The last pages of the first part of The Outsider, by Albert Camus, are critical to both the themes and the plot of the book. This is a pivotal moment within the book; all that has occurred before this point culminates during these few pages, and all that comes after is shaped by this moment. This point also serves at a division between Meursault’s life as a freeman and his life as a prisoner. To have any meaningful comprehension of the books plot or themes one must understand this passage. Depending on one’s interpretation of this passage, we can see Meursault as a victim of circumstance, or as a cold detached killer.
By examining this passage and is relation to the rest of the book one obtains a unique insight into the books meaning. Also, a careful examination of this passage suggests that Meursault had no intension to kill the Arab. When one examines this particular passage of the play one begins to see the death of the Arab as a tragic accident. We see from the beginning that Meursault has no real intension of killing the Arab. He in fact says to Raymond “It’d be unfair to shoot just like that,” (Camus, pg 57) and proceeds to convince Raymond to confront the Arab unarmed.
These do not seem the actions of one who is planning to kill the Arab. He also does not take the gun from Raymond to shoot the Arab; he takes the gun to prevent Raymond from doing so. Meursault does suggest that Raymond give him the gun and he may have suggested this simply to further a plan to kill the Arab, but this does not fit with Meursault’s character in the slightest. He was always known for his brutal honesty. His motivations for returning to the spring give no indication of premeditation. Meursault was “a bit surprised” (Camus, pg 58) to see the Arab, which also indicated no premeditation.
The details of the encounter between Meursault and the Arab indicate mutual hostility. The Arab and Meursault both ready their weapons, Meursault “gripped Raymond’s gun,” (Camus, pg 59) and the Arab “put his hand in his pocket” (Camus pg 59). This situation escalates and tensions grow when Meursault moves forward and the Arab draws his knife. It is then at this moment that Meursault is “blinded by this veil of salty tears” (Camus, pg 60). The phrase, “My whole being went tense and I tightened my grip on the gun.
The trigger gave,” (Camus, pg 60) gives the impression of an unintentional action. It would seem logical to say I pulled the trigger if the action was intentional. After examination of the text, it appears that Meursault actions were not planned, and may have in fact been an accident. The passage also serves to further portray and confirm his existential beliefs. Meursault throughout the book acts in a self-serving manner unconcerned with the feelings or beliefs of others. This belief system can be seen quite clearly in the initial chapter when he attends his mother’s funeral.
The passage in question is no exception. In this passage he is primarily motivated by his physical discomfort. He does not return to the chalet because he was “unable to face the effort of climbing the wooden staircase and confronting the women again” (Camus, pg 58). He walks to the beach to escape the heat and “dazzling red glare” (Camus, pg 58). He approaches the rocks upon which the Arab sits because he desired “to escape from the sun and the effort and the women’s tears” (Camus, pg 58). His desire for physical comfort also causes him to approach the Arab.
He moves forward because he could no longer “stand this burning feeling any longer” (Camus, pg 59). His killing of the Arab was also motivated somewhat by his own physical discomfort. The blazing description of the sensations, experienced just prior to the Arab’s death, help to explain his actions. One sees that the Arab’s knife “was like a long, flashing sword lunging” (Camus, pg 60) at Meursault. We hear him describe the sun as a cymbal “clashing against [his] forehead” (Camus, pg 60). This sensational overload may have caused his tightened “grip on the gun” (Camus, pg 60).
Perhaps the most convincing evidence for Meursault’s existentialism is his reaction to the death of the Arab. He does not mourn or regret the Arab’s death but instead laments destroying “the balance of the day and the perfect silence of this beach” (Camus, pg 60). Also if we look at the passage in a broader manner we are given yet another argument for Meursault’s existentialism. The majority of the passage is composed of descriptions of Meursault’s physical sensations. This emphasis shows the extent to which Meursault is influenced by these sensations.
After examining the passage one comes to realize all of Meursault’s action are at least in part influenced by physical sensation such as heat. We can also see from his initial reaction to the Arabs death Meursault attitude towards life. The occurrences of the relevant passage in part one, are absolutely vital when analyzing the events of the second half of the play. If Meursault is seen to be a premeditating murder in this passage, one will most likely interpret part two as the bringing to justice of a deranged criminal.
If Meursault is seen to have accidentally killed the Arab then the application of justice by the society is seen very differently. When Meursault’s actions are viewed in this light his trial and subsequent execution may be seen as society imposing its values upon Meursault. Meursault in the latter part of the play is judged not on his actions, but his reactions. This interpretation is furthered by the magistrate’s questions about Meursault’s religious beliefs. Also, the calling of witness from his mother’s nursing home such as the caretaker and Thomas Pi??
Rez show how Meursault is convicted due to his beliefs or lack there of. If the final pages of part one are interpreted differently, this theme of man versus society is lost or weakened. The final pages of part one of The Outsider are crucial to the plot, characterization and theme of the book. It is only with careful evaluation of the final passage that we are able to judge the severity of Meursault’s crimes. With this careful evaluation one cannot escape the fact that the crime was not premeditated and may have been an accident. This scene also furthers the characteristics of Meursault’s existentialism.
It provides ample evidence of his preoccupation with physical sensations and his own comfort. It is important that one interpret these final pages in a way that Meursault is seen at least to some extent as a victim of circumstance. It is only with this interpretation that one is able to appreciate fully, the man versus society theme, which is portrayed by Meursault’s trial. The final pages of part one of Camus’ work are arguably the most important to the book as a whole and only through the understanding of this passage can one fully understand the work in its entirety.