Meursault floats through life without ambition because he does not view the threat or presence of death as enough motivation to ive a meaningful life, attempting to protect himself from the surprises or expectations he may not meet or like. Meursault changes his outlook on living as he is forced to contemplate the death increasingly present in his life, along with his need to avoid disappointing others, ultimately allowing him to embrace his own death and how it must be viewed by society.
To avoid disappointment, Meursault strives to remain static in hopes of knowing what to expect in all aspects of his life. This is born of his adolescent disappointment, which he reflects upon saying, “When I was a student, I had plenty of ambition of hat kind. But when I had to drop my studies, I realized very soon all that was without real importance. ” (p 62) This decision, largely out of his hands, scarred him and strengthened the disappointment in himself and society from an early age.
It is important enough to him and his story that he even studys the way it made him feel, and introspective quality not exhibited concerning many other subjects in his life. Scholar William Conroy says, “Since this is virtually the only incident of his past life that he recalls, it is surely of crucial significance for him. ” 2 It is this “crucially ignificant” event of his childhood that causes him to lose faith in the order of society and makes him think that he cannot count on anything, especially people.
Without his educational career as proof that hard work and studious dedication can result in success and happiness, Meursault resolves that life in general is meaningless, and that with or without ambition, both paths lead to the same disappointing destination. To try to protect himself from the inevitability of disappointment, Meursault overcompensates by regulating his daily routine. At Maman’s funeral, the attendant ays, “… If you go slowly, you risk getting sunstroke.
But if you go too fast, you work up a sweat and then catch a chill inside the church. ” She was right. There was no way out. “(p 27) In this instance, Meursault is attempting to account for the inevitable, to literally and figuratively try to keep himself in a happy medium temperature wise and emotionally. To deal with the possible emotional strife of losing the last family member that the reader is aware of, Meursault chooses to concentrate on his usual regimented lifestyle, focusing on the days of the week rather than the events ranspiring.
He is utterly passive, seemingly oblivious to the funeral as he concludes, “It occurred to me that somehow I’d got through another Sunday, that Mother now was buried, and tomorrow I’d be going back to work as usual. Really, nothing in my lite nad changed” (p 30) As William Conroy puts Meursault’s misguided priorities, “Sundays bother Meursault, not his mother’s death. “3 By focusing on the aspects of life he can control, like his Sunday schedule, Meursault is able to focus on the things that “do matter” in his sphere, in this case the minimal behavioral necessities such as eing on time, going to work, eating, and sleeping.
Contrary to what might be apparent indifference on the surface, Meursault subconsciously tries to avoid disappointing society Although he does not necessarily wish to marry Marie, he plays the role of boyfriend and even considers marriage because it is what she, and society expect of him saying, ” I explained to her that it didn’t really matter and that if she wanted to, we could get married. ” (p 41) Similarly, Meursault’s interactions with the priest and lawyer simply boil down to what Meursault has to do or say to please them so they will leave him alone.
While telling his story to the lawyer, Meursault says, “l felt the urge to reassure him that I was like everybody else, Just like everybody else. ” (p 66) He does not want to be a stranger to society, but rather to appease everyone so they will not question or inspect his actions, which he fears may disappoint. Perhaps the best example of Meursault trying to please people, for little to no personal gain is his interactions with Raymond.
Upon Raymond’s vague request to write a controversial letter to a woman who had been beaten, and now accused of cheating by Raymond, Meursault simply takes the ask at face value saying, “l wrote the letter. I did it Just because it came to me, but I tried my best to please Raymond because I didn’t have any reason not to please him. “(p 32) Meursault’s first consideration is not about the morality of the letter, but instead if it will satisfy Raymond.
This aversion to disappointing people is a contributing factor in his end predicament, because it is his associations and perhaps loyalty to Raymond that puts him in the situation on the beach with the Arab. The turning point in the novel is when Meursault shoots the Arab because that is is first real contact with death, and the ultimate disappointment to society as he breaks the most integral aspect of human nature. It could be argued that Meursault does not mean to kill the Arab, that the first shot is fired purely by chance.
He goes to the spot by accident, meets the Arab by chance, the sun happens to be unpleasantly hot, making Meursault uncomfortable. When the blade catches the sun and the reflection flashes into Meursault’s eyes, he simply responds mechanically- like a coiled spring- and the gun goes off. 4 For a man who avoids death in his life, it seems ounterintuitive that he would inflict such damage upon another human. Yet it is not his thirst for death or vengeance that drives this act, but an ulterior force manifested in the sun and heat that motivates this last action.
By removing the blame, instead placing it on inanimate objects like the gun trigger, he eliminates himself from the deathly aspect, not considering the ramifications in his own life, or the life he Just took. It is this lack of an understanding and self introspection about the finality of death, born of his resistance to considering his own feelings from his lack of personal xperiences with death, that prevent him from grasping the gravity of his actions. The similarities between Meursault’s experience at his mother’s funeral and the Arab’s shooting are eerily similar in their treatment of death.
