I would not rate Monsieur Meursault, the protagonist, as an antihero, but I have never seen so much apathy in a character, not even with cold blood assassins, which, I think, was not his case.
Meursault was a normal person, very normal, and a solitary one. His life started to spin the day of his mother’s funeral, ‘maman’, whom he left in a retirement home three years before. He didn’t cry at her funeral, something that was noted by the director of the home. Since the beginning of the novel Meursault showed an innate ability to examine people. That was what he did. Starting with the attendees to the funeral, maman’s friends. Their features, the way they acted, who cried and who didn’t, who smoked like him, who slept, their motivation to be there, who could be closer to his mother, who was there because of an obligation, and who was there as a friend. In the meantime, his reactions were soft, only registering the events, with no emotions. When asked about his reaction to his mother’s death, he simply commented that he and ‘maman’ just did not have anything to say to each other anymore.
This apathy showed again the next day when back home he ran into Marie at the beach. Marie was a former colleague to whom he was attracted back then. They connected that day and started a relationship. She was dedicated, while he was mechanic in his actions. They went to the beach to play in the water, then they went back home to eat something and sleep together. Marie asked if he loved her, he answered, ‘probably not’ every time. Nevertheless the relationship continued. Marie wanted to get married, and he mechanically accepted.
Meursault lived in an apartment building in the centre of Algiers. He meticulously examined his neighbours behaviour, especially Monsieur Salamano, who everyday walked a dog. He abused the dog, kicking it, torturing it, insulting it every time they went for a walk. Meursault was not sickened by Salamano’s actions, he was simply registering everything in his head. No wonder why he got into trouble the day he met Raymond, a violent man who beat his girlfriend. Raymond was his upstairs neighbour, who immediately got him involved in the issue, making him write a letter to his girlfriend and later testifying on his behalf.
Both the girlfriend and her brother were ‘Arabs’. One of the brothers wanted to avenge his sister’s beating. ‘The Arabs’, as Camus called the group, with no names, went to look for Raymond the day Meursault and Marie went with him to Masson’s beach house to spend a summer day. Raymond got hurt and mechanically, like a robot, Meursault went to the beach to look for ‘The Arab’. Meursault did not have a plan, he did not have a motivation, he did not have an intention, but he killed ‘The Arab’ anyway.
The trial and his solitude is what comes next. It is of my opinion that Meursault was not fully aware of what was coming up to him. He simply registered every event, every word, every feature, every reaction, the nights passing by, the hours, the minutes. He felt his loneliness deeply, he wanted a woman, Marie, or any woman. But he did not experienced fear, or at least, not until the end. He examined his lawyers actions and motivations, the judge, the jury, the police officers who had him in custody. Despite his apathy he was honest. Purely and totally honest, as he was when Marie questioned him about love and marriage. The difficult part of the trial was finding a motivation, but he had none, he wanted to explained them that at some point he was blinded by the sun at the beach. ‘The Arab’ approached with a knife and that was simply the end of it. No body understood this, so the case was built on his apathy, towards God, as he did not want to repent, not to believe. Towards his mother, as he never cried, nor had any emotion at her funeral, towards ‘The Arabs’.
Meursault reflexions are enlightening, because they were unpredictable and because they were not judgmental, of him, of anybody. I was perplexed by the simplicity of this book, Camus first novel. It has been said that his writing tried to follow the American tendencies of the 50s —Hemingway’s, for example—. I consider this to be true, both styles aligned. But what was revealing was understanding that I was reading this novel in 2021, when I needed to put it in its real context, the real time, after the Nazi occupation of France. And there I understood that this was not a simple novel, with a simple protagonist. Monsieur Meursault did not fit into normal society standards. Monsieur Meursault was not willing to change his way of being, his way of thinking, and he was not fearful of the consequences. He refused to believe in the system. He refused to believe in God, he refused to be like them. And he was punished for it.
There is also a message of racism and discrimination, with Camus not naming ‘The Arabs’. Raymond’s girlfriend, his brother, his friends, did not have a name. They were like shadows surrounding the main characters of the book. They were the attackers, the vindictive ones, despite the ‘Arab’ girl being constantly abused. When Meursault killed the girlfriend’s brother, he was still an anonym, nobody cared for him, nobody mourned him.
The interpretation of this novel is endless. There had been entire novels analysing this 154 pages book. My conclusion is that this is a book worth to read. It is worth to get your own conclusions.
Great book. Highly recommended.