In The Stranger, prove if Meursault should be found guilty or not guilty.

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Meursault should be found guilty because he killed someone. He did not kill out of hate, premeditation, insanity or involuntarily. That is all irrelevant. Meursault killed for a very selfish reason; maintaining his philosophic principles that only he (the individual) matters and that each person’s existence does not, or should not have to be determined by society or ideology. In certain applications, this existential (or Absurdist) philosophy is good in avoiding mindless conformity and attempting a creative and authentic life – which only the true individual can do. That is, Meursault’s outlook on life, as the uncompromising individual, is commendable in that respect alone; that he does not bend to humanity’s rules – he is therefore totally responsible for his own actions because he doesn’t ascribe to any set of laws. But, while in some respects this is a valid and genuine outlook on life, it is clearly as fallible as the outlook of society that Meursault ignores. This is where it gets a little tricky. The point Camus makes is that any fundamentalist system of thought (whether it is Meursault’s or Algerian society, the French colonialists) is problematic. Meursault pointlessly kills; but countries go to war over land (dirt) and there are other countless sanctioned killings committed by so-called modern or industrialized countries all the time.

Meursault is guilty because he killed another person. His reasoning is that he was indifferent to that person and focused more on how the sun was making him uncomfortable. Not a good reason. He’s guilty. Meursault thinks life is meaningless and that those who uphold human ethics and values do so only to avoid going to jail or being killed themselves. So, for Meursault this is a cop out. Meursault stays true to his philosophy of absurdity. In fact, the court seems to be more appalled that Meursault doesn’t believe in the same things they do – more appalled than Meursault’s actual act of killing. So the novel is about mindless conformity to belief systems; where actions are condemned or sanctioned (not on their ethical merit, but whether or not they adhere to the belief system).

But, bottom line, Meursault is guilty. His entire philosophy is based upon freedom and this is what he took from another human being. He actually doesn’t see this because he is so ensconced in his selfishly indifferent life. He is guilty for the act regardless. Ironically, Meursault’s own belief system is just as vulnerable as the court’s because, like them, he refuses to back down. And that is plain old fundamentalism. Whenever you assume you have to be right, you become a fundamentalist and close your thinking. It doesn’t matter if Meursault thinks life is meaningless. That is what he thinks and if he wants the world to respect his right to think the way he does, he should do the same for the world.

davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Meursault is guilty of murder; there's no doubt about it whatsoever. We know he killed the Arab; we watched him do it. He hasn't at any point sought to deny what he did, much less try to explain it. Legally and morally he is guilty, no question.

What makes the issue more complex than it ought to be is the attitude of the state as evidenced by the prosecution in Meursault's subsequent trial. Meursault's crime was so utterly senseless, so completely lacking in obvious motivation that it's not enough for him to be judged according to strictly legal criteria. He must be put on trial not just for what he did but also for what he believes, or rather doesn't believe, because as a nihilist he doesn't actually believe in anything.

It's not enough, then, for the prosecution to provide evidence that Meursault killed the Arab; in that sense the case is easy. What they need to do instead is to judge and condemn Meursault's whole way of thinking, with its contempt for society and complete indifference to its accepted norms and values. On all counts Meursault is guilty as charged.