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In Albert Camus’ The Outsider the central protagonist, Meursault, could be seen as an icon of the absurd in that his refusal to take action in his life leads him to his death. I disagree. I contend that his refusal to act is an action in itself and that Meursault’s acceptance of his fate, even his being able to find some pleasure in his incarceration, shows an awareness of his actions and his willingness to take responsibility for them. Therefore, I do not find Meursault to be the epitome of the absurd, rather I would argue that it is the secondary character Marie, Meursault’s girlfriend/fiancé that is its apotheosis.

While at first blush it would appear that Meursault has no real moral compass. I contend that his continued refusal to do aught than go along with the flow unless he sees a real reason not to, cannot be discounted as a moral compass. He does not shirk from the consequences of his actions; he does not lie about them or pretend to be what they are not. He also does not try to give excuses or blame others for what he has done or not done. The way he lives his life may not seem ethical or particularly moral to someone on the outside, but to Meursault, it doesn’t need to; he has a code that he lives by, as ephemeral as that code might seem, and he stays true to it, even when deviating from it might well save his life.

Marie on the other hand, seems to have no moral compass at all. She stays with a man who does not pretend to love her, becomes ‘engaged’ with him when he claims that he does not particularly want to marry he, stays with him when he associates and abets a man she finds morally reprehensible, and at his trial leaves out testimony that might help him because it paints her in an unattractive light. Albert Camus was a brilliant wordsmith and I find it unlikely that he would write her in this way without a reason. Therefore, it is my opinion that it is Marie who is the pinnacle of absurdity in his book and it is through the absurdity that she illustrates that Meursault’s moral compass can be seen more clearly.

Meursault meets Marie by chance after he returns from his mother’s wake and funeral. It is at her suggestion that they go on a date later, and it is her suggestion, after hearing that he just got back from burying his mother, that they go and see a comedy film. Meursault goes along with her suggestions and while there is no indication that he particularly enjoyed any part of the date other than the sex it culminated in; he did not drive any part of it. In this he stays true to the way he lives his life in general; passively allowing himself to be taken to where he may and accepting whatever the destination may be or give him. Even at his trial, he does not try to spin things in a way that would make him look better and more sympathetic. He stays true to his internal code.

After they had seen each other a few more times Marie asks him bluntly whether he loves her. “Not particularly,” he says. While this answer disappoints her greatly, she stays with him. Later, when she asks if he might want to marry her, his answer is the same, but he adds that they could get married if she wanted to. This is not an actual proposal, but she takes it as such and thenceforth considers him to be her fiancé. A man who does not particularly love her and who does not particularly wish to marry her.

Some might argue that Marie was bowing to the societal pressures of the time the book was written to find a husband and settle down. I would argue that this is not the case. She is not an unattractive woman; else Meursault would not have been attracted to her in the first place, given his penchant for material pleasures. She is attractive, intelligent, funny, and active, and as such, it is reasonable to assume that she could have her pick of suitors. Instead, she sets her eyes on Meursault who is not wealthy, does not have an empyreal job, and has no ambition to further himself. There is no real reason to justify her desire to be with and stay with him.

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While Meursault enjoys the time that he spends with Marie, he makes no effort to change his ways to make himself more attractive to her. He is very clear that he will not pretend to love her and only goes along with the engagement because he sees no reason not to. Marie would dearly love to go to Paris and has ambitions for a better life. Meursault knows this, yet when he is offered a promotion that would take him to Paris, he turns it down. He does not like Paris and sees no reason to go there. Again, he does not change who he is to encourage her to stay with him; he does not compromise himself nor does he pretend ambitions that are not there. And yet, knowing this, because he does not hide things when asked, she continues to stay with him.

One of the catalysts in the book is Meursault’s friendship with his neighbor Raymond, and this is where there is what could be an incongruency in Meursault’s moral character. Raymond is a detestable character; a pimp and a woman beater. It is not that Meursault particularly likes Raymond; he simply sees no reason not to be friends with him. He treats his relationship with Raymond the way he does his life; he allows it to take him where it will and accepts the consequences that arise from it. Yes, Raymond is a horrible person but were Meursault to shun him because of this, it would go completely against the way that he has chosen to live his life. That, to Meursault, would be morally reprehensible.

