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The Stranger of Everyday Life: A Perspective on Albert Camus’ The Outsider


The Stranger of Everyday Life: A Perspective on Albert Camus’ The Outsider

Dr. Debabrata Adhikary

Assistant Professor of English

Hooghly Women’s College

Hooghly, West Bengal, India



The objective of the present paper is to investigate whether we are/have already turned into modern day strangers like Monsieur Mersault in the novel The Outsider by Albert Camus. If Mersault is projected as an emotionless, heartless, cold robotic self who showed no concern for his mother, or, for Marie’s marriage proposal, and, probably for other human relations, and, was eventually put to death for possessing that essentially emotionless criminal heart; then are we also somewhere not becoming like him; whether due to the necessity of surviving in a complex modern day world, or for some other reasons? And, of course, there is the omnipresence of the absurd lurking somewhere and waiting for us. How does one deal with the Absurd? How can one prepare oneself in a better way to meet the Absurd?

Keywords: strangers, emotionless, robotic, complex, Absurd, modern day, prepare

The objective of the present paper is to trace whether we, the modern day individuals are turning/have turned into ‘strangers’, or, ‘strange outsiders’ in/through our everyday existence, like the stranger mentioned in Albert Camus’ novel The Outsider. Monsieur Meursault, who is presented in the novel as the strange outsider and portrayed as an emotionally autistic, or, emotionally cathexized, mechanical, robotic self, devoid of any feeling, passion and warmth; did not feel attached to anything or any living being in particular in his everyday existence; neither his dead mother (even when she was alive presumably, because he sent her to old people’s home), nor Marie Cardona (the typist, to whom he only felt physically and sexually attracted but not emotionally probably because he remained ‘casual’ to her love proposal), nor his job/profession (he turned down his boss’s lucrative offer of going to Paris and ‘travel part of the year’ as a job assignment), nor his neighbours like Raymond Sintes or old Salamano (with whom he talked because he had no reason ‘not to talk to’, or, probably because they expected an ‘emotional assistance’ from him whenever they needed; almost as an act of ‘unavoidable compulsion’). Indeed the protagonist of the story, Monsieur Mersault is strangely different from other conventional human characters. Does his difference stem from his awareness and hence possessing an indifferent attitude about surviving in an essentially meaningless, pointless world? Or, does his cold indifference stem from the fact that, unlike other characters in the novel probably (especially the jury and the presiding judge) it is Mersault who could ‘understand life’ actually; that in this world nothing is permanent and that this present day modern existence is actually about being self-aware, self-conscious, almost acutely, amid the thickness/crowd of ‘other’ things, without unnecessary being emotional, or getting attached to anything as such, because all are ‘fleeting’, ‘transitional’ episodes, chapters in the book of ‘life’:

Then I thought I should have some supper. My neck hurt a little from leaning over the back of the chair for such a long time. I went out to buy some bread and pasta, prepared my meal and ate it standing up. I wanted to smoke another cigarette at the window but it was chilly now and I felt a little cold. I closed the windows. As I stepped back into the room, I saw, reflected in the mirror, the edge of the table where some bits of bread lay next to my oil lamp. I thought that it was one more Sunday nearly over and done with, that Mama was now dead and buried, that I would go back to work, and that when all was said and done, nothing had really changed. (Camus, The Outsider, 22)

And, indeed nothing actually changes. Only one scene gradually replaces the other in this ever-changing, ever-moving scenario. So, is Mersault’s nonchalance in The Outsider arising from the fact that he it is who could grapple with the fact that nothing in this world is more certain, meaningful and logical than ‘I’ who just have to continue his ‘existence’ in the spectrum/panorama of life? Is his emotional indifference, or, emotional castration arising from the fact that irrespective of whatever happens in the outside world, or, whatever show going on in the vast picture of life, one just needs to keep on focusing how to maintain ‘self-possession’ while drinking tea; before falling to the ultimate grip of the ‘Absurd’ lurking somewhere:

Particularly I remark

An English countess goes upon the stage

A Greek was murdered at a Polish dance,

Another bank defaulter has confessed.

I keep my countenance,

I remain self-possessed

Except when a street-piano, mechanical and tired

Reiterates some worn-out common song (Jain, T. S. Eliot: Selected Poems, pgs 11-12)

Is his impassivity arising from the fact that one can only measure out one’s life with coffee spoon here, in this world, amid series of loose, fragmented, disjointed, and fleeting pictures/images from the morning to night, with no scope and time of getting ‘emotionally’ attached to anything; as Eliot has noticed in his another poem ‘Preludes’? :

The winter evening settles down

The smell of steak in passage-ways.

