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Meursault immediately reveals himself to be indifferent toward emotion and interaction with others. Instead of grieving at the news of his mother’s death, he is cold, detached, and indifferent. When he receives the telegram, his primary concern is figuring out on which day his mother died. The fact that he has no emotional reaction at all makes Meursault difficult to categorize. If he were happy that his mother died, he could be cast simply as immoral or a monster. But Meursault is neither happy nor unhappy—he is indifferent.
Though Meursault tends to ignore the emotional, social, and interpersonal content of situations, he is far from indifferent when it comes to the realm of the physical and practical. In this chapter, Meursault focuses on the practical details surrounding his mother’s death. He worries about borrowing appropriate funeral clothing from a friend, and he is interested in the caretaker’s anecdote about how the length of a vigil depends on how long it takes before the body begins to decompose.
Meursault takes particular interest in nature and the weather. Just before the funeral, he is able to enjoy the beautiful weather and scenery, despite the sad occasion. Similarly, during the funeral procession, Meursault feels no grief or sadness, but he finds the heat of the day nearly unbearable.
Meursault’s narration varies in a way that reflects his attitudes toward the world around him. When describing social or emotional situations, his sentences are short, precise, and offer minimal detail. He tells only the essentials of what he sees or does, rarely using metaphors or other rhetorical flourishes. These meager descriptions display Meursault’s indifference to society and to the people around him. Meursault’s narrative expands greatly when he talks about topics, such as the weather, that directly relate to his physical condition. When describing the effects of the heat during the funeral procession, for instance, he employs metaphor, personification, and other literary devices.
Meursault’s belief that the world is meaningless and purposeless becomes apparent in this chapter through Camus’s use of irony. Thomas Perez, the one person who actually cares about Madame Meursault, cannot keep up with her funeral procession because of his ailing physical condition. This sad detail is incompatible with any sentimental or humanistic interpretation of Madame Meursault’s death. Perez’s slowness is simply the result of his old age, and no grand or comforting meaning can be assigned to it or drawn from it. We frequently see such irony undercutting any notions of a higher, controlling order operating within The Stranger.
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