There is a sad truth about human life in society: you are in a game. You are given only your integrity and then challenged, pushed, and bullied in order to see how long you can last before you sell it out. The woman or man who wins the game is both despised and feared. This precedes the fact that they will and must be destroyed in order for the game to continue.
In The Stranger by Albert Camus(also known as The Outsider which suggests enough for the argument at hand) the reader encounters a man by the name of Meursault, a vaguely described person of interest, who assumes the weight of being against the crowd when he ceases to mourn over the loss of his mother. MeurNow while this pessimistic stance on humanity is not an original one (George Carlin, Nietzsche, and Socrates seemed to express this idea numerous times in numerous ways) like all sentiments expressed through my work, it is only an effort to . While the internet has helped social activity blossom in new ways there is still the threat of anonymity which allows license to crude and, most unfortunate for those that possess a semblance of civility, malicious behavior against any who seem to stand opposed to whatever ideology or opinion they hold dear. I can assure this essay is not another hammed up assault on the internet for this temperament against dissenters is not restricted to the World web. Television broadcasts, radio programs, magazine articles, poorly constructed political blogs, and even those bounteous (may I never use that stale phrase “sacred”) items known as books are not free from the ravenous hatred of popular opinion.sault himself does provide some insight into the relationship, but not enough to gain a real understanding of it. All that can be arrived at is that she was living in a home(the colloquial expression for overly depressing drop zone for burdens) because he did not have the financial means to support her. Returning to the south of France, Meursault immediately takes on significance in the eyes of his fellow-man for his lack of emotion. Before any devout readers of Camus arise to condemn me(it’s Camus for fuck’s sake! Haven’t you ever read the man) it must be remembered that loss is one of the most dreadful inevitabilities on the road to character building. As of this writing I still possess a mother (who never ceases to ask if there is anything I need or if I am well, thank you as always Mother dear) and a father and have yet to lose them to mortality, therefore the emotion I should feel is somewhat strange to me. I understand the emotion inspired only from thought of losing someone who I care about, and believe me it is enough. Meursault seems however to feel nothing. The first line is enough to gain that impression.
“Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: “Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.” That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.”
The death of someone close to us is a date we tend to remember. Meursault treats the death as if it was the passing of weather. Numerous writers and Philosophers (including Jean Paul Satre which I only discovered upon beginning this essay to my delight and exasperation) have written extensively upon this short and excellent work, even Camus himself. But to return to Meursault, it is crucial to observe a little bit more concerning his character . The writing of The Stranger is perhaps one of most noted and important aspects of the book. Any who have opened the pages of Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy are aware of the long dramatic sequences of prose that challenge the reader to overcome them and truly observe the book and craft being employed. Other who have read (the incredibly missed author) Cormac McCarthy are aware of a brilliant simplicity that interacts with long sentences that stretch like the malevolent and sublime settings in which his characters interact. The name Nabokov (cursed and blessed to be hounded by the masterwork of that little nymphet Dolores Haze until the end of time it seems) stands as a testament to what the English language is capable of. What then of The Stranger?
“I wanted to smoke a cigarette at the window, but the air was getting colder and I felt a little chilled. I shut the window, and as I was coming back I glanced at the mirror and saw a corner of my table with my alcohol lamp and some pieces of bread. It occurred to me anyway that another Sunday was over, that Maman was buried now, that I was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed.”
Observe the sentence structure. The details and components of the space are not eloquently described. They are components of a reality, and a dull one at that. Meursault is a simple man possessed with few, if any real convictions except his own innocence by the end of the novel, but even that is taken with an apathetic sentiment. The Stranger is written with the utmost simplicity, the likes of which would have made the bloated Hemingway himself go screaming for a thesaurus. This is not anything on Camus’s ability as a writer, for if one observes any of his other texts one understands the significance of the man and his contribution to prose. The Stranger’s diction is purposefully restricted so that Meursault’s apathy becomes absolutely clear. Humbert Humbert observed in Lolita, “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.” It is clear Humbert Humbert never had the chance to read The Stranger because Merusalt’s account of his incarceration and trial can be considered anything but “fancy.” “Fancy” wishes it could come in and re-arrange the curtains!