Six o’clock,

The burnt-out ends of smoky days,

And now a gusty shower wraps

The grimy scraps

Of withered leaves about your feet

And newspapers from vacant lots;

The showers beat

The broken blinds and chimney-pots,

And at the corner of the street

A lonely cab horse steams and stamps. (Green, The Winged Word, 189)

Is Mersault’s casual approach to Marie’s love proposal in The Outsider due to the fact that even love can be bought and sold in today’s world, and there is no point in getting attached to such things, as has been observed by Eliot in the same poem ‘Preludes’:

You tossed a blanket on the bed,

You lay upon your back and waited;

You dozed, and watched the night revealing

The thousand sordid images

Of which your soul was constituted; (Green, The Winged Word, 189)

Or, is Mersault’s casual approach to Marie’s love proposal due to the very reason that deep attachment to a beloved ultimately brings surfeiting and saturation in love, leading to bitterness and the parting of paths, as Grand felt in The Plague by Albert Camus? :

The rest of the story, to Grand’s thinking, was very simple. The common lot of married couples. You get married, you go on loving a bit longer, you work. And you work so hard that it makes you forget to love. As the head of the office where Grand was employed hadn’t kept his promise, Jeanne, too, had to work outside. At this point a little imagination was needed to grasp what Grand was trying to convey. Owing largely to fatigue, he gradually lost grip of himself, had less and less to say, and failed to keep alive the feeling in his wife that she was loved. An overworked husband, poverty, the gradual loss of hope in a better future, silent evenings at home, what chance had any passion of surviving such conditions? Probably Jeanne had suffered. And yet she’d stayed; of course one may often suffer a long time without knowing it. Thus years went by. Then, one day, she left him. (Camus, The Plague, 81-82)

Because Mersault accepted the naturally absurd, it was not difficult for him to show lack of warmth and passion for Marie whom he liked to spend time with, or, perhaps to have a causal relationship with, but not to love and live together; for the aims, concern for the future and having a better, happy and satisfactory life is but an illusion to bypass, hoodwink the inevitable:

That evening, Marie came to see me and asked me if I wanted to marry her. I said that it was all the same to me and that we could get married if she wanted to. Then she wanted to know if I loved her. I replied as I had once before that that didn’t mean anything, but said I was pretty sure I didn’t love her. ‘Why marry me, then?’ she asked. (Camus, The Outsider, 38)

So, love, in this overwhelming predominance of absurdity and meaninglessness can and should get reduced to eating together, swimming together, and sleeping together without having any unnecessary hangover of emotion and feeling, without having any unnecessary attachment to each other. And, probably in present times we should understand love like this, as Mersault did.

Is Mersault’s impassivity stemming from the fact that one has to sustain his/her ‘existence’ through the picture of void, desolation and emptiness all around, with nothing to call one’s own, or, nobody emotionally to bank upon, thereby making us face to face with the essential fact that man is alone in this meaningless and unintelligible universe:

After they’d gone, the street gradually became deserted. The shows had all started, I suppose. Only the shopkeepers and a few cats were left in the street. The sky was clear but not very bright above the ficus trees that lined the road. On the pavement opposite, the tobacconist brought out a chair, put it in front of his door and straddled it, resting both arms on its back. The trams that had been jam-packed just a short while ago were now almost empty. In the little cafĂ© called ‘Chez Pierrot’, next to tobacco shop, the waiter was sweeping up sawdust in the empty room. (Camus, The Outsider, 20)

Probably that is the reason of Monsieur Mersault’s emotionlessness on the day of his mother’s funeral, as he knew that it was but natural that people sometimes would wish their loving persons to die, and there was nothing wrong in it:

The prosecution had learned that ‘I’d shown no emotion on the day of Mama’s funeral. ‘I’m sorry to have to ask you about this,’ my lawyer said, ‘but it’s very important. And it will be a key argument for the prosecution if I have nothing to counter it.’ He wanted me to help him. He asked me if I’d been upset that day. I found the question quite surprising and thought how embarrassed I would have been if I’d had to ask it. Nevertheless, I replied that I’d rather lost the habit of analysing my emotions and so it was difficult to explain. I undoubtedly loved Mama very much, but that didn’t mean anything. Every normal person sometimes wishes the people they love would die. (Camus, The Outsider, pg. 58-59)

After all, all the human relations that we know and gradually get acquainted with, after coming into the world, one after another, get faded and die away like the fall of music from a farther room, as noted by T. S. Eliot, and, there is nothing to be emotional about them:

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room.

