The Outsider: Chapter Notes - Part 2, Chapter 5
· Meursault has been moved back to his cell after the trial but changes to a cell where he can see the sky – this cause him to think like a free man and he toys with the idea of escaping
· Meursault stays awake until dawn every day – ‘they came at dawn, I knew that”, proving that he is still afraid of death
· The chaplain (who Meursault has been refusing to see this whole time) comes to see him personally.
· Meursault refuses to be converted and believe in God and, after having some kind of revelation or moment of realization, he eventually shouts at the Chaplain who then leaves
· In the final lines of the novel Meursault states that he is looking forward to being hanged and wishes to be greeted with ‘cries of hatred’
The main is, as always, Absurdism, and this chapter is where Meursault makes his absurdist realization indeed he seems to feel that “throughout the whole of this absurd life I’d been leading” p115 up to this moment of revelation.
Meursault comments on the absurdity of his death sentence the seriousness of which is undermined by the fact that: “the sentence had been read out at eight o’clock rather than at five o’clock... it might have been completely different... decided upon by men who change their underwear... credited to ... the French” These pointless things reveal how life is attended by a variety of ridiculous coincidences and incidents all of which serve to reveal how even the decision to execute someone does not have the gravity that it should if life really did have a meaning.
The key absurd moment, however, comes with his last wish which “... was that there should be a crowd of spectators at my execution and that they should greet me with cries of hatred” p117. This is absurd on at least two and possibly three counts. Firstly Meursault realises that whether they hate him or love him, it does not matter because there judgments carry no real moral weight (as there is no such thing as real moral weight) and so their feelings towards him are insignificant. Secondly, Meursault has become increasingly aware that death is the only thing that is certain and, given that, life is fairly meaningless anyway and so he embraces his death because “everybody knows that life isn’t worth living”p109. Thirdly, and perhaps most controversially, he embraces his death because the realization he has had is not just that life and value judgments are essentially meaningless (something he has been at least half aware of all along) but that (like Sisyphus) the idea of true heroism comes from realizing the futility of your actions and your life but throwing yourself into them anyway. The routine is empty, but the strongest men whole heartedly embrace that routine fully aware of its meaningless. As such, if the routine that Meursault is currently experiencing is that of the criminal to be executed then one of the parts of that routine is to have a crowd jeering at him at the moment of death. As such Meursault welcomes that death as it is the fulfillment of the particular routine that he is currently locked into, although any other routine would have been just as acceptable.
On the road to making this realization Meursault spends some time thinking about the nature of these routines that fill up our lives. [P.104] “…trying to escape from the mechanism”. The mechanism in this quotation suggests the routine nature of everyday life although it may also refer to society’s constructs: the morals, actions and feelings that we as human beings are ‘constructed’ / expected to have. This motif is then repeated in [P.105] “…everything was set against it… caught in the mechanism again” which may suggest that society eliminates those who are ‘different’ to them and that those who are different will eventually be forced to conform or will die.
[P.117] “…the evenings were like a melancholy truce.” This line from the second chapter when Meursault was talking about his mother’s situation in the old peoples’ home indicates the similarities between his mother’s situation at the old peoples’ home and his own in the prison. They both start a ‘new life’ after he accepts the prison as his “new home” in the previous chapter and in both cases the new life is a form of routine in a much more restricted situation. Both routines parallel the real routines that people live in their everyday lives and Camus is using this parallel to point out the similarity between the obviously artificial routines we see in place in the old people’s home with the less obvious but equally meaningless routines that govern our everyday life. The mechanism may also suggest the constructs of society that society expects all of its members to live by.
Death is the Only Thing Certain
The melancholy truce of the evenings as explored in the beginning of the novel is a reminder that at the end of the day Death is the only thing which is certain and so, in the face of that, nothing really has much meaning. This idea is reemphasized in Chapter 5 on [P.106] when Meursault says “… executions were the only thing a man could really be interested in …” This is due to the absurdist philosophy that although there is no higher power/being, the one thing that can be certain is the death that will come sometime during a person’s life, and therefore, as ‘death’ is the truest occurrence to Meursault he finds a man’s death most interesting.
Wish to Die With Beliefs/Glory
[P.104] “…making a mad dash for it... Naturally, that hope was being shot down…” indicates that he would prefer to be given a small, even near impossible chances but at least to die in a fleeting moment, having full belief in his actions and not hesitating, all the whilst understanding the chances against him. At this point it seems that Meursault is becoming more normal and experiencing the wish that most people convicted to death would probably have, the chance of just one shot at freedom. It is this desire for freedom and life that Meursault ultimately overcomes.
Religion as a Temptation
[P.112] “Every man that I’ve known in your position has turned to him…” In this chapter religion is portrayed as Meursault’s last temptation. Giving in to this last temptation was the path that Meursault’s mother chose and she ended up having a religious funeral. Meursault refuses, however, to give in as he “didn’t want anyone to help me and time was the very thing I didn’t have for taking an interest in…” It could be said that this reasoning is because Meursault does not care when he dies – he had already realized that one day, [P.109] “whether now or in twenty years` time…” he would eventually die. The ‘lack of interest in time’ could be viewed as due to the fact that whether he died then and there or 24 hours later, it would be similarly insignificant.
