The Outsider: Chapter Notes – Part 1, Chapter 6
· Meursault wakes up with Marie both of whom make their way to Raymond’s house because they were going to the beach with him to spend the day with his friends who have a chalet.
· The first sight of the Arabs appears at the beginning of this chapter when Raymond points one of them out as “his man” noting that the Arab had something against him.
· After having taken a bus to the beach, Marie and Meursault meet Raymond’s friends, Masson and his wife. There is some small talk and Meursault reflects with surprise on the fact that he is to be married to Marie when he sees her laughing.
· Throughout the novel, Camus (from Meursault’s perspective) describes situations as they are: factual, blunt and without very much emotion. The first part of this chapter is very much the same. They go for a swim, they sleep, swim again, eat and then go for a walk.
· This very factual, almost impersonal tone relies very much on the physicality of life and also in this case love.
· Raymond, Masson and Meursault are on the walk when they run into the Arabs from earlier on in the chapter. There is an awkward moment where everyone waits for the other to make a move. This is significant because it is the beginning of the ‘choices’.
· Raymond strikes “his man” and the fight begins although at this point Meursault merely watches the scene. One of the Arabs draws a knife and Raymond’s arm is cut and his face slashed.
· The Arabs run off, and the three men return to the house where Raymond goes to the hospital and returns bandaged and aggravated.
· Raymond and Meursault go for another walk along the beach until they reach the Arabs who are lying by a spring. Again a moment of choice (as Raymond has a gun) whether to shoot the Arab or not. The Arab runs away, so the two of them begin to make their way back to the chalet when Meursault notices to such a great extent the sun, the heat and these external conditions that irritate and disturb him. Without much thought process, he walks back to the spring, finds the Arab still there and shoots him. Only after this occurs, does he make the actual decision to shoot the Arab four more times.
Absurdism vs. Existentialism
Absurdism is apparent in the motif of physical love/marriage in the sense that he only loves her when she is relevant to that specific moment i.e. when he notices her and the fact that marriage is not really important. He could marry her and that would be fine, but not marrying her would not be any less fine. Absurdism is also evident in the killing of the Arab which seems to happen for no real reason – hence the quotations: “Whether I stayed there or moved, it would come to the same thing” P58 and “I realized I only had to turn round and it would be all over” P59.
On the contrary, evidence of existentialism appears when Meursault has the choice to shoot, or not to shoot the Arab after he has taken the gun off Raymond. “I realized at that point you could either shoot or not shoot.” (pg 57) which suggests that he has a choice to make and some control. This would seem to be a real choice where Meursault could really define himself through his actions as the existentialist creed suggests. However, this is undermined later when he actually does not intentionally shoot the Arab as the quotation “the trigger gave” suggests that the shot was more an accident than an intended action. For Meursault, this murder is going to be one of the key actions that defines his life and, contrary to the ideas of Existentialism, he does not seem to have been in control at the vital moment.
The last, probably most significant evidence of Absurdism is at the very end of the chapter “And I fired four more times at a lifeless body…” (pg 60). Again this can be interpreted from both an existential and an absurd perspective. Existentially, the four shots can be viewed as Meursault attempting to gain ‘ownership’ of the action of shooting the Arab, an action which was initially out of his control but which he is subsequently trying to reclaim. In contrast the Absurdist explanation is that ‘sometimes our actions are just as arbitrary as our accidents’. Why shoot him again? Well why not. It doesn’t have any greater meaning to shoot or not to shoot, so why does it matter? It doesn’t. It is just an action with no greater significance. And why four shots? Because no number has more meaning or less meaning. It is just a number and coincidentally that number of shots was fired.
Our conventionally accepted ideals of marriage suggest that love is constant which current runs through the lives of the lovers. However, to Meursault, love is physical. “And just then his wife was laughing with Marie. For the first time perhaps, I really thought I’d get married.” (pg 52) is an example of his ‘love is now’ philosophy. Because he sees her laughing now, because he is with her now, he loves her but at other times, when he speaking to someone else, doing or thinking about something else he does not love her because the love is not noticed. When he feels love towards her (when he is with her physically), he notices it, but when he doesn’t feel love, it simply does not matter.
This is further exemplified in the line: “I got up straight away because I was hungry, but Marie told me I hadn’t kissed her all morning.” (pg 53) here he is at first distracted or driven by his basic sense of hunger but then jumps at the thought of Marie when she reminds him of her existence. So we see him constantly being drive by his most immediate sensory experience as these are the things that are real to him. This also ties in the representation of emotional love as something sexual. Meursault is constantly mentioning Marie’s looks, and how he feels towards her based on sexual urges and physical actions of love. “I felt her legs around mine and I wanted her” – because the sexual feelings are real, they exist in that moment, so his love is based on immediate physical sensations, hence the importance of sex.
