How does Meursault feel about telling the truth? Examine how his feelings about telling the truth are similar and different from those of the Underground Man in Notes from the Underground.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mersault rejects totality throughout his narrative.  He does not see "truth" as anything akin to a totalizing condition.  "Telling the truth" indicates that there is an intrinsic value or meaning to what is considered as truth. In this is a configuration of the world that places primacy on truth. Yet, Mersault does not demonstrate traits that validate such a condition of being.  He speaks of a world where this configuration is noticeably absent:  “I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world.”  

Mersault sees being in the world as one where "existence precedes essence."  It is a condition where there is no transcendent order of consciousness.  Thus, there is no more value to telling the truth than there is a lie. Mersault stresses that there is no totalizing power or moral order that needs to be sustained in actions such as telling the truth:  “I had only a little time left and I didn't want to waste it on God.”  Given the lack of a divine and a lack of ethical order, Mersault sees the universe as an "indifferent" one in which telling the truth lacks meaning.  Even in matters of what could be seen as love, Mersault does not see any particular value to truth as a moral construct:  “A minute later she asked me if I loved her. I told her it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so."  Mersault does not believe that truth is anything more than the realization of what human beings create.  It is a human construct, and fundamentally no different than a lie.  Telling the truth has no distinct value to Mersault as it does not do anything to evade the existential reality of death and the perceived indifference of the universe. 

I think that the Underground Man shares some similarity to Mersault in how truth is viewed as a human construct.  His musings represent such an idea, as "Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms. It's by talking nonsense that one gets to the truth! I talk nonsense, therefore I'm human.”  Dostoevsky's narrator sees truth as a human construct.  Like Mersault, the narrator rejects the idea that there is a totalizing figure that validates truth over deception.   Where a distinct difference might lie between both characters is that the Underground Man is clear about how the twisted and distorted nature of humanity is the totalizing aspect of human consciousness.  Mersault is more driven by the "gentle indifference" of consciousness.  There is nothing "gentle" in Dostoevsky's Underground Man.  He is convinced that human beings are creatures of perversion and everything within human construction is a reflection of this distorted nature:  " ...everything is a mess in which it is impossible to tell what's what, but that despite this impossibility and deception it still hurts you, and the less you can understand, the more it hurts."  It is here where a significant difference exists in how both characters view truth.  Mersault asserts the only truth as existence and nothing else.  The Underground Man believes that consciousness is filled with so much that reflects despair and suffering that these become truths.  The manner in which the Underground Man views the world is one where the truth of human perversion, despair, and suffering are totalizing realities, something that Mersault does not actively affirm.