So, how should I presume? (Green, The Winged Word, 185)

So, is Mersault to be blamed for accepting the essential irrationality, meaninglessness, and pointlessness of our everyday existence? Is he to be blamed for accepting the inevitable and natural ‘absurd’? At the end of the novel, does his execution by guillotine justify that he is a criminal? Or, does his death-penalty suggest what may the consequences be of being misfit in a so-called ‘logical’, ‘reasonable’, and ‘meaningful’ world? Did the ‘meaningful’, intelligible world suppress him in the story for his normal act of non-conformity, discarding of ‘value judgements’ (for ‘factual judgements’), and, drawing of conclusions from what he saw (rather than from some hypothetical rules and statements)? Did the emotionless seeing the present type life-vision of Mersault enable and better prepare him for encountering the absurd in the story? Did his emotional liberty better equip him to handle the absurd, encountered in the form of being enmeshed in a tricky situation when, from nowhere, he had to commit the murder of the Arab as a means of self-defence/self-survival, and had also to get convicted and executed by guillotine for the same; as has also been suggested by Albert Camus in his Lyrical and critical Essays? :

For in this universe man is free of the shackles of his prejudices, sometimes from his own nature, and, reduced to self-contemplation, becomes aware of his profound indifference to everything that is not himself. He is alone, enclosed in this liberty. It is a liberty that exists only in time, for death inflicts on it a swift and dizzying denial. His condition is absurd. He will go no further, and the miracles of those mornings when life begins anew have lost all meanings for him. (Camus, Lyrical and Critical Essays, 205)

Also, if the ‘Absurd’ is the inevitable destiny of the human beings, then how can one better prepare and adapt himself/herself for meeting that? Where does one meet the essential Absurd? Does that happen only in ‘death’s dream kingdom’ and not anywhere else? So, does that mean that one has to necessarily make the most of what is available today, as tomorrow or day after tomorrow we might be engulfed by the omnipotent absurd (in the form of death), as the famous song ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’ from the 2003 movie Kal Ho Na Ho, starring Shahrukh Khan suggest? Does Mersault’s indifferent attitude stem from an indifference to the future in general, and making the ‘most living’ instead of the ‘best living’, as has been pointed out by Albert Camus in his another book The Myth of Sisyphus? :

But what does life mean in such a universe? Nothing else for the moment but indifference to the future and a desire to use up everything that is given. Belief in the meaning of life always implies a scale of values, a choice, our preferences. Belief in the absurd, according to our definitions, teaches the contrary. (Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, 59)

So, how could Camus be mistaken to precipitate a person like Monsieur Mersault towards his ‘absurd’ death by having his head cut off at the end of the story? After all, there is no place for such a person in the logical, reasonable world. The normal reasonable world of order and justice comprising such respected persons like the juries, presiding judge, prosecutors and lawyers naturally found and deemed such unusual impudence in a person quite shocking and strange that someone could never regret anything in life, could send one’s aged mother to old people’s home, remain unconcerned about his mother’s age, and, did not want to see her for the final time after her death, lack soul and a single moral principle; among other numerous anomalies; to eventually term him as ‘misfit’, unusual, aberrational, threatening and hence compulsorily punishable and suppressible without having any sort of remorse. So, did Mersault ultimately feel ‘released’ in his death, as has been pointed out by Albert Camus, in his book, The Myth of Sisyphus? :

Likewise, completely turned towards death (taken here as the most obvious absurdity), the absurd man feels released from everything outside that passionate attention crystallizing in him. He enjoys a freedom with regard to common rules. (Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, 58)

So, death is the most obvious absurdity which Mersault met with at the end;that ‘inevitable’ absurd which is God, and, on whom we must rely upon; but certainly not through the leap of ‘suicide’:

This is where it is seen to what a degree absurd experience is remote from suicide. It may be thought that suicide follows revolt—but wrongly. For it does not represent the logical outcome of revolt. It is just the contrary by the consent it presupposes. Suicide, like the leap, is acceptance at its extreme. Everything is over and man returns to his essential history. His future, his unique and dreadful future—he sees and rushes towards it. In its way, suicide settles the absurd. It engulfs the absurd in the same death. But I know that in order to keep alive, the absurd cannot be settled. It escapes suicide to the extent that it is simultaneously awareness and rejection of death. (Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, 54)

