- Alan X
The Stranger: An absence of normality
“Very often ‘normal’ behavior...is behavior which accords with the conventions and dominant morality of a particular society” (Martin 28). In The Stranger, many characters exhibit behavior that is considered “normal.” However, the main character Meursault refuses to conform and deviates from the social norm. As Camus puts it in his 1955 afterward to The Stranger: Meursault “doesn’t play the game. He refuses to lie...he refuses to hide his feelings and society immediately feels threatened.” Meursault’s division is clearly in contrast with the other characters in the novel. Each character demonstrates a unique human trait that Meursault does not possess. This dynamic helps Camus create a clear distinction between Meursault and the rest of society, a distinction that reveals the potential consequences of not conforming to the status quo.
Meursault’s lack of emotion is evident in his one-sided relationship with Marie. While he is obsessed with Marie's physical attributes, Marie is emotionally drawn to Meursault’s strangeness. When Marie asks Meursault to marry her, he says, "it did not make any difference to [him] and that [they] could if she wanted to" (41). Evidently, Meursault does not feel emotionally attached to Marie. Moreover, his accounts of their relationship lack depth and detail, which is similar to the descriptions of his everyday activities. Meursault gives as much thought and reflection to Marie as he does to smoking a cigarette on his balcony. Therefore, Meursault is candid about his feelings towards Marie; he understands that there is no meaning to love and marriage. When Marie"asked [him] if [he] loved her, [he] told her it didn't mean anything but that [he] didn't think so"(35). Marie remained loyal and faithful to Meursault even during his trial; her presence in The Stranger serves as a symbol of love. Sadly, love is a basic human trait that Meursault does not possess.
Contrary to Marie, Raymond’s actions are fueled by his intense need for revenge. He shares his vicious plans with Meursault and often interprets Meursault's indifference as proof that he agrees with him. While Meursault does not have a moral compass, Raymond refuses to conform to the standards of morality. Raymond possesses many character traits that Meursault does not; his actions are triggered by his desire for superiority, which is evident in his plans to punish his mistress. He first thought of calling "the vice squad to cause a scandal and have her listed as a common prostitute" (31). Then he decided to "go to bed with her, spit in her face, and throw her outright at the last minute" (32). Raymond’s manipulative behavior is especially apparent in his relationship with Meursault. Raymond manipulates Meursault into writing a letter to his mistress. Meursault also acts as a witness and helps testify at the police station. This shows that Raymond still cares about his public image; he is also aware that his actions are intolerable to society. Meursault, on the other hand, is incapable of considering the consequences of his actions, thus he is seen as an outsider throughout the novel.
It is entirely clear to the reader that Meursault does not care about himself or the people around him. During Maman's funeral, he refused to see his mother in the casket and did not express any grief. On the contrary, Madame Meursault's only friend, Perez, mourns for her. He became distraught; to him, grief is too great to overcome. During the funeral procession, Meursault did not mourn. Instead, he paid attention to his surroundings and spent the majority of his time thinking about the intensity of the sun. Perez, on the other hand, focused on grieving the loss of a loved one; he was entirely conscious of his physical surroundings, and he was also affected by extreme heat. Nevertheless, he succumbed to overwhelming despair, to a point where "Big tears of frustration and exhaustion [streamed] down his cheeks...leaving a watery film over his ruined face" (18). After the funeral, Meursault felt a sense of relief; it occurred to him that "one more Sunday was over, that Maman was buried now, that [he] was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed" (24). Meursault chooses not to dwell on his mother's death. Consequently, he does not express any sorrow, grief, or sadness.
In The Stranger, we encounter a representative sample of socially approved human traits (love, anger, and grief). However, most of the "normal" qualities only reside in characters who are not Meursault. Their actions are consistent with society's most commonly accepted behaviors, whereas Meursault refuses to conform to the social norm --- he realizes the absurdity in life and understands that the universe is irrational. Instead of seeking meaning, Meursault chooses to embrace the meaningless universe, thus enabling him to interpret life in his own way. To him, a cigarette has as much meaning as a kiss.
Camus, Albert. L'Etranger. Prentice Hall, 1955. Camus, Albert. Stranger. Vintage International, 1989. Martin, R. T. "THE NOTION OF NORMALITY." Australian Journal of Psychology , vol. 4, no. 1, 1952, pp. 28-39.