Marie on the other hand detests Raymond. When she and Meursault witness him severely beating his ex-girlfriend/prostitute, who is only there because of the letter that Meursault wrote on Raymond’s behalf, she does nothing. She suggests that Meursault call the police, but when he says he will not because he does not like the police, she remains where she is, letting someone else do so. She is horrified by what Raymond is doing and is disturbed that Meursault does nothing to stop it, yet she also does nothing. Rather, she stays and watches, and remains in a romantic relationship with a man who would allow something that horrifies her to happen. It is not Meursault that is acting absurdly here however; he is being congruent with how he has lived his life thus far. It is Marie who is horrified and disturbed. She wants Meursault to intervene and when he does not, she not only remains complacent but continues to associate with and support a man who was non-plussed by the event.

Raymond then invites Meursault and Marie to accompany him to the coast to visit with his friend Massa. It should come as no surprise that Meursault agrees, but Marie does as well and even looks forward to meeting Massa’s wife. There is no reason for her to assume that Massa is any less criminal than Raymond, yet she seems completely unaffected by this. When she arrives at the house, she and Massa’s wife get along wonderfully and, after they all go for a swim, gladly leave the men to their own devices. When the men return with Raymond’s face cut up by the ‘Arab’ there are no admonishments or criminations; she simply helps to patch him up and says nothing more about it. When Meursault and Raymond go out again, it is obvious what Raymond wants to do, and yet, while I think it is safe to assume that she knows Meursault will do nothing to stop it, Marie neither says nor does anything, leaving him to his fate.

Ironically, this is one of the two times in the book that Meursault actually does take an active role in what is happening; when he finds out that Raymond has a gun, he takes it away and sends him home. Marie would likely be proud, but it is in this taking of action that Meursault seals his fate. Had he stuck to the way he normally lives his life, to his own particular and peculiar moral compass, he would not have shot the Arab, would not have been tried for murder, and would not have been sentenced to death.

When Meursault is charged and incarcerated, and throughout the trial, Meursault stays true to himself, and does not pretend to be who he is not, nor does he say the things that people want to hear, even though he knows it might save his life. Marie has no such scruples; she knew what he did, and she knew that if it had not been for his association with Raymond it would not have happened. Even though she despised Raymond and his actions, it was not enough for her to disassociate from him by leaving Meursault, even though she knew that Meursault, the man she wanted to marry, did not love her. Marie insisted on asserting herself as his fiancé, making a point to visit him and to write to him regularly. Indeed, one of the few things that he misses while being jailed is his physical relationship with her. Yet at his trial, her testimony is among the most damning. She confirms that they met the day after she buried his mother, and that went on a date that evening, going to a comedic film and then having sex. What she left out is that she was the one who suggested the date and, after finding out that his mother’s funeral was the day before, suggested that they go to the comedy film. She drove the entire date and Meursault merely went along with it, staying true to his philosophy of inaction. And at the trial, he chose not to mention this, allowing Marie to save her own face at the cost of his life.

Meursault, while it is not immediately evident and while it may seem peculiar at first glance, has a very strong moral credo that he lives by that he will not lightly compromise or go against. Indeed, the one time that he did act against it, it leads him to his death. But Meursault is a stranger, an outsider, someone who very often rubs people the wrong way because he does not act the way that they feel he should. As I stated earlier in this paper, Camus was a brilliant wordsmith, and the way he crafted Meursault’s character was brilliantly subtle. It is only through Marie that we can see how strongly Meursault sticks to his convictions, precisely because she has none. It cannot even be argued that her actions, or lack of them, are self-serving because her association with Meursault does not serve her. She is the shining example of the absurd and the mirror through which we can see Meursault’s moral compass shine because there is nothing of the like within her to dim it.

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