So what? What does the story of a man who’s a heartless bastard have anything to do with the weight of society against the individual? Camus answers this question for us.
I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: “In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.” I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.
The last line assumes critical significance in consideration the original argument. We have all at some point in our lives had our integrity challenged. Whether it be as children or adults, there will always be instances in which we have to decide whether to cave into the pressure from those around us or stand firm in our convictions. For myself it is often the question of whether to answer honestly about my religious stance. I admit I have on at least two occasions answered this unfortunate question in a vague Christian position(technically I “was” raised Episcopal), however it should be noted that I was young and had not yet fully come to terms with being a skeptic and atheist (also being in East Texas where guns and Christianity seem to be passionate bed-mates it’s best to observe Patsy’s philosophy in the brilliant musical Spamalot when asked why he has not come forward as a Jew, “It’s not the thing you broadcast next to a well armed Christian). However since I have come to terms with my atheism I have since on several occasions been honest and generously forthcoming about my lack of faith. This personal account is not advertizing my atheism, but supplying an example in which integrity is called forth to action.
Perhaps another example is needed, and so I turn to Batman.
Not actually Batman, but a character that receives just as much esteem within the comic franchise, a character by the name of James Gordon. If one is looking for an analogous character we must consider the case of Gordon in Frank Miller’s (splendid and brilliantly executed) graphic novel Batman: Year One. Immediately the question arises, am I deliberately choosing Gordon to boost the reception level of the essay (for what serious minded person would waste their time on superhero comics)? The answer is simple. No. I have written on the character of Batman before and believe comics to be a worthwhile literary medium, but a defense, or apology for those who prefer a more classic label will have to wait.
If we observe the case of Jim Gordon in the graphic novel the circumstances are not that different from Mersault, only the character of each men. James Gordon is (“disgraced” may too strong a word and “soiled” makes one consider sheets and houseplants so let us instead be satisfied with “dishonored” for now) new to the town of Gotham and it becomes clear through his internal monologue (an often too-employed trope in comics but within this text successfully accomplished) that he is the only cop in Gotham willing to take any kind of ethical stand against the relentless corruption. Crooked cops such as Commissioner Loeb, Lieutenant Flass, and SWAT commander Branden commit assault and murder without even attempting to mask their efforts in the veil of public order. Gordon refuses to turn a blind eye resulting in him being beaten to a pulp.
Such is the inevitable result and reward for individuals and dissidents in our society. Those who decide to allow their integrity to stand firm must suffer the physical scorn of the supposed “in-the-right.” One leaps to the scores of confessions and testimonies of political refugees who have been tortured for speaking against the majority will. Perhaps two examples would say it best, there are prison systems within the Middle East, most notably Iran and Saudi Arabia, those hotbeds of good old-fashioned religious conservatism, where there exist laws that state a woman cannot be executed if she is a virgin. How then do you tackle this solution? The answer is as simple as it is revolting. A guard, or guards if they feel up to it, will rape a woman thereby eliminating the title of virgin to her name and allowing the government the right to execute her with all the dignity it takes to shoot her in the back of the head behind the custodian’s shed. The second and most recent example is the jailing of three well noted reporters(Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed) by the Egyptian government who possessed the audacity to report negatively on the current administration and received an accusation that they supported The Muslim Brotherhood and a fifteen year jail sentence as their reward. Since this “judgment,” made in December, Egypt has been condemned for this barbaric measure, and any who possess any kind of foresight understand the severity of this action. When the reporters and writers are silenced, it is all downhill. Being an individual with a voice, with a sense of self shall always be the greatest attack against the state. But let this not become a call to arms because there is nothing so repulsive as those who celebrate their own suffering. Instead let us consider the game.
