The Outsider: Chapter Notes – Part 1, Chapter 2
· Meursault experiences his first weekend after the death of his Mother.
· This chapter consists of his daily routines and what he does to pass the time on his days off.
· On Saturday he meets an ex-colleague who he ends up spending the day and night with, remembering his infatuation for her.
· We find, what seems to be, how he spends his usual Sundays, a day which he dislikes, sitting on his balcony watching all the people go by, pondering on every detail.
· At the end of the chapter he reviews his day and the recent events, realising that everything has stayed the same.
In the chapter, Meursault seems to follow, what perceives to be, a ‘daily routine’ on Sunday. In which he sits on his balcony watching the world go by. Eyeing every person that passes by, carefully describing every detail from day to night. This suggests his disconnection from other members of society which is reflected in lines like “After that the street gradually became deserted. The shows had all started, I suppose.” Additionally, the manner in which he notices the most minute details of the world around him makes him seem to somewhat alienated from the world; it is as though he watches the world through a glass.
While the majority of people follow their routine of Sunday night at the cinema, Meursault sits on his balcony and observes this ‘flood’ of people go to the cinema and back: he is once again not part of this common social activity; he is again the observer, the stranger not outside this society, but the stranger within this society (Original French novel was called ‘L’Étranger’; ‘The Stranger’ and some argue that ‘The Outsider’ is an inaccurate translation). The way he describes the groups of people on the street, it’s as if he is from another planet that doesn’t seem to belong anywhere, fascinated by human life that he watches them all day long: “Seeing him with his wife, I understood why local people said he was distinguished.”
The many blunt, short and non descriptive sentences throughout this chapter, suggest the dry absence of meaning that Meursault seems to have in his life. He never elaborates on the statements he gives such as ‘I don’t like Sundays.’ The sentences are short and simple statements of simple truths: ‘After lunch I was a bit bored and wandered around the flat.’ This obviously depicts the lack of depth in all aspects of life; the absence of meaning.
Also when talking about his Mother’s death to Marie he considers ‘It didn’t mean anything.’ He is not directly referring to his Mother’s death not meaning anything, but telling her it wasn’t his fault. However, this does seem to mirror that he believes his Mother’s death did not mean anything.
‘Only the shopkeepers and the cats remained.’ This sentence seems odd when read; the shopkeepers and the cats seem almost of equal importance. The humans (shopkeepers) lack importance due to the fact that they aren’t conscious, they haven’t yet made the realisation that Meursault on some level seems to have made (that there is no meaning in life and also none to be created or found). Thus, this being the case, the shopkeepers, from Meursault’s point of view, seem to be little better than animals; just as the cats roam the streets, so do they. Meursault doesn’t deem to be more important than others, he makes no judgement, the fact is simply that he has made the absurd realisation (though subconsciously at this point) that nothing really matters.
The meaninglessness of the world and its events is most easily summarised by the line that concludes the chapter: ‘I realized that I’d managed to get though another Sunday, that mother was now buried, that I was going to go back to work and that, after all, nothing had changed’
· The last three words ‘nothing had changed’ refer to the fact that even events like his mother dying and being buried, and all the events that Saturday had entailed, had managed to change absolutely nothing in his life as none of them really had any meaning. This reveals the Absurdist concept of life having no meaning, no ‘grander plan’
· While it might sound “heartless” for Meursault to believe so, especially after his mother’s death, we as readers of an absurdist novel are meant to appreciate that Meursault only considers the elements of the world that are tangible and real. Emotions are intangible and so he often seems devoid of emotions, as if they are not ‘real’, in fact he doesn’t even feel the emotions that you ‘should’ feel as opposed to actually feeling. They don’t ‘really matter’.
· In contrast, however, perhaps we will be appalled at this absurd man, devoid of emotions and that what makes a human human, and thus will seem to us a stranger, an outsider.
‘Above the roofs the sky began to redden and with evening approaching, the streets came to life.’ A vivid appreciation of nature is evident throughout the chapter, Meursault refers to the sky many times, “I watched the sky for a long time.” continuously describing its change in colours throughout the day, always in such detail. He appears to also, only ever use words such as ‘beautiful’ when referring to nature or the sky. Although he seems to have no significant feelings towards humans, he gives the impression that he does for nature: “The street lamps were making reflections on the wet pavements, and the trams…would light up a smile or some shiny hair…” This is possibly because nature is real, it’s continuous, it’s factual and you don’t have to seek for its beauty.
