The way a person reacts to ordinary situations determines the opinions of others based on their behavior. Yet, when this behavior is abnormal or different from the rest of society, it causes society to form an opinion based totally on a person’s behavior not their true personality. In Meursault’s case, his strange opinions and unexpected remarks put him in this position, without ever really giving him an opportunity to be truly understood. However, Meursault cannot change his actions and behaviors from the past, therefore making him responsible in the society he freely chooses to live in. Meursault’s complete indifference to society and human relationships causes him to appear as the actual “stranger” with those he encounters, which eventually leads to his incarceration and inevitable date with the guillotine. Meursault is definitely a man who is set in his ways. He has his own opinions and outlooks on life and because of that fact he is constantly reminded of his inadequacies within society. His refusal to look at his mother one last time after she had passed away seemed pointless to Meursault at the time, where as the funeral director viewed this as extremely odd: “We put the cover on, but I’m supposed to unscrew the casket so you can see her.”
He was moving toward the casket when I stopped him. He said, “You don’t want to?” I answered, “No.” He was quiet, and then I was embarrassed because I felt I shouldn’t have said that. He looked at me and then asked, “Why not?” but without criticizing, as if he just wanted to know. I said, “I don’t know.” (Camus 6) The difference of opinion between Meursault and all of society, but in this example the funeral director, brought about a feeling of inadequacy to Meursault and an appearance of him as a stranger to society. Alice J. Strange explains his situation perfectly by saying: Holding Meursault to his words, and recognizing the voids they reveal, the reader sees Meursault as the stranger…. (Strange 3)
Throughout the novel, these encounters and/or relationships gradually set Meursault aside from society. His encounter with the Arab shows how the presence of other people in his life makes absolutely no impression on him. Taking the Arab’s life was something he did as a natural reaction, he pulled the trigger thinking it was justified where as any normal human being would think other wise. Once on trial, Meursault constantly observed the people in the courtroom as if he had no idea of how the rest of society lived. Every thing he saw was new to him and it brought him a feeling of excitement, as if he was enjoying being on trial. Fear only came after his verdict. He didn’t even consider his fate early on in the trial because he was in awe of the rest of society; their behaviors and actions were all new to him. In chapter three part two Meursault explained this by saying: Usually people didn’t pay much attention to me. It took some doing on my part to understand that I was the cause of all the excitement. I said to the policeman, “Some crowd!” He told me it was because of the press and he pointed to a group of men at a table just below the jury box. He said, “That’s them.” (83-84)
The only thing Meursault is worried about is the press, not the fact that his fate is about to be determined by a group of people that don’t even know him. He doesn’t even care about death at this point, only how he is excited to see all these new people and be able to watch the court proceedings. Before Meursault’s incarceration, he lived a life of desire based on his own satisfaction. His life was completely self-centered and focused on his own physical pleasures. Meursault’s obsession with his own desires can be explained by saying that: His contempt for man-made necessities’, such as religion, morality, government, is supreme; but his attitude toward natural coercion, hunger, sex, the weather, etc., though less explicit, seems almost equally disdainful.
Meursault is a non-participant (Carruth 8-9). He took absolutely no consideration of other’s feelings and how his actions affected them. Meursault’s love of smoking, eating, drinking, having sex, swimming and being outside, all of which are physical pleasures, are taken to extremes. Take away these and try to imagine what Meursault would be like. He would be practically lifeless because he wouldn’t enjoy anything. He is never concerned with what is going on in other areas of his life or others. His satisfaction comes above everything else in his life and controls everything he does. Also, Meursault’s relationship with Marie was totally based on sex rather than love.