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A Study in the Imagination and Memory of ConsciousnessThe essence or even existence of consciousness serves as basis for any philosophical debate. In The Stranger Camus explores the progression of a man without consciousness. I will prove that once the court triggers Meursault s memory and imagination, it in turn sparks Meursault s development of consciousness. Camus introduces Meursault devoid of an effective memory or imagination. Without these, he is not truly conscious. He urges Salamano to tell him more about his dog because Meursault does not have the imagination or want to expend the effort to entertain himself. Meursault s relationship started with Marie, not because he dreamed of spending his life with her, but simply because he felt attracted to her. The bridge between his lack of imagination and lack of distinctive memory comes when Meursault remarks, I did it as it came to me, but I tried my best to please Raymond because I didn t have any reason not to please him (32). He writes the letter for Raymond not because he can remember Raymond being a great friend in the past nor does he take a long time to contemplate the wording of the letter. He does this because he can think of nothing better to do. Later, he looks back on his actions and remarks, I didn t know what sin was (118). While Camus shows the progression into an active memory, he also notes definitively that Meursault began without enough imagination or memory to understand sin. Because he lacks memory he has nothing to compare current feelings to past ones and because he cannot imagine he has difficulty in comprehending intangible ideas. Thus, Meursault has limited mental awareness. By holding Meursault accountable for his past attitude toward his mother and killing the Arab, the court also stimulates him to develop and use his memory. Camus expresses the new world of ideas and emotions this unlocks as the priest questions Meursault. But he stopped me and wanted to know how I pictured this other life. Then I shouted at him, One where I could remember this one! (120). Camus proves Meursault s consciousness has evolved. Descartes said that Je pense donc je suis, but this does not cover the existence of others. Meursault struggles with this theme as he wishes he could live and compare his current life to another viewpoint. This also shows a new thirst for knowledge. Indeed he notices that, Once I learned how to remember things, I wasn t bored at all (78). He can entertain himself through his memory. Before, when Meursault lacked memory, he was rarely bored. Now, he is not bored because he can use the consciousness of his existence to excite himself. I realized then that a man who had lived only one day could easily live for a hundred years in prison. He would have enough memories to keep him from being bored (79). By initially simply entertaining himself and progressing into contemplating his existence, Meursault s memory provides greater consciousness.

While Meursault s imagination helps keep him sane, it also focuses his attention on his fate, thus raising his consciousness. Sometimes I would get to thinking about my room, and in my imagination I would start at one corner and circle the room, mentally noting everything there was on the way (78). With sanity under control, his development grows into contemplating his execution. He imagines a death sentence with the chance of living. I would make up new laws. I would reform the penal code. I d realized that the most important thing was to give the condemned man a chance (111). By dreaming of a world where those sentenced to death have a hope of living, he forces himself to deal with that sentence. Because of his imagination he is no longer content with acknowledging that his death is simply coming early. The papers were always talking about the debt owed to society. According to them, it had to be paid. But that doesn t speak to the imagination. What really counted was the possibility of escape… (109). Again imagination brings him to a new level of thought. Checking himself, Meursault decides, But I wasn t being reasonable. It was a mistake to let myself get carried away in such imaginings. (110). He could not make this comment if he did not remember being reasonable. He uses his memory to help control his imagination. Even as his imagination grows, he cannot and will not imagine an end other than death. The priest questions Meursault s belief when he asks, …do you really live with the thought that when you die, you die, and nothing remains? Yes, I said (117). Camus shows that no matter how vivid our imagination we are all condemned to die (117). Camus addresses fate s relationship with imagination when Meursault contemplates that, Did other people s deaths or a mother s love matter to me when we re all elected by the same fate, me and billions of privileged people like him who also called themselves my brothers? … Everybody was privileged. There were only privileged people (121). Imagination is the tool that enables him to make such an observation. Because he can imagine the fate of others, he can also imagine his own fate. Camus argues that part of consciousness is dealing with the impossible odds of fate. Even though superficially it would seem that the court forcing Meursault to confront his past is bad for him, it actually helps Meursault understand his existence. Through the development of Meursault s memory and imagination, Camus unlocks a vital and vivid element of consciousness. Yet even if the confrontation with his past benefits Meursault, it still leads to his untimely death.


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