But the fact is, if Mersault is strange, bizarre and inherently possesses an absurd vision and outlook then is he such an uncommon character in our everyday life? Is he a stranger to get paranoid of? Or, is he just like us, for, after all, aren’t we all turning into/have turned into de-emotional strangers like him, not attached to anything or anyone, and, rather getting used to our selfish everyday mechanical living somehow? Isn’t our ‘ceremony of innocence’ getting drowned day by day? Or, is his absurdity stemming from an inherent sense of cowardice, a sense of insecurity and indecisiveness, a shrugging off social duties and responsibilities, a lack of spirit and courage to stand up on one’s own, and ultimately from an indefinable ‘Prufrock like’ lethargy, dilemma and inertness; which should justifiably end in death? :

And indeed there will be time.

To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’

Time to turn back and descend the stair

With a bald spot in the middle of my hair-



Do I dare

Disturb the universe?  (Green, The Winged Word, 186)

 Did Mersault, like Mr J. Alfred Prufrock, feel afraid to ‘dare’? Did Mersault, like Prufrock, use to feel that he was no ‘Prince Hamlet’ and, had already seen the moments of his greatness flicker with ‘the eternal Footman’ holding his coat? :

I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid. (Green, The Winged Word, 187)


Is it the same fear that grasped Mersault when faced with the death-sentence? :

I made another effort to think about something else. I listened to my heart beating. I simply couldn’t believe that this sound that had been with me for so long would never end. I’ve never had any real imagination. But I did try to imagine the very moment when I would no longer hear the beating of my heart.  (Camus, The Outsider, 102)

But, even in spite of the fear of the inevitable, one really has to mentally prepare himself/herself to face with the absurdity that it brings, and should get adjusted to it; as Mersault did in ‘The Outsider’:

I always assumed the worst: my appeal would be denied. ‘Well then, I’ll die.’ Sooner than other people, that much was obvious. But everyone knows that life isn’t really worth living. In the end, I knew that it didn’t matter much whether you died at thirty or at seventy, because in either case other men and women would of course go on living, and it would be like that for thousands of years. Nothing was more obvious, in fact. But I was still the one who would be dying, whether it was now or in twenty years. When I thought about that, though, what truly upset me was the horrible lurch I felt inside at the thought of twenty years of life yet to live. But all I had to do to banish that feeling was to imagine what my thoughts would be like twenty years from now when I would have to face the same situation. If you are going to die, it didn’t actually matter how or when, that much was obvious. (Camus, The Outsider, 103)

Is it the very demand of our modern day existence? Is it really difficult, if not impossible, to live a meaningful, purposeful, logical, coherent and rational life, as the illogical, irrational and hence absurd must step in and intrude at any time to make us remind of its perennial existence; just as it does in Eugene Ionesco’s play ‘Rhinoceros’ where the humans suddenly started to get transformed into rhinoceroses? Is the transformation of the serious, orderly, disciplined, rational, practical, non-alcoholic, will-power exercising Jean in the play ‘Rhinoceros’ into the ‘fantastic’, irrational, illogical and imaginative rhinoceros, a potential indication of the uncertain absurd taking over our life? :

Berenger: I mean the human individual, humanism…

Jean: Humanism is all washed up! You’re a ridiculous old sentimentalist. [He goes into the bathroom.]

Berenger: But you must admit that the mind…

Jean: [from the bathroom] Just Cliches! You’re talking rubbish!

Berenger: Rubbish!

Jean: [from the bathroom in a very hoarse voice, difficult to understand.] Utter rubbish!

Berenger: I’m amazed to hear you say that, Jean, really! You must be out of your mind. You wouldn’t like to be a rhinoceros yourself, now would you?

Jean: Why not? I’m not a victim of prejudice like you.


Jean: Keep your ears open. I said what’s wrong with being a rhinoceros? I’m all for change. (Ionesco, Rhinoceros, pgs 66-67)

Is the incomprehensible transformation of other human characters in ‘Rhinoceros’ into rhinoceroses a clear beckoning of the absurd? Is it but natural that in our so-called normal, the abnormal can and must step in to shock us, as there is no straight-cut demarcation line between the two? :

Berenger: And you consider all this natural?

Dudard: What could be more natural than a rhinoceros?

Berenger: Yes, but for a man to turn into a rhinoceros is abnormal beyond question.

Dudard: Well, of course, that’s a matter of opinion…

Berenger: It is beyond question, absolutely beyond question!

