Meursault is a man who will not lie to himself. In Albert Camus’ The Stranger, his actions and reactions display him as an immoral man, expressing apathy towards society. He will not feign emotion, nor use religion as a vehicle to give his life meaning. Meursault has a passion for the truth, which allows him to have an open mind. These things make Meursault the immoral person that he is.
At his trial for murdering an Arab, Meursault’s inability to relate to the conventions of society puts him at a disadvantage. When discovering that the court will appoint a lawyer for him, Meursault thinks that it is “very convenient that the court should take care of those details” (63). He does not see the necessity in finding, consulting, and paying an attorney to defend him in court. Meursault knows that he has killed an Arab and having a defense seems needless. Confronted with the court’s legal mechanics, Meursault is a stranger to the judicial world, thus disabling him.
Meursault is also a stranger to social custom. His friend Raymond invites Meursault to his apartment to have blood sausage and wine, then proceeds to tell Meursault about his Arab girlfriend and how he beat her because she was cheating on him. He wants to punish this girl even though he still has sexual feelings for her. Raymond asks Meursault what he thinks about the whole thing and Meursault says he doesn’t “think anything but that it was interesting” (32). Meursault lacks morals. He has no need for them. Values for him do not enter his life for they do not have an impact on him. Meursault continues to please Raymond with his indifferent attitude to Raymond’s social relations by writing a nasty letter to his Arab girlfriend. Meursault does not consider the consequences in writing a mean letter to a woman he has never met, nor the impact it could have on her life. Meursault does not care; he has no relation with her.
Another element that portrays Meursault to be an immoral person is his lack of emotion concerning the death of his mother, Maman. Meursault disobeys the general rules of etiquette by refusing to see his mother’s body, and falling asleep and accepting coffee and cigarettes at the vigil. In addition, he does not observe a period of mourning. The day following the funeral, Meursault goes swimming, sees a comedy film with a girl, then proceeds to take her home and make love to her. These blatant disregards to the unwritten rules of society are what truly condemn him at the trial; society condemns Meursault in order to reserve their feelings of comfort and safety.
Meursault does not need religion to give meaning to his life. However for Meursault, the simple things are what give him pleasure, meaning, and structure to his life. Meursault cherishes routine, trivial satisfactions, and nature. Specifically, Sundays do not excite Meursault, nor offer any consolation to him. They lack the rising, tram, four hours in the office… cycle. Sundays lack routine and are unstructured, unlike the weekdays where there is a day reserved for fun (Saturday) and the workweek to accomplish tasks. Mechanical, day-to-day living is essential to Meursault, as much as small pleasures are. At work, Meursault enjoys the physical pleasure of washing his hands. However, as the day progresses and the towel becomes soggy with excess moisture, he enjoys the action less and less. Meursault mentions this fact to his employer, who considers it a trivial detail. Meursault also appreciates the beauty of nature. He treasures the view from his balcony, the colors of the sky at different times of day, the sun and the sea. These small gratifications are the key to Meursault, expressing his acceptance of the tangibility and reality of life.
Marie, his girlfriend, visits Meursault in prison, and before she leaves she shouts to him that he “had to have hope” (75). Meursault says, “Yes,” but as he looks at her all he can think about is wanting to squeeze her shoulders through her dress and feel the material. He doesn’t know what else he has to hope for other than that thought, that impulse in the moment. Meursault’s pleasure in the little things correlates to his acceptance of death. He does not look forward to a life after death and faces the fact that he must die — like every other man – leaving no need for hope. Meursault has a passion for the truth. At the end of the novel, the chaplain comes to see Meursault about cleansing his soul of sin in preparation for death. Meursault explains to the priest that he has only a little time left and doesn’t want to waste it on God. The chaplain retaliates by professing he will pray for Meursault because Meursault’s heart is blind. Meursault yells at him to not waste his prayers; the chaplain “seemed so certain about everything, didn’t he? …He wasn’t even sure he was alive, because he was living like a dead man” (120). The priest is a “dead” man. He follows a faith that praises blind worship and condemns natural mistakes, continuing even in the afterlife. Religion is silly to Meursault because it is not tangible, is not real, and it is not a sure thing. Meursault could have lived his life one way or another and it will not have mattered, because each life elects the same fate – death. “Maman used to say that you can always find something to be happy about” (113) and it is imperative that man lives for the life, and not the fictitious resting place of Heaven.
Meursault has as much a hold on life as it has on him. He is not blinded by cumbersome societal procedures. Meursault lives life to satisfy his physical and, though tacit, emotional urges. He is not a sheep following in the shadow of religion, refusing to see life as a vibrant, fulfilling journey instead of the fear-inducing, sinful pilgrimage and awaiting fire-and-brimstone Hell so advertised by the Bible. This acceptance to the truth is a frightening concept to the consensus of humanity. It corrupts the pre-formulated notions that society uses to convince itself that it is happy. Camus said it best: “Meursault is the man who answers but never asks a question, and all his answers so alarm a society which cannot bear to look at the truth.”