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In The Stranger, why does Meursault take a pause between the first and the second shot?

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In Albert Camus's The Stranger (also translated as The Outsider), the protagonist Meursault pauses between the first and the subsequent shots when he kills the Arab on the beach. This moment is laden with existential and philosophical significance, which is central to understanding Meursault's character and the themes of the novel.

Meursault's actions are often interpreted through the lens of existentialism and absurdism. He lives a life detached from conventional social and moral expectations, and his actions are driven more by sensory experience and immediate circumstances rather than any profound reasoning or emotional depth.

When Meursault shoots the Arab, the first shot is almost an impulsive reaction to the blinding sunlight, the intense heat, and the overwhelming sense of discomfort he feels. The sun is a repeated motif throughout the novel, symbolizing the oppressive force of nature and the indifferent universe. The pause after the first shot can be seen as a moment of realization or contemplation, where Meursault becomes acutely aware of the finality and gravity of his action. However, this awareness does not lead to regret or moral reflection; instead, it seems to precipitate his further detachment from the situation.

After the pause, he fires four more shots into the lifeless body of the Arab. This act underscores Meursault's existential disconnection and the absurdity of trying to find rational explanations for his actions. He himself does not provide any clear justification for the additional shots, which further emphasizes the theme of the absurd—the idea that life lacks inherent meaning, and human actions are often irrational and devoid of purpose.

Here is an excerpt from the novel that describes this moment:

"The scorching blade slashed at my eyelashes and stabbed at my stinging eyes. That was when everything began to reel. The sea carried up a thick, fiery breath. It seemed to me as if the sky split open from one end to the other to rain down fire. My whole being tensed and I squeezed my hand around the revolver. The trigger gave. I felt the smooth underbelly of the butt; and there, in that noise, sharp and deafening at the same time, is where it all started. I shook off the sweat and the sun. I knew that I had shattered the harmony of the day, the exceptional silence of a beach where I had been happy. Then I fired four more times at the motionless body where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace. And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness."

This passage highlights the sensory overload and existential crisis that Meursault experiences, leading to his seemingly irrational and detached actions. The pause between the shots serves as a critical moment that encapsulates the novel's exploration of the absurdity of existence and the human condition.

Expert Answers

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The generated answer is correct; Albert Camus's The Stranger involves a protagonist, Meursault, whose actions are to be viewed through the lens of existentialism and absurdism. He lives a detached life, detached from conventional social and moral expectations and detached from all emotions. The famous opening sentence tells us this:

Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know.

Is it possible for a person to be so detached, so devoid of human emotion that he neither knows, nor cares, exactly when his own mother passed? Yet, Meursault is just such a character. He acts in response to external events, and not because of internal personal goals, emotions or reasoning. Even he  does not fully understand his actions at times because they are meaningless. Explaining the shooting, he says,

I went back over what I had already told him : Raymond, the beach, the swim, the quarrel, then back to the beach, the little spring, the sun, and the five shots from the revolver.

The description of the shooting is in the inactive voice with “and the five shots from the revolver…” Yet, the revolver was not responsible for the shooting. Mersault was.

When asked "Why did you pause between the first and second shot?" he doesn't have a valid answer. There is no meaning behind the pause, just as there is no meaning in most things Mersault does. He wants to tell the magistrate that “he was wrong to dwell on it” and imbue it with any meaning. 

The magistrate protests that

“it was impossible; all men believed in God, even those who turn their backs on him. That was his belief, and if he were ever to doubt it, his life would become meaningless.”

But Mersault's life is so meaningless that he agrees with the story about his intentionality, when there is almost no intentionality to his actions. 

...I had shot the Arab as I planned. I had waited. And to make sure I had done the job right, I fired four more shots, calmly, point-blank thoughtfully, as it were.

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