Although not a main motif in this chapter, Meursault’s annoyance at women also appears. “It annoyed me to have to explain things to them” (pg 56) because to him (noting his absurdist outlook) the fact that Raymond had to go to the doctors was not important – it has no great meaning or significance and so to him, it is not necessary to be crying and needing comfort. It annoys him because it is absurd that this woman should require comfort when there is no ‘good’ reason.
It is possible to read this chapter’s presentation of the Arabs from post-colonial perspective. The Europeans colonized Algeria and so there is racial/cultural tension between the Arabs and the French/Europeans. This is shown through what is known as ‘colonial dialogue’ because the Arabs are ONLY ever referred to as ‘Arabs’ or “the Arabs” (pg 57). This generalization depicts a concept of ‘that is all they are’ which is further shown by the minimal description of the Arabs by Camus. Throughout the novel, Meursault always notices such detail in the way that people look, but with the Arabs – there is little or no description (especially of their faces which in other situations, Meursault paid so much detail to). A post colonialist would not believe that Camus intended to convey these ideas but would instead believe that, because Camus was living at a time when colonial values were still extant in his society they would be unconsciously reflected in his writing.
Worldly / Sensory Detail – heat/external conditions
This is one of the key motifs within this chapter. These external conditions portray the idea that some of our choices are not ours and that we can be ‘victims of circumstance’. The sun, irritating, frustrating and distracting Meursault is an example of the way in which these external conditions can affect our choices and decisions which in fact turn out to be not our own. “The sun was shining almost vertically onto the sand and the glare from the sea was unbearable.” (pg 54) is the first time Meursault speaks of these external conditions irritating him. As the chapter progresses, his attention to detail increases and so does his need to escape the suffocation of the external conditions (the sun mainly) hence on page 58 he says “There was still the same dazzling red glare…my jaws tightened.” which is a perfect example of how these natural, external conditions are affecting him.
Shortly after this he shoots the Arab but what is important is that the shooting occurs by accident. “That was when everything shook. The sea swept ashore a great breath of fire. The sky seemed to be splitting from end to end and raining down sheets of flame. My whole being went tense and I tightened my grip on the gun. The trigger gave…”, the trigger gave – as though it happens by accident. It is as if all the heat and the sun joined forces against Meursault, and made him do it. The point being, that the choice was out of his control. Through this Camus is showing that ‘really real things, are what makes things happen’ and that as humans, the existential illusion that we can have control over our choices and that we can define ourselves through them is nothing more than a comforting myth. The oppressing, suffocating heat is a silly reason to justify a gunshot (indeed it is not a reason at all), but it is so emphasized in this chapter because sometimes really have no control.
The importance of sensory details is emphasised by the detailed descriptions of nature that persist throughout the chapter. For example, “beach…covered with yellowish rocks and brilliant white asphodels” P51, “A hard blue sky” and “villas with green or white fences” Intense natural imagery is used by Camus to suggest that natural constructs are fundamentally more ‘real’ or more ‘forceful’ than human ones. Hence there is much use of natural imagery in this chapter as the characters travel away from the city to the beach. This susceptibility to the elements of nature perhaps foreshadows how, later, the sun will drive Meursault to commit the murder. If the day wasn’t so hot and “stinging” his eyes like a “fire” perhaps the murder would not have happened?
Meursault’s Lack of Emotion and Focus on Basic Needs
“it was like giving four sharp knocks at the door of unhappiness” Even though Meursault may realise what he’s done is pointless and will cause him “unhappiness” there is still a clinical way in which he uses the symbol of a door opening, to represent his feelings, instead of describe them. He associates his feelings with a solid thing, when emotions are in fact natural, intangible and spontaneous.
“The trigger gave, I felt the underside of the polished butt”. Instead of focusing on emotion he chooses to again describe with great precision; the tangible, the physical, what he sees on face value, rather than feel. This is perhaps why the public feels disgust in Meursault, as he describes exact details of the ‘murder weapon’ but cannot portray remorse, emotion or regret as he shoots, and kills a person.
In contrast Meursault is clearly driven by his basic needs. The short bluntness of “I was very hungry” P53 and “I wanted her” P53 show Meursault’s basic needs but what is missing is the emotional connection with these things. Does being hungry make him happy or sad or frustrated? Meursault as a character, lacks this emotional response.
The Vestiges of Moral Values
This motif appears when Meursault takes the gun off Raymond on page 57. The reason is because it would be fairer to “take him [the Arab] on hand to hand”. This is one of the few signs we are given that Meursault has some similar moral values to a ‘normal’ person but this may be merely because he has grown up in the same world as the rest of us, and we are all sculpted by our society and all the moral values that go with it. The reason for his sudden realization that “He hasn’t said anything to you yet. It’d be unfair to shoot him.” (pg 57) could just be because he has a ‘hangover, a vestige of old moral values’ and the reason that it appears now is because the situation is serious, it involves human life.