Intense Sensory Experience
Following from this we can see that Meursault seems to experience sensory details with particular intensity. He mentions nothing of Marie’s personality but describes her smell: ‘[he] tried to find the salty smell of Marie’s hair’ and once again, while one might expect a description of his emotions for her, he instead describes the tangible sensory details of Marie. Camus also focuses on Meursault’s physical interaction with Marie describing how he could ‘...feel Marie’s stomach throbbing gently at the back of [his] neck.’ as opposed to emotions one might expect us to feel for her
Absence of emotion
Once again, Meursault’s descriptions are dry and lacking emotion: he describes his physical (to him real, tangible) interactions with Marie (‘ [He] brushed against her breasts’) but does not describe her personality or show any sign of an emotional connection with her—there is a clear absence of any emotions such as love. Sex is meant to be passionate expression of feelings and emotions; but for him it almost like a simple physical human need, like hunger, completely devoid of emotions. ‘I’d fancied her at the time, and I think she fancied me too’ This hints that perhaps there is some emotion, though judging by the character of Meursault it is likely to be a more physical attraction than the genuine love for her.
In addition, he does not behave as if his mother had just died, going on a date and having sex barely a day after his mother’s burial is not really wrong; perhaps put in Meursault’s own words: ‘it doesn’t really matter’. We’re not meant to view him as heartless for not grieving over his mother, rather that we are all very much by ourselves, whatever we do the world around us treats it with the uttermost indifference (there is no ‘bigger plan’), and this indifference is epitomised by Meursault’s indifference, most strikingly perhaps, to his mother’s death (among other events).
Meursault watches the world pass him by from his balcony: ‘The children were either crying or trailing behind. Almost immediately, the local cinemas poured out their audiences in a great flood onto the street...’ Meursault is continuously observing even the smallest of the tangible details around him; this gives a sense of a perpetual search for a meaning while, as Camus’s absurdist theory dictates, there is none.
Going to the cinema, indeed all of the Sunday activities seem to be habitual and we can imagine that the scene underneath Meursault’s balcony has played itself out many times before.
Although at this point in time he hasn’t made a conscious realisation that life has no meaning (Camus’s absurdist theory), his mostly short statements of empirical truths reflect the his belief in a lack of depth, lack of meaning in life. His constant focus on and detailed descriptions of sensory details creates a sense of him only believing in what is tangible, because that is what is, ultimately (to him) real. This is the reason why there is a significant lack of emotion in his actions, reactions and speech; emotions are intangible and therefore, unreal. This is, perhaps, also why he describes his physical interactions with Marie, yet doesn’t show any sign of an emotional connection. He gives us flat, emotionless, valueless descriptions to reflect back at us as readers. This is depicted by when he gives mechanical, flat description of the girls and the boys on the street below him flirting; he undermines all of the vibrancy of emotions (i.e. nervousness, tension etc) that these boys and girls would be feeling.
This is the chapter where the readers are introduced to Marie for the first time. It is stated that she used to work with Meursault, that he had feelings for her that perhaps she returned. We are not well acquainted with her character, although on finding out that Meursault’s mother had died the day before, “She recoiled slightly, but made no remark.” It seems that, in contrast to Meursault, she is not an absurdist and remains firmly connected to society and societies expectations of behaviour, hence the shudder which she does, however decide to see past.
Imagery & Setting:
There are only two key settings in this chapter: the beach, where he meets Marie, and his balcony. At the beginning of the chapter, on the beach, surrounded by nature the imagery and setting suggests a mellow, calm start to the weekend, considering it was the day after Meursault’s mother’s death. This serves to emphasise his absurdist attitudes as he expresses rather placid feelings as opposed to how one might usually feel after their own mother’s death. Camus uses this setting and Meursault’s reaction to it to emphasise how different he is. This image of peacefulness is greatly emphasised during the scene where Meursault is sitting on his balcony watching others carry out their Sunday routines, he seems rather content doing this and in addition, rather enthused by the atmosphere, especially the sky, around him.
One of the elements that Meursault is descriptive about is nature and its beauty. He says ‘The street lamps suddenly came on then and they made the first few stars that were appearing in the night sky look quite pale’. This perhaps embodies how man-made objects / “human constructs” take away from the beauty of natural elements of our world and leave them under-appreciated. Meursault, however, for the most part, is not engaged with human distractions and thus is able to appreciate such beauty.
The style within Chapter 2 is similar to Chapter 1: it is a first person narrative and Camus continues using short sentences making Meursault speak of the basic reality of things around him. However, there are sentences and paragraphs that seem longer and more descriptive than in Chapter 1, as if they have with more emotion. For instance, when he describes the beauty of the sky the narrative style seems to have more sentiment.
Relation Part to Whole:
In chapter 2 we are given a deeper insight into the character of Meursault as more is revealed by his interactions with Marie. He, from dominant reading, rarely experiences any emotions and once again focuses on the tangible details. We even read of his romantic encounter, and the value of this to him seems only to be physical rather than emotional. The evening when Meursault is watching others from his balcony clearly reflects his disconnection from everyone else and therefore further reinforces the key themes of alienation and absurdism established in Chapter 1.