Gordon and Meursault are both simple-minded and make mistakes. In the case of Meursault he kills an arab because he is blinded and bothered by the sun and his own sweat, while in the case of Gordon he begins an extra-marital affair. Both of these mistakes may seem as errors which break the integrity of their character but in fact both of these eventually lead to stronger development, because each man ultimately declare them. In the case of Meursault he never once attempts to deny his killing of the man,
“Of course I couldn’t help admitting that he was right. I didn’t feel much remorse for what I’d done. But I was surprised by how relentless he was. I would have liked to have tried explaining to him cordially, almost affectionately, that I had never truly felt remorse for anything.”
Did I not suggest in my last essay that murder cannot be justified in any way? I did, and I stand by that position. It is not the murder however that is essential to Meursault’s integrity, but his unwillingness to abandon his philosophical condition. He will not be dictated to, nor will he allow others to suggest the proper emotion he should be feeling. Once again Camus says it best.
A much more accurate idea of the character, or, at least one much closer to the author’s intentions, will emerge if one asks just how Meursault doesn’t play the game. The reply is a simple one; he refuses to lie. To lie is not only to say what isn’t true. It is also and above all, to say more than is true, and, as far as the human heart is concerned, to express more than one feels. This is what we all do, every day, to simplify life. He says what he is, he refuses to hide his feelings, and immediately society feels threatened. He is asked, for example, to say that he regrets his crime, in the approved manner. He replies that what he feels is annoyance rather than real regret. And this shade of meaning condemns him.
As I spoke before Gordon receives his reward for being an ethical “boy-scout” by having the proverbial snot beaten out of him as well as being given a reminder that his “wife is pregnant.” Rather than submitting to the will of the thuggish society he now inhabits, Gordon pursues his attackers and isolates the figure of influence, the afore-mentioned Flass. A fight ensues, but rather than killing, maiming, or torturing his adversary Gordon humiliates him by leaving him tied up and naked on the side of a well visited road. Gordon’s efforts in demonstrating his position to his attackers reveal a proper guideline of behavior. The individual will experience conflict, but rather than submitting to the harsh tactics of the society that so despises them, she or he must defeat them in the manner that best fits the situation. Rather than killing or maliciously beating Flass, Gordon humiliates him. Woe be to the man in power who must suffer the greatest of challenge to his authority: a joke at his own expense.
Both these stories illustrate instances in which the individual find themselves pitted against the overbearing weight of society. As I began, the sad truth of being an individual possessed with your own ideas and sense of self is a game in which society will punish you until your ideas conform, in some manner both extreme and lax, to their ultimate ideal. Texts such as The Stranger and Batman: Year One offer up opportunities in which we may observe the weight of integrity and what it’s worth. Both texts also offer up realistic portrayals of what can eventually happen to those who chose their integrity and will power over the mob. In the case of Jim Gordon there is suffering and pain and mistakes, but ultimately a kind of peace. In the case of Meursault, there will be incarceration, pain, and unfortunately society will terminate what they perceive to be a danger to the system.
Individual will, in my mind, stands as the ultimate test of the twenty-first century. We are currently in an age in which becoming an individual must be more than simple a profile status, it must become who we are to the core of our being. This is not an effort to completely damn societal cohesion, for culture and human connection is necessary to maintain survival. However we must each in our own power ensure that our opinions and ethics are entirely our own and without compromise. I will not promise that such a life will be smooth or easy, for the case of Meursault is evidence enough that some will lose the fight. Nevertheless the sacrifice of ourselves is an abomination for in essence, we have turned our back on everything we have built up to that moment. I will not say “soul,” for that is cheap and too pathetically grandiose, instead I will say that the sacrifice of our integrity is a sacrifice of our personal liberty and safety; for once we have abandoned that which gave us our self we have expelled any possibility for free will of action.
The Stranger is not just a title, but an identity assigned by those who recognize the power of choice and will do everything in their power to eradicate it.
The worst part is, they will not even ask if you would like a name-tag.