The faith of the religious is obviously in stark contrast to Camus absurdism which begins from the assumption that there is no God. Hence it is this discussion of God which eventually provokes Meursault into experiencing his absurd revelation. This is what marks him out as the ultimate ‘outsider’ as he does not do what every other man in his position has done and which many of us probably would do. Meursault’s difference to us is best illustrated by the quotation “I was still happy” p117 despite the fact that he is condemned to death. Any other man in his position should be feeling regret, remorse or some kind of emotion, yet Meursault seems to have completely forgotten his crime and has accepted his fate as what is just going to happen to him.
The Emptiness of the construct ‘Love’ in contrast to Immediate Passions, Lusts and Sensory Details
Now that Meursault is no longer able to see Marie she quickly disappears from his thoughts: [P.110] “now that we were physically separated, there was nothing left to keep us together or remind us of each other.” which shows that, as indicated throughout the novel, Meursault’s feelings towards Marie are purely instantaneous or ‘of the moment’. As soon as they are physically separated, he does not think about her anymore.
Each Life is of Equal Value
Meursault’s absurdist philosophy states that all lives have equal (or no) importance and he comments that “Salamano’s dog was worth just as much as his wife”. The comparison between animal and human is used to further illustrate the lack of value in each person’s life, indeed Salamano treats both wife and dog similarly.
Throughout the chapter there are various references to mechanism or machinery to reinforce the theme of the ‘empty routine’, “trying to escape from the mechanism” p104. Here the word mechanism is referring to the routine, the mechanical way in which everything just ticks along. Equally the description of the Guillotine p107-108, suggests that it is just part of a greater ‘death’ routine. Meursault seems almost disappointed with how normal the guillotine is, for example how it is not on a raised platform suggesting once again how even death does not have the gravity that it would have if it really mattered.
The phrase “It doesn’t matter”
Meursault continues his belief that nothing really matters in this chapter, claiming that “...it doesn’t matter very much whether you die at thirty or at seventy” p109 and, when talking about his death sentence, he says “it didn’t seem to matter” p111.
Intense Sensory Detail
Meursault continues to define things and people by their external and physically real elements “[the chaplain’s hands] were slim and muscular and they looked like a pair of nimble animals” and his fixation on the walls when the Chaplain talks about them. Although the Chaplain is speaking metaphorically about the face of God emerging from the prison walls, Meursault, predictably, takes the literal meaning.
The only new character in this section is the Chaplain who is not given a name, but is instead reduced to muscular arms and hands and a robe. This perhaps suggests that religion can be boiled down to men and their ideas as opposed to some kind of truth in the universe. The chaplain represents the kind of absolute truth and values that Meursault and Camus reject, as such he is the catalyst for Meursault’s absurdist realization. The Chaplain is dedicated to turning Meursault to God so that he can be absolved – even when Meursault has completely rejected him, the Chaplain states “I shall pray for you”. This blind faith is what aggravates Meursault into a rage in which he makes his realisation.
The chapter is set in the jail which highlights the personal prison which Camus believes we are all in. Ironically, Meursault, despite being more enclosed than most, is actually more liberated.
The narrative style remains first-person however, Meursault here seems to be concentrating more on his feelings than ever before. Hence his outrage (“something exploded inside me” p 115) during the Chaplain’s visit. This display of emotion is used to emphasize his moment of realization.
Unity of Part to Whole:
This chapter is important as it is the climax of the development of the theme of Absurdism. It is the moment at which Meursault has his absurdist realization and fully embraces the position outlined by Camus throughout the novel so far.
The turning point in this chapter and of the whole novel is [P.115] “Suddenly something exploded inside of me.” At this particular point where he is at his weakest, after the Chaplain has tried to coax him into believing in God and where most people beg for forgiveness or show remorse in the way that society expects (e.g. Meursault’s mother) Meursault chooses not to give in to this final temptation. It is as if Camus is saying that the true and final test of an absurdist is when they are faced with death and they continue to retain their absurdist ways up until the very end. Camus allows Meursault this moment of realization and the privilege to die retaining his beliefs – in a sense this is a hero’s or a martyr’s death.
This is summed up in the final and extremely powerful paragraph: “…I realized that I’d been happy, and I was still happy. For my last consummation and for me to feel less lonely, my last wish was that there be a crowd of spectators at my execution and that they should greet me with cries of hatred.” Meursault lives a seemingly cold and bizarre life style without connection to other people and without experiencing ‘love’ and yet her realizes that despite this, “he had always been happy” and was in fact “still happy” with his life. This displays how indeed, he was [P.115] “…sure of myself” and his acceptance of his difference from society. His final wish to have “a crowd of spectators at his execution” and for them to greet him with “cries of hatred” could be interpreted in several different ways:
Possibly he he wants people to be at execution to view his final moments as someone ‘different’, who has not followed society’s rules. It may be suggested that he wanted to die unregretful, believing in his own beliefs and not giving into society’s final temptation as his mother did. In this view, it can be said that Camus did give Meursault a ‘death of glory’ despite the fact that in the larger scheme of life his death will mean nothing.
A final view may be that, true to an absurdist’s beliefs, he wants the ‘game to go on’. Absurdism is about realizing the meaninglessness of the routines we live in life and yet continuing with them anyway and in this case the game is the game of execution, where the spectators should be shouting cries of hatred and disgust at him as he is killed. Hence for the routine to be properly embraced he wishes to be greeted with ‘cries of hatred’ at his execution as befitting a convicted man.