Kevin Meboe

English, 9-26-95
Christensen, p.2

Kiss From a Rose

Raymond typifies the beast-character in Camus' L'Etranger. He is like Stanley from A Streetcar Named Desire (T. Williams), emotional and manly. Physical solutions come naturally to him, as we see when he mistreats his ex-girlfriend. Ideally, society is exactly the opposite; law and order attempt to solve things fairly and justly. I posit that Meursault is somewhere between these two extremes and that this is the reason why he is a societal outcast. This metaphor explains his major actions in the book: as he struggles to keep his identity, his personality comes in conflict with the norms of society and he is shut down.

Just as an animal sticks to instincts, Meursault has a hard time feeling emotions such as remorse or compassion. Even the first page shows us this. Just as an animal leaves its family when it is old enough, never to return, when Meursault hears of his mother's death he is unattached, even uncaring. He had similar feelings when he sent her to live in the old people's home. Meursault has quite a passion for women; he starts dating Marie the very day after he finds out of the death. But like most animals, marriage is basically nonexistent for him; though he acknowledges it, it holds little meaning. When he is isolated in jail, he dreams of women; not Marie, whom he has been seeing for some time, but women in general. Like an animal he feels the urge to mate without any desire for monogamy. An animal has to focus on the present in order to survive, and as far as we know doesn't spend much time cogitating about its past. Meursault always lives in the present, hence his lack of remorse. This beast-like quality is one that gets him into trouble in the courtroom, for people misconstrue his nature to be that of a cold-blooded, calculating murderer.

Although beast-like, Meursault has some human characteristics, and these are so defined as to be amazing. One is his amazing capacity for telling the truth. He is in fact absurdly honest when in the court room he says, "the witness is right. It's true, I did offer him a cigarette" (90). Although such a response might normally be contrived to impress and elicit sympathy from the jury, Meursault is not that kind of person. No normal human would go beyond the truth in this way to offer evidence that would hurt his position, especially when death is on the line. Another human characteristic is his ability to rationally assess a situation. We see this in every aspect of his life, from details of the people and weather at the funeral to his nonchalant narrative of the court proceedings. Only twice does his beast feel threatened enough to take over.

"Bang!" The gunshots echo hollowly in the pit of the stomach. Something about mankind's inherent morality should forbid him from committing any such act, but something about Meursault's character permits him the foul luxury. Throughout this scene the sun and light play crucial roles, and in the end they confuse him enough so as to be the catalyst for his awful decision. Here Camus shoves the role of the beast into our face. The sun and light are used to represent nature, which is wild and wholly unpredictable. Nature calls to his beast, and it is Meursault's "natural" or animalistic side that finally pulls the trigger. The shining knife, the other catalyst, besides being a fighting weapon, would be a fine thing to hunt with. When Meursault recognizes that his animal is in danger of being slaughtered he has no choice but to fight back. But even as he impulsively, needlessly fills the body with bullets, the unhappiness his human side feels is apparent as it once again gains control over him.

As Meursault approaches the end of his life, he is solicited by people who want to bring him to the glory of the lord. Here Meursault's animal side takes control; animals don't spend any time worshipping a god or dreaming of an afterlife; their attentions have to be focused on living. Thus Meursault is not able, because of his very nature, to believe in a hereafter. His human side gives in to his animal side at the end when the chaplain tries forcibly to make Meursault see the light. His animal feels the threat of being tamed, or converted to the ways of human society, and so he explodes to save himself.

Only twice in the novel does Meursault experience extreme pressure, once from nature and once from society, and at these points he gives himself over to his beast. This proves devastating from a certain point of view: the first time he compromises his chances of living, and the second time he compromises his chance of an afterlife. This self-preservation instinct is the only thing that keeps him in touch with his bestial side, and in spite of these consequences he triumphs over life in that he remains unique, he does not conform.