Even Meursault observes the similarities saying, ” It was the same sun as the day I had buried Mother and, like then, I nad a great pain in the torenead where all the veins were beating together under the skin. ” (p 79) Conroy states the similarities saying, “The sun, the sweat, the pulsation, the fatigue, the coloring, the tears, and death are dela vu; they esuscitate for Meursault the experience of his mother’s funeral and the emotions he was then feeling. “5 The events being so similar in a physical sense allows them to mirror the other emotionally as well. The final link between the two events is the presence of death.
These similarities force Meursault to again remember his other experience with death, that he has so strongly repressed, and for those pent up emotions to resurface. As he heats up on the beach, those same emotions resurface and bring death to the forefront of his mind causing a reaction, or the first shot of the The next four shots are of a different nature, seemingly contradictory to the theory of avoiding death. This conscious decision to “… fire four more times at the motionless body… ” (p 59) shows that the action is no longer motivated by sheer chance and reaction.
As scholar Christopher Robinson observes, it is apparent that Meursault feels no emotion, reflecting little on the act he has Just committed, and instead continuing to narrate the sequence of events following rather than his own feelings about what transpired. 6 The only remorse seen immediately following the shooting s Meursault’s comment, “And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness. ” (p 59) This, while proving he is not happy with what Just happened goes deeper as this “door of unhappiness”, he is now poised to open is the door to his own repressed thoughts about death, especially his mother’s passing.
Whether he knows it consciously or not, those knocks, will bring about unhappiness because they are a reminder of his own mortality, a fact he will have to face in an execution made necessary because of these shots. William Conroy suggests that in firing “into an inert ody,” Meursault is possibly trying to kill death, releasing those pent up emotions and providing a catharsis for the unsettled feelings about his mother’s death. 7 It is his own way of coping with death, a subject he wants so far removed from him, he feels the need to eliminate it four more times.
As Meursault finally is forced to consider his own death in the form of execution, he contemplates the use of the guillotine as the method of the death sentence. He has in some ways accepted his fate, due to the lack of an interest in putting forth an appeal, but he struggles with he concept of rooting for his own death. The one memory Meursault shares about his father is the story of how despite being sickened by the event; his dad would attend the executions of criminals. While it disgusts Meursault as a child, after considering his own situation, Meursault concludes, ” … here was nothing more important than an execution, and that when you come right down to it, it was the only thing a man could truly be interested in.. ” (p 110) Meursault is beginning to see the motivation to live, in part because he understands the threat of death. It is not so uch the fact that his life will end soon, but the inevitability of the guillotine doing its job. Without this slim possibility of failure, “Even one in a thousand was good enough to set things right. (p 111) Meursault is forced to accept death, Just as he sees how precious life is and finally welcomes both chance and motivation into his sphere as he tries to escape the finality of his own death by changing. At the trial, Meursault is not Judged for his failure to understand death, but instead for disappointing society. In his own account ot the trial , Meursault beings to understand now the courtroom eels about him saying, “… for the first time in years I had this stupid urge to cry, because I could feel how much all these people hated me. (p 90) While the fact remains that he has killed a man, the majority of the trial focuses on his reaction to his mother’s death and Meursault struggles with adapting to the disappointment aimed at him. Considering the politics involved in the trial, author Christopher Robinson says, “He is Judged, because he challenged the conventions, however superficially observed by others, regarding the proper respect a son shows his mother. 8 These broken conventions stimulate the disappointment of society and force him to adapt to his new role of murderer in order to please the society he has disappointed.
He attempts to embrace his new role in society by fitting the mold of a criminal. Talking with the examining magistrate he even goes so far as to physically stop his natural movements to fulfill the demands of his new role saying, “… l was even going to shake his hand, but Just in time, I remembered that I had killed a man. ” (p 64) By realizing that he has disappointed society, Meursault is forced to mbrace the role of murderer, causing him to come to terms with the reality of his death, and even dismiss the appeal.
The final line of The Stranger, ” For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate,” (p 123) exemplifies the culmination of Meursault’s struggle to come to terms with the death and disappointment in his life. He has disappointed society by breaking its moral code and now must complete the final act as his new persona, the ated murderer to once again try to please people and he has had to come to terms with his mother’s, and his own death to try to understand the motivation for living.
Yet, most importantly, Meursault has been forced out of his static lifestyle of repressing thoughts of death and trying to live a life void of disappointment. Meursault is forced to change because of the death and disappointment in his life, and it is that change that finally allows him to open himself, “… to the gentle indifference of the world,” (p 122) and accept his tragic fate.