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Meursault's fate and guilt in The Stranger

Summary:

In The Stranger, Meursault's fate is execution by guillotine. His guilt stems from his emotional detachment and his act of killing an Arab man. Society condemns him not only for the murder but also for his lack of conventional emotions and moral indifference, which are seen as a threat to social norms.

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Is Meursault guilty in The Stranger?

If this question is regarding Meursault's killing of the Arab man on the beach, then yes, he is undoubtedly guilty. Even Meursault admits as much. He went onto the beach, was bothered by the heat and glare from the sun, saw the Arab holding a knife, and then shot the man dead, continuing to fire into his prone body even after it was clear that he was no longer responsive.

Beyond the murder, Meursault is accused of something else: being a monster. His lack of grief at his mother's funeral appears to horrify the courtroom more than his committing murder. Even during his interrogation by his lawyer and the magistrate, Meursault's lack of emotion regarding his mother's death and his lack of explanation for killing the Arab disgusts the other men.

When the magistrate thrusts his crucifix into Meursault's face (evoking vampire stories such as Dracula, with Meursault being the evil monster in this case), he demands that he believe in a moral order to the universe.

But, before I could get the words out, he had drawn himself up to his full height and was asking me very earnestly if I believed in God. When I said, "No," he plumped down into his chair indignantly.

That was unthinkable, he said; all men believe in God, even those who reject Him. Of this he was absolutely sure; if ever he came to doubt it, his life would lose all meaning. "Do you wish," he asked indignantly, "my life to have no meaning?" Really I couldn't see how my wishes came into it, and I told him as much.

By going as far as to accuse Meursault of trying to strip other peoples' lives of meaning by rejecting Christianity and other types of meaning-based views of the world as well, the magistrate is doing more than suggesting that Meursault is a bad man. He is suggesting that he is a moral poison to society because his absurdist vision of life might cause others to doubt that life has meaning.

Is Meursault guilty of being a monster? Is he a danger to society? That depends on the reader, of course, though Camus does not appear to believe that Meursault is anything but an honest man who refuses to pretend to be something he is not.

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Did Meursault die in The Stranger?

The Stranger ends on the night before Meursault is to be executed for the killing of the Arab man on the beach, so it can be assumed that he does indeed die—just not within the text itself.

Camus implies that Meursault is being executed for more than just committing murder. The members of the court appear more horrified by Meursault's lack of tears at his mother's funeral than they are by his act of violence. Even before the trial, Meursault's lawyer is shocked and appalled by his client's lack of emotion.

The trial goes badly for Meursault because he does not hide his indifference toward life behind false sentimentality or feigned emotions. While his lawyer tries making an argument for why Meursault behaved as he did, Meursault does not go with this line of thinking. While being questioned before the trial, Meursault's lack of willingness to ascribe meaning to his actions is apparent:

"Why did you pause between the first and second shot?"

I seemed to see it hovering again before my eyes, the red glow of the beach, and to feel that fiery breath on my cheeks—and, this time, I made no answer.

During the silence that followed, the magistrate kept fidgeting, running his fingers through his hair, half rising, then sitting down again. Finally, planting his elbows on the desk, he bent toward me with a queer expression.

"But why, why did you go on firing at a prostrate man?"

Again I found nothing to reply.

Camus has called this a case of Meursault refusing to "play the game"—that is, refusing to impose order on an illogical universe. He accepts that sometimes life makes no sense and that events, both bad and good, can occur for no reason at all. This idea is threatening to the social order, which demands that all life have a cause and effect or that people order their lives according to a moral system, such as the law or religion. When Meursault refuses to do so, he loses the sympathy of the court and effectively signs his own death warrant.

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