In Albert Camus' book The Stranger, Meursault kills a character known as "the Arab" for no real reason at all. Meursault even acknowledges that he doesn't have to kill "the Arab"

It struck me that all I had to do was to turn, walk away, and think no more about it.

When he does shoot "the Arab", he notes that "each successive shot was another loud, fateful rap on the door of my undoing."

All in all, killing "the Arab" seems like a bad idea. But strangely enough, no real explanation is given for why Meursault killed "the Arab".

What's going on here?


Initially, there isn't much. The final words of Part I read this:

I wanted to hear the murmur of its water again, to escape from the sum and the effort and the women's tears, and to relax in the shade again. But when I got nearer, I saw that Raymond's Arab had come back. He was alone. He was lying on his back, with his hands behind his head ... As far as I was concerned, it was all settled and I'd gone there without even thinking about it. As soon as he saw me, he sat up lightly and put his hand in his pocket.

pg. 58-59

There was a bit of a defensive mood at this point in the story. You have to remember that Meursault had simply gone with his friends for a day on the beach. Two Arabs were seemingly following them. Prior to these paragraphs, these Arabs had already engaged in a bit of a fight with Meursault and his friends, with one of them having slashed his friend with a knife. Moving on... (emphasis mine)

I took a few steps towards the spring. The Arab didn't move. Even now, he was still some distance away... I waited. The sun was beginning to burn on my cheeks, and I felt drops of sweat gathering in my eyebrows. It was the same sun as on the day of my mother's funeral, and again it was my forehead that was hurting me most and all the veins were throbbing at once beneath the skin... I took a step, just one step forward. And this time, without sitting up, the Arab drew his knife and held it out towards me in the sun... All I could feel were the cymbals the sun was clashing against my forehead and, indistinctly, the dazzling spear still leaping up off the knife in front of me. It was like a red-hot blade gnawing at my eyelashes and gouging out my stinging eyes.

pg. 59-60

This passage is also interesting. Meursault was undoubtedly under the sun, and it was affecting him. The parallel between the sun and his mother's funeral is also somewhat significant. At his mother's funeral, he was largely alone and almost kept to himself. He also defied many societal standards related to his mother's funeral.

The passages in these pages offer that parallel. Meursault wants to keep the peace within him, and he doesn't want anyone around him. The presence of the Arab disturbed him. When the Arab drew his knife, it disturbed this peace, bringing about provoking actions:

... That was when everything shook... The sky seemed to be splitting from end to end and raining down sheets of flame. My whole being went tense and I tightened my grip on the gun. The trigger gave, I felt the underside of the polished butt and it was there, in that sharp but deafening noise, that it all started. I realized that I'd destroyed the balance of the day and the perfect silence of this beach where I'd been happy. And I fired four more times at a lifeless body and the bullets sank without leaving a mark. And it was like giving four sharp knocks at the door of unhappiness.

pg. 60

These passages provide a direct narrative for what directly instigated the act. Meursault may not have been completely conscious of his act.

But what I find interesting is the last sentence. You see, this novel is largely about existentialism. Albert Camus, the author, was an existentialist. The murder came as a shock - here we are looking at the life of an absurd man. He doesn't necessarily follow social norms, he's not married... etc. Earlier in the chapter, he said:

When Raymond handed me his gun, the sun glinted off it... I realized at that point that you could either shoot or not shoot.

pg. 57

You can shoot or not shoot. It doesn't matter. If someone is murdered or not, the world doesn't care. The theme of existence is largely at play. Whatever happens, it doesn't matter.

No matter how you look at it, there is not a reasonable explanation for Meursault's actions. It conveys the theme of existentialism, as well as the title of the book overall - Mersualt is an outsider in the way that he defies the laws of society. You see this most notably in his trial, where he shows remorse, and is ultimately convicted not because he committed the murder, but because he doesn't live up to what society wishes.

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  • I think this answer would probably be improved if you talked more about existentialism. Maybe consider moving the last paragraph of this answer to the front of it? That said, I think there are a lot of positives about this answer. In particular, your analysis of the quote "you could either shoot or not shoot" is very well done. – user111 Jan 31 '17 at 0:25
  • @Hamlet I'll do that. I spent a bit of time writing this answer, but now I'm hungry and will probably grab some food :) – Zizouz212 Jan 31 '17 at 0:26
  • No worries; there's no rush. Basically all I'm saying is that you put the important parts of this answer behind the unimportant parts. (And that maybe you could talk a bit more about the important parts). – user111 Jan 31 '17 at 0:29
  • Just pinging you to let you know there's now an open bounty on the question. If you edit this answer enough, maybe you'll get the bounty :-) – Rand al'Thor Aug 6 '17 at 22:36
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    Did you mean "shows no remorse" rather than "shows remorse"? – g wells Dec 4 '18 at 19:38

The Stranger is not existentialist, but nihilist.

There is no God, no meaning, no free will, and (most impressively in this work) no absolute moral judgment.

He shoots because the Sun is in his eyes. This is nature's hand, i.e. as literature The Stranger is naturalism. The view came into literature after Darwin's theory was popularized as a vindication of atheism.

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    How does this nihilism come out in the text itself? I'm sure you're right, but without any evidence it's hard for me to know how to vote on this answer. – Rand al'Thor Jan 14 '18 at 23:56
  • It comes through the naturalism. Man is an animal that can only respond to the environment. So then, Meursault kills as a response to the sun. – Friejek Jan 29 '18 at 9:52
  • It comes through the naturalism. Man is an animal that can only respond to the environment. Meursault kills as a response to the sun. Likewise, the "robot woman" is in apposition to the young reporter that reminds Meursault of himself, i.e. Meursault is also a robot. The existential interpretation here is wrong. Also, Meursault champions nothing but his atheism and his own physical desires. His final peace is the "benign indifference" of the universe. The universe has no judgment because there is no God or objective morality. He says, "One can never be sure" on morals, even on physical beating – Friejek Jan 29 '18 at 9:58
  • Camus was not a nihilist. His protagonist, Meursault, becomes a nihilist. Why? Well, that is what the book is about. – Denkof Zwemmen May 13 at 18:09

It's often taken that Meursault is the outsider, the stranger amongst men and that he has chosen this destiny for himself and this ties in with the notion of existentialism where one chooses who one is to be - day by day - and maybe hour by hour. Yet none of this is apparent in the text. Moreover, if I recall rightly Camus insisted that he was not an existentialist - at least in Sartre's mould.

And nor is this how marginalisation often works: Man is a gregarious and social creature - he does not exclude himself from the social. What more often occurs is that the outsider finds himself on the outside. It is society itself that excludes to protect its coherence. We are given very little information why Meursault is on the outside of society - Camus does not care to give us a back-story. Though, of course, Meursault must have one: he may be impoverished, he may not have found the right station in life or he may simply be grieving over some unmentioned passion that Camus omits to mention.

As for why Meursault kills the Arab, again Camus gives us very few clues. For all we know, it could be simply a moment of temporary insanity: the sun is in his eyes, he's tired, weary and looking for solace in the silence of the shade, the Arab appears to be a threat...

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