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Meursault’s unusual approach to human interaction has led some commentators to suggest he is of low-intelligence or mentally deficient in some manner.However, one need only look at the comparisons between Camus’s own life and that of his narrator’s to dispel this idea.Meursault’s behaviour and ethos are entirely in line with the ideals of Kant’s Categorical Imperative, and yet the result is a mechanical, sub-human existence.
Like Camus’s, Meursault’s father died before he was old enough to remember him and, like Camus, Meursault attended college.
Characters often comment on Meursault’s intelligence, and Raymond engages him to compose a letter of great emotional importance.
Indeed, Meursault allows others to define his reactions and shape an identity for him, which proves increasingly tragic as the novel progresses.
The reader has a more objective viewpoint and is struck by Meursault’s lack of emotion, and his distance from Marie and Raymond, as well as from themselves.
Meursault himself is often considered ‘The Outsider’, and yet in many ways the novel’s title is ironic; Meursault’s realisation of the absurdity of life gives him a divine knowledge of the world, and it is those who desperately cling to messianic ideologies and religious doctrines, for whom the world is but a transitory stepping stone on the road to eternity, that are the true outsiders.
Meursault’s belief that earthly life is one’s only life makes death the ultimate act of nihilism, and with this knowledge Meursault achieves a level of authenticity at the novel’s conclusion that is beyond the grasp of those who subscribe to the framework of morality set out by religion and society.Meursault, arguably, has two defining characteristics. Significantly, he does not lie - adhering very strictly to his objective view of truth - and refusing to alleviate the discomfort this causes others by joining in the small lies that hold society together.This dogmatic honesty is not born from a firmly held moral position, rather it grows out of his indifference; as he reminds the reader constantly, he “doesn’t mind”.Marie and Raymond - his closest companions within the novel - take advantage of Meursault’s passivity, ignoring responses they do not like and taking his lack of forceful disagreement as assent.They assume a bond, which Meursault himself does not feel.He is a man without a past, without definable motivations; a blank canvas upon whom the reader is forced to project their own self, their own experiences, and identify with intimately, provided they acknowledge their own inherent comradeship with him.But in a more perverse sense neither Meursault, nor we, have any history until we realise it in the face of our own mortality.As he waits for death in prison, Meursault turns inwards for morality and develops an informed pathos, not about his own death, but about the absurdity of the life that surrounds him.There is some disagreement about Meursault’s awareness of the absurd.As an embodiment of humanity Meursault is paradoxically both impenetrably complex and risibly simplistic.There is an interesting interplay between the reader, narrator, and third-person characters, who all perceive Meursault’s character differently.