Dudard: You seem very sure of yourself. Who can say where the normal stops and the abnormal begins? Can you personally define these conceptions of normality and abnormality? Nobody has solved this problem yet, either medically or philosophically. You ought to know that. (Ionesco, Rhinoceros, 82)

Do we need to ‘get used to’ the unimaginable, and inconceivable in our everyday life to make us enable to reach up to the final, or, ultimate; which is the absurd? Is that the reason that even old Salamano also inculcated this very meaningful practice in the novel alongside Mersault, the chief protagonist? :

He hadn’t been happy with his wife but in the end he’d got used to being with her. (Camus, The Outsider, 41)

And, of course, Mersault was there as the leading person to germinate this train of thought:

But that just lasted a few months. Afterwards, I had only the thoughts of a prisoner. I looked forward to the daily walk I took around the courtyard or the visit from my lawyer. As for the rest of the time, I got used to it. I often thought that if I’d been forced to live inside the hollow trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do except look up at the sky flowering above my head, I would have eventually got used to that as well…It was an idea of Mama’s that people could eventually get used to anything, and she often talked about it. (Camus, The Outsider, 69)

Is God our only hope to cope with this absurdity? Is God our only answer to this vast ocean of irrationality and illogicality that surround us? Can the figure of the ‘infinitely gentle’, ‘infinitely suffering’ Jesus Christ make us hold onto some rational center somehow amid all these fragmentations, disjointedness around? :

I am moved by fancies that are curled

Around these images, and cling:

The notion of some infinitely gentle

Infinitely suffering thing. (Green, The Winged Word, 190)

Is only God capable of providing meaning to our life amid the uncertainties, amid all the disorderliness, as the Judge firmly believes in The Outsider? :

But he cut me off, drew himself up to his full height and demanded I tell him one last time if I believed in God. I said no. He sat down, looking indignant. He said that was impossible, that everyone believed in God, even those who turned away from Him. This was his firm belief, and if he ever had cause to doubt it, his life would no longer have any meaning. ‘Do you want my life to have no meaning?’ he shouted. (Camus, The Outsider, 62)

Can Jesus’s suffering for our sins make us believe that there is always the presence of the Saviour to provide us succour amid the general hopelessness? :

But from across the table, he was already thrusting the Christ figure in my face and screaming like a madman: ‘I am a Christian! I ask Christ to forgive your sins! How can you not believe that He suffered for you?’ (Camus, The Outsider, 62)

Or, is God even clueless to the mystery of the irrational absurd? :

He looked away and, staying very still, asked me if I was talking this way because I was in terrible despair. I explained that I wasn’t in despair. I was just afraid, which was completely natural. ‘God could help you, then,’ he said. ‘Everyone I have known in your position has come back to Him.’ I agreed that was their right. It also proved they had time on their side. As far as I was concerned, though, I didn’t want anyone’s help and, more to the point, I didn’t have time to waste thinking about things that didn’t interest me. (Camus, The Outsider, pgs 105-106) 

So, ultimately one can say that Monsieur Mersault is not a lone stranger; he is rather a far-sighted everyday commoner, a dispassionate, practical, mechanical modern day individual who was probably aware of (and hence perfectly accepted) the absurd throughout. We are all emotionless, robotic selves moving about and performing our daily ritualistic activities in a programmatic way like Mersault. One has to live out one’s existence in order to understand Mersault’s life-vision. And, one has to live out his adventure/s within the due course of his lifetime because, after all there is the all-encompassing absurd awaiting us and our freedom is limited/truncated due to our mortality.

Works Cited

Basu, Dilip K. (ed). Eugene Ionesco: Rhinoceros. Translated by Derek Prouse. Delhi: Worldview Publications, 2015. Print. 

Camus, Albert. TheOutsider. Translated by Sandra Smith. New Delhi: Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 2013. Print.

Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. Translated by Justin O’Brien. Great Britain: Penguin Books, 1975. Print.

Camus, Albert. ThePlague. Translated by Stuart Gilbert. Kolkata: Projapoti Publications. Print.

Camus, Albert. Lyrical and Critical Essays. Thody, Philip (ed). Translated by Ellen Conroy Kennedy. New York: Vintage Books,1970. Print.

Green, David (ed). The Winged Word: An Anthology of Poems For Degree Course. Chennai: Macmillan India Limited, 2005. Print.

Jain, Manju (ed). T. S. Eliot: Selected Poems and A Critical Reading of the Selected Poems of T. S. Eliot. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.

Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. United Kingdom: Alma Classics Ltd, 2015. Print.