the Arab in cold blood. By drawing Meursault into the conflict that eventually results in Meursault’s death sentence, Raymond, in a sense, causes Meursault’s downfall. This responsibility on Raymond’s part is symbolized by the fact that he gives Meursault the gun that Meursault later uses to kill the Arab. However, because the murder and subsequent trial bring about Meursault’s realization of the indifference of the universe, Raymond can also be seen as a catalyst of Meursault’s “enlightenment.”
Because Raymond’s character traits contrast greatly with Meursault’s, he also functions as a foil for Meursault. Whereas Meursault is simply amoral, Raymond is clearly immoral. Raymond’s treatment of his mistress is violent and cruel, and he nearly kills the Arab himself before Meursault talks him out of it. Additionally, whereas Meursault passively reacts to the events around him, Raymond initiates action. He invites Meursault to dinner and to the beach, and he seeks out the Arabs after his first fight with them.
A good deal of ambiguity exists in Raymond’s relationship with Meursault. On the one hand, Raymond uses Meursault. He easily convinces Meursault to help him in his schemes to punish his mistress, and to testify on his behalf at the police station. On the other hand, Raymond seems to feel some loyalty toward Meursault. He asserts Meursault’s innocence at the murder trial, attributing the events leading up to the killing to “chance.” It is possible that Raymond begins his relationship with Meursault intending only to use him, and then, like Marie, becomes drawn to Meursault’s peculiarities.
Like Meursault, Marie delights in physical contact. She kisses Meursault frequently in public and enjoys the act of sex. However, unlike Meursault’s physical affection for Marie, Marie’s physical affection for Meursault signals a deeper sentimental and emotional attachment. Though Marie is disappointed when Meursault expresses his indifference toward love and marriage, she does not end the relationship or rethink her desire to marry him. In fact, Meursault’s strange behavior seems part of his appeal for her. She says that she probably loves him because he is so peculiar. There also may be an element of pragmatism in Marie’s decision to marry Meursault. She enjoys a good deal of freedom within the relationship because he does not take any interest in her life when they are not together.
Whatever her motivations for entering into the relationship, Marie remains loyal to Meursault when he is arrested and put on trial. In the context of Camus’s absurdist philosophy, Marie’s loyalty represents a mixed blessing, because her feelings of faith and hope prevent her from reaching the understanding that Meursault attains at the end of the novel. Marie never grasps the indifference of the universe, and she never comes to understand the redemptive value of abandoning hope. Camus implies that Marie, lacking the deeper understanding of the universe that Meursault has attained, is less “enlightened” than Meursault.
by I dont need a bluddy nick name, March 21, 2013
This Spark Note describes Meursault as being amoral. I completely disagree with this interpretation. It is not that Meursault does not understand right and wrong but rather that his ideas of right and wrong differ from those of society. This different moral code can be seen by the way he refuses to break his own morals. He may not value life but he does value honesty and his disbelief in a higher being. Throughout the book he never lies or pretends to have faith in God not even to save his life. His specific moral code is founded in Camus` ... Read more→
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by dmborong, April 11, 2013
Albert Camus' idea of morality in 'The Stranger' is completely unconventional and this can be seen through the protagonist who is a total embarrassment to the society in which he finds himself. This disparity between what is expected of Meursault and what he displays forms the basis of Albert Camus' philosophy of morality. There is a big question mark on conventional morality which the author finds to be absurd. He seems to be questioning the fabric of societal morality on grounds of motivation; are some of those values upheld merely for con... Read more→
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by OverseasTeacher, April 29, 2013
Morality is simply the way that an individual chooses between opposing values in a given situation.
So, lets say "Prolife" vs "Prochoice" as a moral issue. Regardless of your position, you are pushing values. The question isn't "is a fetus valuable?" or "is a woman's right to choose what happens to her body valuable?"
The vast majority of the world would answer yes to both. No, the question is... "which is more valuable if you can't have both?"
In this way, morality requires an active decision making.
This is wher