The Outsider by Albert Camus
How did Meursault’s violations of social etiquette reveal one of the novel’s themes on worthlessness of life?
Dec. 17th, 2012
Word count: 1340
IB Language A Literature
Prejudice plays a huge role in today’s society as well as in the setting of The Outsider by Albert Camus. In order to thrive, humans must often turn to feigning feelings that are non-existent. But what happens to those like Meursault who turn to complete honesty in the expression of their sensations? The Outsider portrays a character that expresses his feelings with no disguise and is consequently shunned by society. His belief in the liberation of death was condemned as the thoughts of a cold hearted murderer. The entire novel revolves around Meursault’s violations of etiquette that are of consequence from his lack of emotion, his honesty, and his religion which reveals one of the themes of the worthlessness of human life. Meursault demonstrates a lack of emotion to his surroundings throughout the plot of the novel. This is expressed through the author’s use of several literary features; the most prominent ones being monologue and motifs. Meursault’s trait of lack of emotion in fact had been made apparent with monologue from the very first line of the book, emphasizing the importance of this trait to the plot. The manner with which Meursault describes his mother’s death, “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know. I had a telegram from the home […] that doesn’t mean anything. It may have been yesterday” (Pg. 1) was the hook of the entire novel. Camus chooses this line because it embodies the nature of the character for the readers. It shows sentence fragmentation and some repetition; an indication that the author used sentence structure and language use to evoke a sense of boredom and nonchalance from the character as well as within the reader. However, this ultimately foils the emotion that is being felt, with the event itself. How can one feel such sensations as boredom and nonchalance about the death of his own mother? Consequently, by embodying Meursault’s lack and deviation of emotions, Camus is able to set the tone for the novel.
Along with setting the tone, Meursault’s lack of emotions also contributes to establishing the book’s theme of human worthlessness in an evident manner. When Meursault had expressed indifference to the death of his mother it conveys the notion that his mother’s life is worthless and there is no need for him to become mournful for her death. The burial of his mother further supports this notion as he had a keen conscience for his physical sensations instead of emotions; for instance, his aching back and the extremely humid climate. To further support the lack of sorrow Meursault feels for his mother, his thoughts when he returned home are “my joy when the bus entered the nest of lights which was Algiers and I knew I was going to go to bed and sleep for a whole twelve hours”(pg.22). This lack of emotion that Meursault demonstrates at his mother’s funeral would later on be used to condemn him which also conveys a worthlessness of his own life.
Another trait that is prominent with Meursault is his demonstration of honesty towards others; especially in regards to his personal sensations. At the scene where Meursault first arrives at the caretaker’s home for instance, the caretaker asks Meursault whether he would like to see his mother one last time to which Meursault had rejects bluntly, to Meursault then proceeded to think “[he] felt embarrassed because [he] felt [he] shouldn’t have said that” (pg. 12) indicating that he doesn’t feel any reproach but simply did not feel like seeing his mother. Honesty is universally known as a positive attribute. One who has honesty is praised for it and this can be observed in daily happenings and especially in educational settings. However, this was not the case with Meursault as his honest…