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.