Narrative structure is an important element in every book written, it contributes to both layers of meaning and the readability of the book. Through this essay I will explore the narrative structure of Metamorphosis and The Outsider and the layers of meaning that it adds to these two books. The Outsider is carefully and formally organised. The two main parts of the novel are of equal length. Death is a central motif; at the beginning there is the mother’s death, in the centre that of the Arab and at the end Meursault himself is awaiting execution.
Each of these deaths affects Meursault in a different way. Although the first is the death of his own mother he appears to show no emotion and to have no experience of how to show emotion. At the second death, the murder of the Arab, he also shows very little emotion, he believes the case to be ‘very simple’ and he has to remind himself continuously that he is a murderer, ‘On my way out I was even going to shake his hand, but I remembered just in time that I’d killed a man.
‘ At the end his own impending death causes him to feel and show emotion, then accept the inevitable, death. After the novel is finished Camus has included an Afterward, which ensures that the reader understands his view of Meursault and the message of the book The Outsider begins in a striking fashion: ‘Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I don’t know. I had a telegram from the home: ‘Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely. ‘ That does not mean anything. It may have been yesterday.
‘ This provides an immediate insight into Meursault’s character, challenging the reader to despise him for his lack of emotion, indeed, he seems more concerned about the date of the death than with the fact that his mother is dead. The reader is also given the chance to admire him as he strives to give details accurately, not pretending to know something he is uncertain about. These first lines set the tone for the rest of the book. Is it for the lack of feelings portrayed in such lines as these that he is executed and not because he has killed an Arab?
There are many parallels in The Outsider, for example, Meursault’s relationships with Raymond and with Salamano. Both these friends value Meursault and turn to him in their times of need: Raymond asks him for assistance in dealing with a girl who was ‘sort of’ his ‘mistress’: ‘Then he announced the fact that he wanted to ask my advice about this business, because I was a man of the world and could help him and afterwards he would be my mate, I didn’t say anything and he asked me again if I wanted to be his mate.
I said I didn’t mind: he seemed pleased. ‘ Salamano turns to Meursault for advice and comfort when his dog goes missing: “They won’t take him away from me will they Mr Meursault, they will give him back to me. Otherwise what will they do? ‘ I told him that they kept dogs at the pound for three days for their owners to collect them and that after that they dealt with them as they saw fit. ‘ There are many contrasts between Part I and Part II. Swimming with Marie, for example, contrasts with the strained prison visit in Part II.
The afternoon spent swimming is full of fun and laughter, ‘we lay on the buoy for a long time, half asleep. When the sun got too hot, she dived off and I followed. I caught her up, put my arm around her waist and we swam together. She was still laughing. ‘ The prison visit is very different, it is tense and Marie and Meursault do not know what to say to each other, “Well’ she said in a very loud voice, ‘Well here I am, Are you alright? Have you got everything you want? ‘ We stopped talking and Marie went on smiling. ‘
Many events occurring in Part I are premonitions of events in Part II. During the vigil after his mother’s death, to which ten ‘inmates’ of the old people’s home come, Meursault has ‘An absurd impression that they have come to sit in judgement’ of him. The corresponding event in Part II is Meursault’s experience in court, when he is really being judged for his behaviour at the vigil and his reaction to his mother’s death. The residents in the home are referred to as inmates; this is a link to Meursault’s later experience in prison.
The events in Part I become elements in the trial in Part II. In Part I we hear of the events recorded in the first person, in the style of a diary; we are shown reality as it occurs. Part II shows us how human reason tries to reinterpret this reality. The calmness present at the beginning of each part contrasts greatly with the emotion of the murder scene and Meursault’s outburst against the chaplain: ‘something exploded inside me. I started shouting at the top of my voice and I insulted him.
‘ This show of emotion is followed by recognition and acceptance: at the end of Part I Meursault realises that he was happy but has now destroyed his happiness. At the end of Part II he accepts his fate and is again happy. As ‘Laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world… I realised that I’d been happy, and that I was still happythis is a pattern that is present in both parts of the novel it reinforces the two-part structure.