Albert Camus’ The Stranger explores the causes for Monsieur Meursault’s murderous act, portraying Meursault’s increasing feelings of indifference toward life following his mother’s death. Meursault becomes ignorant to social values and conventions, thinking they constrict him, for he veers toward the ‘I don’t disrupt what you’re doing, so don’t disrupt what I’m doing’ outlook. He is more interested in the simple, physical actions rather than emotional feelings because he finds routine and reliance there. Physical actions can be consciously controlled, but others influence emotions and opinions. There are many examples of Meursault’s indifference that ultimately culminate into the careless murder of the Arab. These include Meursault’s unemotional opinion of his mother’s life and death, his casual continuation of daily routines immediately following the funeral, and the apathetic distinction between the physical actions he positively plays out with the people who care about him and the true lack of emotional feelings he has for them. These people are Raymond and Marie mostly–people he uses to fill the void his mother’s death left.
Meursault shows indifference toward his mother, especially while suppressing the emotional pain derived from the reality of her death. Meursault’s life is simple and habitual. He does not see life as important or complex, and he finds pleasure in merely existing, rather than living. Although he did not loathe his mother before she died, Meursault felt like he and his mother had nothing to say to each other, displaying where the indifference comes from. Meursault claims, “it had been a long time since she’d had anything to say to me, and she was bored all by herself” (45). He puts his mother in a nursing home, taking the physical approach of discarding something troublesome. He makes her mother’s entrance into the nursing home her own fault. He does not see the purpose of presenting himself favorably to others. He says, “Maman died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure” (1). He does not cry, show emotions, look at the corpse, or remember the day she died. He merely appears at the funeral.
Meursault portrays his indifferent attitude directly following his mother’s funeral by physically continuing the routines of his self-pleasuring life. The morning after the funeral consists of a yearning to swim rather than thoughts and feelings regarding his mother. This casual reaction to his mother’s death exhibits Meursault’s insensitive, near unloving, feelings. Furthermore, he meets Marie at the beach, goes on a date with her, and eventually sleeps with her at the end of the night. He is not disappointed or angered when Marie is not there when he wakes up the next morning. Meursault is a man who concentrates on living in the present, disregarding what has happened in the past and what will happen in the future. He sees life and death the same meaningless way. This is how he lives his life with the exception of his own freedom and the few sexual pleasures in between. Here, Meursault’s nonchalant, don’t give a damn attitude is growing on him. Meursault’s priorities are returning to work soon, going to the beach, and eating at Celeste’s like before, rather than mourning his mother’s death, for he has no time for that. It is useless to Meursault.
Meursault’s indifference leads him to physically display a casual friendship with Raymond while using him for wine, food, and cigarettes and to fill a void created by his mother’s death. Meursault enjoys listening to Raymond, spending nearly all of his time with him right after his mother’s funeral. When Raymond says he works in a warehouse instead of being a pimp, Meursault does not mind that he is lying to him. Meursault knows that Raymond does not have many friends, and when Raymond asks him for help and promises to be his lifelong friend, Meursault, drunk from Raymond’s wine, replies with his lack of objections. Furthermore, Raymond tells Meursault about his mistreatment of his girl, much like Meursault’s mistreatment of his mother while she was home. He asks Meursault to write a threatening letter to her, providing her with guilt for her disloyalty. Meursault’s ‘I don’t care either way’ attitude, along with his inability to find a reason not to help Raymond, lead him to write the letter. However, Meursault does not see this the same way as Raymond. Meursault views this letter as a physical act he has no problem doing, regarding this as a nice, non-important gesture. It is a means of thanking Raymond for the food and wine. Raymond, on the other hand, looks at this as unprecedented and best-friend worthy.
Meursault’s indifference pushes him to use Marie by filling the void his mother’s death had left, sleeping with her, and portraying the willingness to perform the act of marriage with her when he does not love her. The nonchalant, whatever-may-come Meursault says he does not care, and he will marry Marie if she wants to. This is similar to Raymond’s proposal that he and Meursault become friends. Unlike how Meursault could lie in the note to Raymond’s girl, however, he can not lie about his feelings to Marie. He can go through the physical process of marriage, but he can not tell her he loves her when does not. This is similar to the physical process of writing the letter. Meursault does not feel writing the letter, participating in the legal proceedings of marriage, or remembering the date of his mother’s death are important, but he does feel that his emotions and feelings are meaningful.
Meursault’s indifference allows him to murder the Arab mostly because of the scorching sun’s influence upon him. On an Algerian beach, Meursault experiences intense heat from the sun. He perceives the sun to be a paternal figure to him, an idol to worship. It becomes a character in the story. The sun’s burning rays upon Meursault represent his conscience judging him, and because Meursault does not judge others, he does not like to be judged. This is an example of Meursault’s “blind rage” (122), for his mother’s death is angering him on the inside emotionally, but remaining physically unnoticed on the outside. The sun blinds him, and he can not comprehend the consequences of his actions. All Meursault thinks of is how the sun blinds, burns, and reflects at him, and he decides his main goal is to be rid of the sun, no matter what the cost. Nothing else matters to Meursault. His mother’s death, Raymond’s friendship proposal, Marie’s marriage proposal, and the fact that the Arab had no name or identity are of no importance to him. Meursault only desires safety from the sun behind the rock on the beach. However, the Arab that had attacked Raymond earlier has already taken it for the same reason–to find shade from the sun. Meursault, standing under the heavy sun, becomes angered. When the Arab pulls the knife that cut Raymond on Meursault, and the sun reflects off it at him, blinding him completely, he fires–blind rage.
Albert Camus’ The Stranger illustrates how Monsieur Meursault’s indifferent attitude led to his ultimate downfall. It was these meaningless ideals that allowed him to murder the Arab. Meursault did not show tears at his mother’s wedding, did not find true friendship in Raymond, or find true love in Marie, but he physically pursued the positive approach because the emotional bonds did not matter. The Cure’s Robert Smith wrote a song entitled “Killing an Arab”, and in it, he wrote, “I can turn and walk away, or I can fire the gun, staring at the sky, staring at the sun, whichever I choose, it amounts to the same, absolutely nothing”. It is a shame indifference can become a blinding factor when the consequences do matter.