The death of the Arab at the end of this chapter balances nicely the death of Meursault’s mother with which we began the chapter and perhaps foreshadows Meursault’s death at the end of the novel. However, there is death imagery throughout, for example “a face like a funeral” P49, Marie’s like to describe Meursault’s expression when he wakes up. Ironically, this is incorrect as we know from the first chapters that Meursault is unaffected by his mothers death and funeral, so the tired, gruff face would not actually be Meursault’s ‘funeral face.’ The fact that he is so unaffected and that his mother’s death but is more upset by the brightness of the sun which ‘slapped him in the face’ perhaps foreshadows how he will be judged for displaying no emotion in court.
In this chapter, most of the imagery revolves around heat and the external conditions that affect Meursault. “All I could feel were the cymbals the sun was clashing against my forehead and, indistinctly, the dazzling spear still leaping up off the knife in front of me.” (pg 60) is an example of how Camus uses vivid descriptions and imagery to depict the untamable spirit of nature and that as humans, we are powerless to stop it. Through images of “burning” (pg 59) and “anchored in an ocean of molten metal” (pg 59) Camus paints an intense picture, creating a sense of our powerlessness. It should also be noted that in this chapter, there is little or no imagery to depict emotions or internal conditions – because to Camus these things are irrelevant, they are human constructs. Whereas “a blade of light that leapt up off the sand, from…a piece of broken glass” is real, they are natural constructs.
In this Chapter, Meursault is revealed to us in a new light. He continues his absurdist attitude (although it may not be known to him) but he is affected by a hangover of old moral beliefs. For the first time he revels evidence that he was indeed brought up in our world and has been shaped by society when he does not believe that it is fair to shoot the Arab when he has not yet said anything or done anything. This vestige of moral beliefs provides an important insight into the novel as it helps differentiate who he is now from who he will become later in the novel when he has lost all of these vestiges and does not give in to society.
We are also introduced to Masson a “huge broad shouldered fellow” and his wife a “plump and friendly little wife, who had a parisian accent”. Camus uses this husband and wife couple and their life to suggest what Meursault’s own married life could be like as Marie and Meursault are contemplating marriage. “his wife was laughing with Marie…first time…I really thought I’d get married”. They are also an example of routine behavior as they “eat lunch,” “drink wine” and his wife “has a siesta (sleep)” during the day, showing the pointlessness of life but the purpose people make for themselves by having a routine.
The chapter takes place in a variety of settings: in a house, on a bus, at the beach, in a chalet, and a clearing. The most significant of these locations are the beach and the clearing, which is where the majority of the chapter takes place. The beach is significant because so much of the imagery of the heat and unstoppable external conditions takes place there, as well as the first fight. The clearing is where the shooting takes place and I do not think is significant for any specific reason - it is merely the location at which the shooting took place. No other location would be more or less appropriate which is very much an absurdist point of view.
The chapters’ style contains the usual lacking in emotion and the narrator of the chapter is Meursault as. However, this chapter seems to present more emotion and confusion as to the thoughts of Meursault and the effects his morals seem to be having on his actions, as well as a great deal of emphasis placed on heat and external conditions which is to exemplify the arbitrary nature of the universe and how sometimes, we do not have control of our actions.
The first person narrative is used throughout but not to add emotions or feelings, just to simply state facts, e.g. “I was hungry” P53. Therefore the narration takes on a “3rd person feel” as though Meursault is distanced, or an ‘Outsider’ even to his own life and feelings. He is an observer with no need for an opinion.
The chapter is chronological also, but circular in the way that the men encounter the Arabs at the beginning, in the middle and then at the end of the chapter. Equally this death in the middle of the novel echoes the death we began the novel with and the one which we know will happen at the end of Part 2. The circular narration could suggest the Absurdist myth of Sisyphus who was destined to push a rock up a hill, and when he finished, to start again hence the circular feel of the chapter.
Unity of Part to Whole (Development)
Ultimately, Chapter 6 is very significant as Meursault kills an Arab and this dictates his future. Not only is this a moment of high tension but it is a crucial plot development which helps steer the novel towards the finale, where Meursault is punished partly for his action but also for his lack of remorse.
The key section is the last page of the chapter (pg 60) because although it doesn’t include all the motifs, it is such a significant event that I felt that it was the most important passage in the chapter, and that it sums up exactly what Camus is trying to convey to the reader within this chapter which is the absurdist point that we are not always in control of our most defining actions and that sometimes external conditions are in control. It also foreshadows Meursault’s opinion towards the murder later in the novel.