Saturday, April 7, 2012

Freedom and Death in the Outsider in relation to Camus’ philosophy

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In The Outsider, Camus’ views on freedom and death are important themes. For Camus, freedom happens in an awareness of one’s life. The every moment life, “an intense glorious life that needs no redeeming, no regrets, no tears.” Death is undeniable and absurd. It is not anything but a continuous recycling into the cosmos for a “free” man. Until a person reaches this awareness life, like death, is absurd, and without a doubt life remains absurd although each persons life can be valuable and meaningful to him or her. In a matter of speaking, The Outsider is a mirror of Camus’ philosophy, with stress on that which is needed for freedom. Meursault, hero of TheOutsider, is not a person one would want to meet in this respect. Meursault does not accomplish “the awakening of consciousness”, so necessary to freedom and to living Camus’ philosophy until nearly the end of the book. Yet, he has lived his life in according with the ethics of Camus’ philosophy.

Meursault is a quiet person who hardly ever shows any outer emotions when a situation in which most people would. In the opening scene of the book, we find out that his mother has just died. The first page alone gives many hints about Meursaults character and it shows him to be almost unaware of his emotions. He feels the need to apologise for things that are out of his control and to thank people for things that they had nothing to do with. He basically apologizes to his boss when he asks for two days off of work to go the funeral for his dead mother. He goes through the entire funeral without displaying any external emotions, saying that he doesnt want to see the body and that he doesnt want to pay his last respects. Mersault’s mothers funeral Meursault does not cry or behave the way that society expects him to act. This is because Meursault is an existentialist , and does not act in the appropriate manner in which society expects, which makes him a stranger from the people around him. The novel is divided into two parts Part One, in which Camus develops Meursault’s character and Meursault commits the murder and Part Two, wherein, as a result of his trial, his solitary confinement, and his sentence to death, Meursault undergoes an emotional “evolution” which concludes in his epiphany at the end of the novel.

What are the moralities and the virtues needed for freedom according to Meursault? First, the biggest trait of his character is his obsession for the absolute truth. While in Meursault, this takes the shape of a truth of being and emotion; it is still the truth needed to the conquest of the self or of the world. This passion is so deep that it obtains even when rejected might save his life.

Second, and not unconnected to the first, is Meursault’s acceptance of nature as what it is and nothing more, his rejection of the supernatural, including any god. Actually, “rejection” of God is not exact until later when he is confronted to accept the notion; Meursault merely has never considered God and religion valuable enough worth pursuing. The natural makes sense and the supernatural doesn’t. It follows that death to Meursault is the end of life and that is all. It’s just a natural part of existence for him.

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Third, Meursault lives completely in the present. The past is the past and dwelling on it in any mood is merely a waste of the present. As to the future, the eventual future is death; to forfeit the present to the future is the same as sacrificing life to death to him. Finally and obviously since the present is his only setting, Meursault takes note of each moment of life since there is no outside value system, no complex future plan to measure against and as a result of his passion for truth, he grants every moment equal importance. One moment may be more enjoyable than another; one boring yet each receives equal time. Meursault has one weakening attribute; that is a direct and logical result of his own view of the life and philosophy of living. Indifference.

Perhaps because his way of life and thinking appear so natural to him he has never considered their roots and has never faced the absurdity of death, with the resulting acknowledgment of the value of his life. Out of indifference he fails to question and thus blunders out of indifference he combines forces with violence and death in opposition with love and life. As a consequence of indifference, he kills a man. Meursault kills a man and is brought to trial for his crimes. But in fact he is not tried for murder but rather he is tried for his virtues. Here Camus shows how many people fear the absurd, and refuse point blank to confront it at all. Instead they make compromises with it, grant it importance and supernatural meaning, and live for it. The result is lives built on fraud and hypocrisy. The ordinary man, the man of certainty, can only threaten their authority. His very existence may force them to see through themselves. It is for this that they condemn Meursault to death. Once again, his indifference.

Faced with death by the guillotine, Meursault is forced to confront death, his own death. Through the desperation and shock, he discovers absurdity, the certainty of death, the meaninglessness of it and the unimportance. All this has been understood in Meursault. Now he is aware. Now Meursault is on the edge of freedom. True freedom. The invasion into his prison cell by the chaplain hastens Meursault’s triumph of total freedom. By the time the chaplain enters, Meursault has faced death and is now aware of its inevitability and of its meaninglessness. In the face of the chaplain’s attempt to push on Meursault his God, his guilt and his hypocrisy, Meursault finally revolts against the chaplain, against hypocrisy, against death. In an instant, “all thoughts that had been simmering in my brain” explode into consciousness and Meursault is finally aware. At last fully conscious of himself, of death and of his life. Meursault can fully measure the values present at every moment of life. Time, always the present to him, now in awareness becomes an amazing present, rich in beauty, friendship, and love. He feels the “absurd” and at the same time his innocence. Knowing now the indifference of the universe, facing death full of love of life, full of the joy of knowing that he had been happy and is happy still.

Meursault understands that the guillotine provides his ultimate explanation; for only in death does man really accomplish his human destiny. If we consider The Outsider a parable, its lesson is clear cling passionately to life as the only real positive value existing in a form we can identify. As soon as we rebel and go against the absurd, we become in full control of the life here and now, that it is ours and that is the only thing we have. It is a “gospel of happiness.” The revolt against the absurd so central to Camus’ theory of freedom and life is no impossible struggle. Camus’ revolution seeks no reward, no hope, but to prove the greatness of humanity.

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