Why does Meursault in The Stranger desire a crowd of angry spectators at his execution, and what impact does this have on the ending?

"I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate."

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In the last sentence of The Stranger, Meursault wishes for a crowd of angry spectators to appear at his execution because it will confirm him in his outsider status. The impact of the ending is meant to be shocking, to show us how it is still possible to be free even on the brink of execution.

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The final line of the book is meant to show that Meursault has now fully accepted his outsider status. Throughout the novel, Meursault has been at odds with society. He is indifferent towards just about everything. He does not cry at his mother's funeral. He does not love his girlfriend. He has no friends. He is not religious. This prompts other people to view him as a monster, since when it comes down to it, Meursault does not believe in a rational, ordered universe. Instead, he views life as absurd and without inherent meaning.

Two characters even find Meursault's beliefs threatening. The magistrate brandishes a crucifix before Meursault, confused as to why he rejects religion and the comforting vision of the universe it offers. He even goes as far as to say that Meursault's disbelief makes him disbelieve. The priest who visits Meursault in prison is also confounded and distressed by Meursault's atheistic indifference, unable to understand why he would want to believe there is no meaning to life or any existence following death. It is notable that these two men represent the two authorities Meursault poses the greatest threat to: the law and religion, both forces which demand order.

After shouting at the priest, Meursault finds inner peace when he realizes the universe is as gently indifferent to humanity as he is. This epiphany makes him feel less alone. Therefore, he is okay with having a hateful audience present to watch him die. This animosity would further cement his outsider status and make him less likely to feel sorry about taking leave of a society which opposes the inner, existential freedom he has come to enjoy.

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Meursault prides himself on being one of society's outcasts. Living a life unhampered by what he regards as petty moral constraints, he positively revels in the existential freedom he enjoys in what he regards as an absurd, godless universe.

Even though the exercise of such existential freedom has resulted in Meursault's being sentenced to death for the murder of an Arab, there's no sign whatsoever that he's seen the error of his ways. Quite the contrary, in fact. As the day of execution fast approaches, he remains as steadfast in his indifference to society's values as he was on that fateful day when he committed a senseless murder.

Meursault may be completely indifferent to his imminent death, but somewhat paradoxically, he does appear to be concerned with maintaining his outsider status. That would help to explain why he expresses the wish that a large mob of unruly spectators turn up to his execution and greet him with cries of hate. If this should happen, then it will confirm Meursault's outsider status—one of the few things in life he seems to care about.

Whatever we might think of Meursault, there can be no doubt that, right up until the end of his life, he still retains the freedom to make his own rules and create his own values. One could argue that Camus, in presenting us with Meursault's calm acceptance of his forthcoming execution, wants us to see how it's possible for a human being to exercise freedom even in the shadow of death.

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The Stranger ends with Meursault's refusal to renounce his actions, his refsual to show remorse for killing the Arab or for not crying at his mother's funeral.  Instead, he hopes for an angry mob to jeer at his beheading.  He says that no one had the right to cry over his mother's death because she was ready to live her life all over again.  The same it is with him.  So, instead of tears, Mersault and Camus want us to show anger in the face of death.

One of Camus' earlier essays, "The Myth of Sisyphus" shows this same hatred for death.  There, Sisyphus cheated Death and lived two lives.  Rather than be buried, he again enjoyed the sun and ocean by his wife's side.  But Death caught up to him a second time and, as punishment, made him forever roll a rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down.  But, Sisyphus accepted his punishment.  An eternity of useless labor was a small price to pay for seeing one's wife, the sun, and the ocean again after death.  In the end, Sisyphus would have done it all over again, punishment and all.

Like Sisyphus, Merusault is an absurd hero who:

  • Loves life
  • Hates death
  • Scorns the gods

First, Meursault loves life: he loves the beach, water, sun, and sex.  He has no regrets; he lives with total freedom.  Like Maman and Sisyphus, he would live his life all over again, without changing a thing.  He would not cry at Maman's funeral; he would shoot the Arab; and he would refuse to feel guilt for either.

Secondly, Meursault hates death.  This is why he doesn't want to see his mother.  This is why he doesn't cry at her funeral.  He hates those who sit up all night and cry and torture themselves for another's death.  The culture of mourning is absurd to Merusault, and so he becomes angry at the old people and Thomas Perez for feeling such blathering guilt.  Instead, they should all love the sun, water, and each other rather than following a hearse around until they faint.

Thirdly, Meursault scorns the gods: at the rest home, at work, in prison, at the church.  He resents all forms of authority that take away one's freedom by prescribing behavior which says one must cry at a funeral; one must live to work; one much believe in God, etc...  All of these institutions limit choice and freedom of the individual.

So, Merusault and Camus want us to be angry at his death, not angry at him for killing the Arab, but angry at the entire culture of death: the death penalty, the funeral homes, the churches, the prisons, the judicial systems, any institution that makes a living off of death.  As readers, we too are in that angry mob greeting him with cries at hate.  For he is our absurd hero.

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