I have never read a book that deserved its own post. I have this great urge to spill my thoughts on it.
At first I felt oddly frustrated by his callous living-in-the-present Buddhist nature. Meursault merely observes things as they happen, making no judgement, feeling no emotion. His thoughts don’t transport him to the past, sometimes to the future but never the past. I almost branded him a mild sociopath in the beginning, for his utter lack of emotion at the demise of his mother.
Over the course of the book I came to realise that labelling did not matter. We have an incorrigible disposition to label things in order to wrap our heads around a concept. I recall a Rick Sanchez quote from Rick and Morty S03E03 “And I don’t think going to a rented office in a strip mall to listen to some agent of averageness explain which words mean which feelings has ever helped anyone do anything. I think it’s helped a lot of people get comfortable and stop panicking, which is a state of mind [belch] we value in the animals we eat, but not something I want for myself. I’m not a cow. I’m a pickle.”
As the book ended, however, I felt like every single person would relate to Meursault at some point or the other. This book presents such provocative questions, I wouldn’t taint those questions with attempts to answer them, or even looking them up. I spent a good half an hour just re-reading the ending, where Meursault yells at the poor old chaplain out of sheer annoyance at his unreal belief in God, afterlife, morals and the like.
The book could not have been more perfect. I especially enjoyed how Camus has exploited the injustice of the judicial system to make his point. I had read Kafka’s The Trial before this book, and I had an ominous feeling that Meursault was going to be another hapless victim of the law. After all, the complexities and dead ends of bureaucracy exist to serve itself.
I just want to quote his last dialogue with the chaplain here:
“Then, I don’t know how it was, but something seemed to break inside me, and I
started yelling at the top of my voice. I hurled insults at him, I told him not to waste
his rotten prayers on me; it was better to burn than to disappear. I’d taken him by the
neckband of his cassock, and, in a sort of ecstasy of joy and rage, I poured out on
him all the thoughts that had been simmering in my brain. He seemed so cocksure,
you see. And yet none of his certainties was worth one strand of a woman’s hair.
Living as he did, like a corpse, he couldn’t even be sure of being alive. It might look
as if my hands were empty. Actually, I was sure of myself, sure about everything, far
surer than he; sure of my present life and of the death that was coming. That, no
doubt, was all I had; but at least that certainty was something I could get my teeth
into — just as it had got its teeth into me. I’d been right, I was still right, I was always
right. I’d passed my life in a certain way, and I might have passed it in a different
way, if I’d felt like it. I’d acted thus, and I hadn’t acted otherwise; I hadn’t done x,
whereas I had done y or z. And what did that mean? That, all the time, I’d been
waiting for this present moment, for that dawn, tomorrow’s or another day’s, which
was to justify me. Nothing, nothing had the least importance and I knew quite well
why. He, too, knew why. From the dark horizon of my future a sort of slow,
persistent breeze had been blowing toward me, all my life long, from the years that
were to come. And on its way that breeze had leveled out all the ideas that people
tried to foist on me in the equally unreal years I then was living through. What
difference could they make to me, the deaths of others, or a mother’s love, or his
God; or the way a man decides to live, the fate he thinks he chooses, since one and
the same fate was bound to “choose” not only me but thousands of millions of
privileged people who, like him, called themselves my brothers. Surely, surely he
must see that? Every man alive was privileged; there was only one class of men, the
privileged class. All alike would be condemned to die one day; his turn, too, would
come like the others’. And what difference could it make if, after being charged with
murder, he were executed because he didn’t weep at his mother’s funeral, since it all
came to the same thing in the end? The same thing for Salamano’s wife and for
Salamano’s dog. That little robot woman was as “guilty” as the girl from Paris who
had married Masson, or as Marie, who wanted me to marry her. What did it matter if
Raymond was as much my pal as Celeste, who was a far worthier man? What did it
matter if at this very moment Marie was kissing a new boy friend? As a condemned
man himself, couldn’t he grasp what I meant by that dark wind blowing from my
future? … ”
You read it, and you know every last word is absolutely true. I am shooketh.
It’s relieving to see your own mortality reflected in these words; no matter how you go, you’re going to go. That’s the whole point. Your entire life will lead you to death’s door, there is no final revelation. Being and non-being make no difference at all because everything that you know or have ever known is going to stop existing. As for Meursault, I do not believe Camus wanted us to feel anything for or against him. We are, as he is, meant to be spectators to (his) life. Much about this character brings me comfort. A bulletproof feeling of sorts.
Although, he could’ve tried defending himself, but didn’t… I think that’s because the point of the story isn’t about him overcoming adversity or anything as trope-y. The story talks of the absurd nature of social constructs, social contracts, and general expectations – and how little they matter. That’s why Meursault just doesn’t care about anything – he’s not supposed to represent your everyday man or any real person. He represents someone who interacts with the world from a place of realising that in the end things just are. Why did he fire the additional shots? Because… why not? His indifference isn’t supposed to be a realistic stance that a mentally and emotionally healthy person would take. One can not enjoy this book if one doesn’t let go of perceived notions of what’s right or wrong.
Still, even though the general aftertaste of this book is bleak, in the light of our existentialism, I would like to re-watch one of my favourite videos on optimistic nihilism.
I’d highly recommend this book to everyone I meet.
“I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like
myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realise that I’d been happy, and that I was