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Conflict In The Outsider Essay, Research Paper

Conflict in the Outsider A Man in Revolt

The major source of conflict in the text, The Outsider written by Albert Camus, is ultimately Meursault s rebellion against the expectations of society. This conflict, caused be rebellion, controls the plot line of the text from the time of Meursault s mother s death and eventually leads him to his own death. Like Camus himself, Meursault was in love with the sun and the sea. His life was devoted to appreciating physical sensations. He is devoid of any emotion, so much so as to appear traumatised or child-like. Meursault can be portrayed as Camus metaphysical rebel, a man who says by his actions, I will go this far, but no further.

In order to understand Meursault s rebellion one must first understand the nature of his personality as portrayed by Camus. The novel begins with the laconic assertion Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can t be sure. Meursault s lack of emotion of his mother s death eventually leads to his own. The conflict here is Meursault s refusal to fake sentimentality since he does not feel anything. His mother s death briefly interrupts the pleasant flow of Meursault s life; a life devoted to appreciating sensation. He loves the feel of a crisp towel in the washroom. He enjoys eating, drinking and smoking cigarettes. He loves to watch the sea and the sky. Swimming and making love to beautiful women like Marie are his favourite pastimes, so much so that an offer of a job promotion in Paris does not in the least appeal to him. He loves the feel of a crisp towel in the washroom. He enjoys eating, drinking, and smoking cigarettes. When something bores him or distresses him he simply goes to sleep, as he does on the bus to his mother’s funeral and even in jail. He is a detached observer of life. Symbolic of this quality is the Sunday he spends watching the ebb and flow of life in his neighborhood from his apartment window. Camus describes in detail the street scenes yet never does Meursault become involved in them. Meursault is distant from the messiness of plans, ambitions, desires, hatreds, and even love. Marie’s protestations of love only puzzle him. When she asks him if he wishes to marry her he agrees only because he sees no real reason to refuse. He helps in Raymond’s nefarious schemes for equally bland reasons, and also because Raymond plies him with food, drink, and cigarettes. He is even distant from his own trial. It interests him because he has never seen a trial before.

This easy-going, pleasant hedonism is interrupted permanently by Mersault s murder of the Arab on the beach. Not only is he incarcerated, but he also must examine the reality behind the illusion of his trial and ultimately, of his life. It takes him a while to realise that the judge, the jury, the journalists, even his own lawyer, do not wish him well. Meursault finally realises that he is going to be convicted, not because he killed an Arab, but because he did not mourn his mother s death.

During the trial, conventional morality is satirised. The public prosecutor s twisted logic equates Meursault s lack of emotion of his mother s death to symbolic matricide. Meursault has neither parents nor children. He is without a past that he cares about, nor does he have a future. He lives in the eternal present, like a child. By not concerning himself with his mother he has destroyed his past. By refusing to plan for committed relationships, like one with Marie, he negates his future. Once again his rebellion against social expectation and standards are controlling the plot and moving him closer to his death.

Despite Meursault s limitations, the reader realises that he is being victimised because he has transgressed into a deep-seated societal taboo. Mersault s real crime was his honesty regarding his mother s death. He wished she had not died but her death made no real impingement on his life other than temporarily disturbing his joyfully sensate experiences. His mother s death caused his discomfort on the bus, during the wake, and most of all during the unbearably hot burial. Curiously he recalls that discomfort as he shoots the Arab. Despite these vexations, Mersault does not blame his mother. At his mother s funeral, Meursault s rebellion is extremely evident. He will go to the funeral, he will wear the black tie, but he will not fake his emotions. Thus, Meursault can be seen as a man of limitation. He stands on the borderline, the limit, beyond which he cannot go despite the threat of his own death.

Meursault is definitely limited in his rebellion. There are many unsavory aspects to his character. He seems to except French Algerian prejudices against the natives. None of the Arabs have individual names or unique personalities. He never expressed the slightest concern for the Arab he killed or for his family. Violence does not even concern Meursault. He is indifferent to Raymond beating his girlfriend or Salamano beating his dog. He is even willing to lie under certain circumstances. He writes the letter for Raymond, which is designed to deceive the Arab girl and expose her to humiliation. He later lies to the police to protect Raymond. Both Raymond and Celeste testify at the trial that he is a good fellow. Marie is attractive to him because of her beauty and her readiness to make love. His rebellion against the conventions of society is a very limited one. He seems to accept his culture s attitudes towards natives and women.

The death of the Arab brings into question, Meursault s beliefs and values that are challenged by society, thus causing conflict. Meursault s unwillingness to back down from what he believed and his rebellious nature brought about his incarceration and death.

Camus defines the rebel as a man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply renunciation. Meursault says no too false sentimentality. He absolutely refuses to lie about his emotions even though that stand will cost him his life. He knows that he has been convicted not because he murdered the Arab but because he did not mourn for his mother. Yet he does not pander to this societal expectation. He has a narrow kind of integrity, but one nonetheless. He says yes to life, to his life of sun, sea, sex, food, drink, and crisp dry towels. He is a connoisseur of every day life. He neither demands nor expects anything beyond that.

Even prison is not a terrible punishment for Meursault. He learns to do without the experiences he loves, even women and cigarettes. He sleeps a great deal. He remembers the past. However, he suffers a great deal contemplating the executioner’s blade. For the first time in his life he becomes introspective. The final encounter with the chaplain forces him to articulate his philosophy of life and death: “I poured out on him all the thoughts that had been simmering in my brain.” Just as he refused the temptation for legal redemption during his trial, he refuses the metaphysical redemption offered by the chaplain. He is faithful to his beliefs, limited though they are. He has struggled in prison with the concept of death. Death negates all those beautiful experiences he so enjoys. The confrontation with the inevitability of death leads him to conclude that death, just as life, is meaningless. The only thing that could make his death happy is to maintain his stance as a rebel, a social outcast subject to the “howls of execration” by a mob of spectators.

The major source of conflict, Mersault s rebellion against society s expectations, specifically by not mourning for his mother s death, was viewed as unacceptable by society. This conflict which arose at the beginning of the story controlled the plot line right throughout the text from the moment of her death to the death of Meursault, after it was used as evidence against him in court which led to his conviction. The conflict was the driver of the text, which eventually lead to the culmination of the death of Meursault.


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