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Analysis of Meursault's Character

Within the scope of this research, we will analyze the character of Meursault as portrayed by Camus in his work “The Stranger”. As one becomes acquainted with Meursault, it becomes apparent that he is straightforward non conformist that does not want to accept the norms of society that surrounds him. The social order from which Meursault is so estranged is the world of ambition and the desire for advancement that his employer expects, as well as the decorum and grief to which all at the burial bear witness. It is the wearing of black as a show of mourning, and the sustained sadness that forbids the beginning of a liaison on the day following the burial of one's mother, not to say the sacrilege of viewing a Fernandel film.

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The personal appropriation of ritualized belief system defines and valorizes an individual's place, giving us our sense of what it is important to do, to strive after, to avoid, and to become. People act in the belief that some things matter more than others, and because they feel that it is worth the effort. This is quite normal. Meursault had in fact given up on these beliefs when he gave up his ambition. One can take him to have been an intelligent working-class French Algerian whose social development was short-circuited by the need to leave school and get a job. One may even conjecture that this necessity followed upon an upbringing in which circumstances - perhaps including his more than average intelligence - had conspired to keep him somewhat apart from others, not fully integrated into social norms and practices.

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In any case, giving up ambition and, by implication, the belief system by which it is sustained, Meursault settles into a style of life in which inarticulate personal needs and satisfactions dictate spontaneous responses to the demands of nature and others. He goes along with the flow of habits and events. Such is the path of least resistance, except when his inclination moves him otherwise. And why act differently when "it's all the same to him"? But then the beach, where "the trigger gave way and Meursault understood that he had broken the harmony of the day, the marvelous silence of a beach where he had been happy. Then he pulled the trigger four more times on the motionless corpse where the bullets buried themselves effortlessly. And it was as if, with these four brief shots, he was knocking on the door of misfortune" (Camus 50).

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Thus a transformed portrait of Meursault emerges. Initially he had simply appeared to be a bit odd, certainly not offensive or brutish. But he didn't want to see his mother's body, he smoked at her funeral, he rejected a chance to move to Paris, and he didn't take marriage seriously. He even seemed inordinately sensitive to trivial matters but awkward, even dense about the norms of social behavior. Now that queerness becomes perversity, indifference metamorphoses into insensitivity, and passivity into calculated criminality. No longer will Meursault's life be allowed to follow the trajectory of inclination and habit. The socialized demand for coherence and purposefulness now takes control. What may well have been lurking in the background now takes center stage, insisting that events conform to its terms. The portrait of a coldblooded, ruthless murderer takes shape.

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Meursault is still more threatening, for he does not even recognize, not to say acknowledge, the values and norms by which the fabric of society is woven together. If he would repent and admit guilt, he would at least implicitly legitimize the claim of those values. Even a murderer can be pardoned - far more easily, Camus suggests, than one who not only refuses to acknowledge social norms, but fails even to perceive their existence. His refusal thus constitutes a sort of inarticulate metaphysical rejection by which he places himself beyond the horizon of the normal social world. As a spiritual alien upon whom accepted social absolutes make no claim, his being can only appear to the "good people" as a threat to the values and beliefs that are dear to them.

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What would it mean to accept Meursault as he presents himself? How would one make sense of a world in which chance was pervasive, and in which natural processes predominated to no purpose? Meursault is inadvertently the most dangerous of rebels, for he rejects the metaphysical foundation of normal social order. As a de facto rebel who becomes conscious of his rebellion only at the end, he must be "put in his place." Society must either obtain his complicity or his destruction.

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