Jean Paul Sartre



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The passage I am going to write is to be set after the meal at Masson’s chalet and while Mersault, Masson and Raymond take a walk along the beach. Statement of Intent; Before exploring the details and precise literary techniques of the Camusian style it is worth looking at the general style of writing used in the outsider to gain a fuller understanding of it. One of the things which is very notable about the style is the lack of Imagery. Although Camus does give an adequate description of the world he creates he doesn’t seam to fully explore or explain it in the way some writers might.

There is of course also the fact that the whole novel is written in the first person. Because of this the narrator loses the omniscience a third person narrator often has, as we are only presented with Mersault’s view of the world. This means the reader never has access to the thoughts of people who are talking to Mersault, merely Mersault himself. This lack of knowledge in the matters of others perhaps represents Mersault’s lassitude in regard to the reasons people do things. Indeed this lack of interest is consistent throughout the novel.

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For example when Raymond tells Mersault about all the problems he is experiencing with the Arabic girl and her brother, Mersault seams to be very detached and indifferent. He answers in a laconic way (another characteristic of the Camusian style) despite the fact that the conversation is of a very serious nature and one that would invoke a much more impassioned reaction from most people. When asked if he’s in agreement with Raymond that the Arabic girl needed to be ‘punished’ Mersault merely replies ‘you could never tell but I understand why he should want to punish her'(page 35).

This lack of interest in what is in reality a very serious matter is a characteristic of literary existentialism and could be said to be indicative of Mersault’s strong sense of ennui. Literary existentialism is a writing style which is directly related to the ideas of Jean Paul Sartre which were becoming popular in 1940’s Europe. In simple terms existentialism states there is no God and thus no point in life or anything, as there would need to be a creator for the created to have a purpose.

In the same way a spade has a purpose because it was created to dig holes. Camus is considered to be one of the ‘fathers’ of existential literature and the outsider is often though of as one of the first existential novels. The idea of the pointless existence is what characterizes this style of writing. The conclusion that there is no purpose in life leads writers to craft characters such as Mersault, a lethargic unmotivated man who is overwhelmed by ennui.

Ennui is the name giving to the feelings of torpor, lassitude and detachment which are perhaps inevitably felt by someone who thinks that everything is utterly pointless. Perhaps the biggest theme of the outsider is the idea of conformity. Mersault is a man who won’t conform, and it is through his trial and execution that Camus asks the reader to evaluate the foundations of their morality. He attempts to demonstrate that morals are nothing more than subjective culture-bound beliefs.

By making the reader live life through the eyes of a killer we are supposed to see that this man who would conventionally be considered a monster is nothing more than a normal man who refuses to conform. This is a technique I echoed in my extract. When asked by Marie whether or not he loves her he replies ‘maybe I do but I don’t think so’ of course the social norm would have been to give Marie the answer she obviously sought and reply yes, even if it meant being economical with the truth. But this is exactly the sort of lie which makes up the ‘game’ Mersault refuses to play.

I feel Camus would argue that this refusal to conform to the expected role in the relationship is (although on a much lower level) exactly the same principal as refusing to show emotion he doesn’t feel at his mother’s funeral and refusing to show remorse after the murder of the Arab. By showing that Mersault’s crimes are merely refusals to conform Camus is trying to say that perhaps all laws; and consequently the moral values they are based upon are subjective and merely expressions of the political motives of the leaders of the societies in which they’re found.

This is of course a very existential assertion. The idea that perhaps not conforming and breaking the laws that are placed upon you could perhaps be a good thing, is one that would have been relevant to Camus. who had seen the devastating effects of Vichy capitulation while working for the resistance in WW2. Shortly after the conversation I have just discussed Marie asks Mersault if he thinks he even knows what love is, his reply to this is the lackluster ‘maybe’. This demonstrates his penchant for laconic responses which is indicative of his unmotivated nature.

Mersault is a man who doesn’t like to elaborate his answers and I think this is a technique used to show how he likes to be as unnoticed as possible. I’ve already shown how Mersault doesn’t conform, but I think that perhaps he doesn’t know how to act instead of conforming and thus he keeps his answers as short and un-committing as possible. The idea that he doesn’t want to conform but doesn’t know what to do instead is I think the reason behind his lassitude, which I represented with the answer ‘I couldn’t be bothered’ when asked about going to buy wine.

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