Camus' Meursault in The Outsider: Archetype of an Absurd Man
Dr. Hossain Al Mamun[*] and Touhida Sultana[**]
Abstract: This paper explores Meursault’s brusque mannerisms that lead to society judging him and ultimately hating him, as he is judged to be a threat. Meursault did not care about anything or anybody, but himself, and his own little pleasures and the necessities of the moment. He has no feelings, does not care to "advance” his life in the same way that others expect. It demonstrates how Meursault is a rebel in the eyes of society by his actions and upholds him as the archetype of an absurd man.
Key words: Archetype, Absurd, Camus, Meursault
In the essay "Camus' The Outsider," Jean-Paul Sartre explains that Camus' book is more of an 'experience of the absurd' for readers than a 'novel' because it uses literary approaches to identify and clarify the absurdity of life. The absurd is both a 'state of fact' and what people obtain from this 'state of fact'. He is also the man who does not hesitate to draw the inevitable conclusions from a fundamental absurdity. He is not only a person without a drive but also a person who is content with anything. Meursault is the perfect example of an absurd man.
His attitude towards life has been one of listless detachment; throughout the text, he never says more than he feels and refuses to conform to the norms of his society. He lives for the moment: at work, in his relationship with Marie, in his choice of friends such as Emmanuel, Raymond and Salamano, in his lack of remorse for the murder and finally in his attitude towards the chaplain and Christianity, in lacking the need for forgiveness.
Meursault resists being typecast into an archetypal moral category in many of his deeds and actions. Many of his actions in Part One of the novel help contribute to the fuzzy picture of the character. For example, Meursault starts off at the beginning of the story by showing how absurd he is. He does not seem to care about anything in his life nor does he know anything about his own mother. He had sent her to a home so that she could be taken care of, which he saw as a burden. Throughout the first chapter of the book, he asked for several days of in order to go to his mother's funeral: "Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know. I got a telegram from the home: "Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours." That doesn't mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday." (Camus 9). This conveys that Meursault is very insensitive because no "ordinary" person would ever say that especially after his mother’s death. A person should be a little sensitive when in situations like it. Meursault is not concerned with the feelings or emotions of others around him. At his mother's funeral, Meursault does not regret his mother's death and instead of mourning he takes the wake as insignificant that he borrows a black tie and armband for the funeral. He is not willing to spend money when he would use them only one time. Almost misses his bus for the funeral. Actually he faces life and death with the same easy indifference. That’s why his mom’s death is meaningless to him: it’s all the same to him. On the way to the funeral, during the vigil and the funeral itself, his reactions are mostly physical, when he enters the mortuary; his attention is not in the wooden box. He notices the skylight above and the bright clean-whitewashed walls. Even after the mortuary keeper has left, his attention is not on the coffin, he reacts to the sun, and getting low and the whole room was flooded with a pleasant, mellow light. He denies seeing the body of his mom. Indeed he smokes a cigarette and drinks white coffee before the unviewed body. According to him she is dead but he is alive, is sweaty and hot and doing what he is expected to do for a funeral. His mom gave him birth, brought him up. Now he becomes adult. And as become adult, he and his mom were no longer close. In Meursault’s words: “They had nothing else to say each other” (Camus 20). And at this moment in his life, he can’t yield to the rituals of frantic, emotional breast-beating because of his mother’s death. During the funeral procession Meursault is not concerned with his mom’s existence in an after life. He is not torn by religious agony or a sense of loss. During the long hours of funeral, he isn’t in mourning. Rather he is uncomfortable and embarrassed. He thinks that he is wasting the day and he has to tolerate the lengthy and boring ordeal. His mom’s friend Thomas Perez points out that Meursault has no sympathy for it. His only thoughts are focused on getting back to Algiers and going to bed for twelve hours: "the blood red earth spilling over Maman's casket, more people, voices of the village, waiting in front of the café", the instant drone of the motor, and my joy when the bus entered Algiers and I knew I was going to bed and sleep for twelve hours." (Camus 22). Even after the day of funeral when he wakes up he realizes how exhausting the funeral was. He thinks to go to swimming, as we find no feelings about his mother. By a chance on the beach he meets a girl who worked for a short time in his office. They go to watch a comedy movie. He befriends Marie and goes on living as if nothing has happened. Even that night they go to his home to have sex.
[*] Associate Professor, Department of English, Shahjalal University of Science & Technology, Sylhet and [**] MA in English, Department of English, Shahjalal University of Science & Technology, Sylhet, Bangladesh