The Outsider, written by Albert Camus was published in 1942. Is written in perfect tense, as if all the events are taking place at the present moment.
The book opens with the death of Meursault’s mother. He is very matter of fact about her death and shows very little emotion towards it. He seems slightly concerned with what other people think. He apologises to his boss for needing time off work and gets embarrassed when he says he does not wish to see his mother’s body before the funeral. It is like he is aware of how he should act but still conveys no real emotion. Meursault’s character is very observant, noticing the details of his surroundings, how people are dressed rather than focussing on the death of his mother. He is very emotionally detached.
The beginning of chapter two opens with Meursault rationalising about why his boss would have been annoyed at him having time off for his mother’s funeral as it was the two days before the weekend. He seems to understand his boss’ annoyance yet is indignant that it is not his fault that the funeral was not on a weekend. When he tells Marie about the death of his mother, he again feels the need to explain it is not his fault but stops himself in case he sounds foolish, stating ‘Still, foolish or not, one can’t help feeling a bit guilty, I suppose.’
At the end of chapter two Meursault says ‘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 life had changed.’ Showing again how matter of fact and emotionally detached he is and the amount of description of the world around him shows that he is more concerned with the physical aspects of life rather than the social or emotional.
Chapter Three is mainly observational. Meursault speaks of characters he sees on a regular basis and describes his surroundings in detail. He has dinner with his neighbour Raymond, who tells him of wanting to punish a girl who had double crossed him. Meursault does not seem in the slightest bit shocked by the stories of Raymond beating the girl and seems to understand him wanting to punish her.
Chapter Four shows more of Meursault’s relationship with Marie. When she asks if he loves her, he simply tells her that the question makes no sense, he does not seem affected by her disappointment from his answer. When the domestic breaks out with Raymond and his girlfriend and Marie asks Meursault to call the police, he does not do so on the basis that he does not like police. He shows absolutely no concern for the woman’s safety and has no moral standing on the situation.
Meursault’s thought processes are always straight forward and logical to him. He does not say what people want to hear, he always give a direct answer and lacks the ability to empathise with people. When Salamano is upset over the loss of his dog, Meursault is very direct in explaining he may not get the dog back, he shows no sympathy.
Chapter five again shows just how black and white Meursault’s views are when Marie asks to marry him and he does not show an interest either way and explains he does not see the point in marriage. He believes he is being rational.
When the fight breaks out between Raymond and the two Arabs, Meursault again observes with no real sense of panic until one of the Arab men pull out a knife but even then he is not fazed by it and it does not seem to overly worry him. When Raymond and Meursault see the Arabs whilst walking along the beach, Meursault is more than prepared to help Raymond in ‘punishing’ them.
In a later conflict on the beach, Meursault shoots one of the Arab men.
Part Two of the book begins in the police station after Meursault’s arrest; he is calm about the situation and does not even think it is necessary to have a lawyer. It is his belief that the case is simple. When being questioned about his ‘callousness’ at the death of his mother, he responds by saying he had ‘lost the habit of noting his feelings.’
When answering questions about the murder, Meursault is completely calm and overly logical. He tells events exactly as they are with no regard to how it will sound or whether it makes him seem guilty. He tells the absolute truth.
When Meursault is in prison he simply states it would be a phase in his life that he would not wish to talk about. He does not show any happiness at Marie’s visit to him but instead describes the surroundings on the way to the visitor’s hall.
Meursault also describes his transition into thinking like a free man to thinking like a prisoner and how it took only a few months for him to adjust. This emphasises the existentialist views, he does not think about the future and he quickly forgets the past, living only in the present and dealing with each day as it presents itself.
When Meursault’s trial begins and he is questioned over his feelings on putting his mother into a home he again does not acknowledge any emotion in the situation.
It is determined that his lack of grief over his mother’s death shows his lack of social morals and because of his relationship with Raymond (testifying as a witness) the murder must have been premeditated. As there is no ration al explanation to Meursault’s murder of the Arab man, the court finds a way to rationalise it and seek justice for it. Meursault becomes aware that the jury and even his own lawyer are constructing a meaning to Meursault’s life and this is something he himself had never considered as he only ever lived in the present with no motivation or consideration of the future.
Even when Meursault is sentenced to death, in the lead up to the execution he counts himself lucky each day when he does not hear the footsteps coming to take him to his death. Even with his imminent death he does not look to the future. Meursault’s rejection of religion is also apparent in this last part of the book when the chaplain visits and Meursault becomes enraged, denying the existence of God and that the only certainty in life is death.
The last part of the book sees Meursault lose all remaining hope, all his previous thoughts of escape leave him and he seems to accept the situation for what it is. He only hopes there is a large crowd to watch his execution. He previously said that execution is interesting for a man to watch.
‘For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.’
Some of the major themes identified in the book are absurdity, the need for people to impose rational order where there is none.
There is a focus on the unimportance of human life, which Meursault is an example of throughout and this is strongly emphasized at the end with Meursault’s declaration of the only inevitability in life is death.