This is an interesting blog on how even the Church seems to downplay the role of men.
Here’s this essay’s conclusion:
The loss of his moral imagination perhaps led him to the crime of murdering the Arab. Camus wishes to claim that the murder is absurd, but the fact of the matter is that Meursault’s entire life is absurd! Without a moral imagination, there is not much to life besides sensual pleasures, and a life of sensual indulgence stands as the most vacuous existence. So, I claim that the murder of the Arab was conducted to insert meaning into Meursault’s life: “I knew that I had shattered the harmony of the day, the exceptional silence of the beach where I’d been happy. Then I fired four more times…it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness.”1 But, does Meursault know what happiness is? His life is just a mix of work and play—unfulfilling work and uninspiring play. He merely knows that shooting the Arab interferes with the economic and sensual happiness which other people advised him to seek but did not fulfill any of his ambitions. So, shooting the Arab ought to be considered as Meursault’s search for meaning in his vacuous existence.
Things begin to change during his trial and imprisonment. People begin to look at Meursault in a different way, such as hatred, which make him feel like crying. Also, the fact that he is separated from all his sensual pleasures renders the imagination as the only way for him to enjoy them. In doing so, the imagination, that which allows the mind to perceive meaning, begins to function more normally. This leads to affection beginning to come into his descriptions:
In the darkness of my mobile prison I could make out one by one, as if from the depths of exhaustion, all the familiar sounds of the town I loved and of a certain time of day when I used to feel happy. The cries of the newspaper vendors in the already languid air, the last few birds in the square, the shouts of the sandwich sellers, the screech of the streetcars turning sharply through the upper town, and that hum in the sky before night engulfs the port: all this mapped out for me a route I knew so well before going to prison and which I now traveled blind.2
If only he had really loved this city before committing the murder, he would not now be in prison! But, he could not really love it due to the disconnect between his intellect and emotion caused by the loss of his imagination.
All this brings me to us to the last few sentences of the novel:
I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself— so like a brother really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there would be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.3
By saying that the world is like a brother in its indifference, I believe that Meursault sees the world as a fellow suffering from his own lack in imagination. This creates an emotional connection between himself and the world where there was none previously. He may even wish the people of the world to undergo his own experience of finding their imagination—the realization that life is not just matter and money.
However, this imagination cannot be called moral. The two arbiters of the moral imagination whom Meursault met after his arrest, the magistrate and the priest, were not capable of releasing Meursault from the limits of his material mind. Meursault probably needed more time to rise above sensualism. This is why Meursault wishes to be greeted by cries of hate. It was the hatred which people felt toward him which began to ignite his imagination, which for him is superior to the aura of indifference in which his prior existence was immersed. But, one wonders how much of an intellectual improvement it is to prefer hatred to indifference.
I wrote this essay for one of Dr. Graham McAleer’s classes. He said that he particularly liked the thesis for this one. May you also enjoy this meditation on the modern world’s loss of the moral imagination as we see it in Albert Camus’ The Stranger. This essay has been divided in two parts.
How The Stranger Reveals the Lack of Moral Imagination in Modern Times
In many ways, Mr. Meursault in The Stranger demonstrates a particular problem in modern man: the lack of a moral imagination. As Russell Kirk describes it, the imagination is where intellect, reason, and emotion meet; hence, the imagination governs the moral life of a person. Where the imagination is weak, morality cannot flourish. And in Mr. Meursault, his imagination is incredibly weak: he cannot seem to see the interiors of his fellow man or come to accurate judgments about them. We shall see that his powers of imagination do not come to fruition until he is placed in prison and all the sensual delights which usually keep him occupied are taken away from him.
But, let us first go into the proofs that Mr. Meursault effectively lacks a healthy imagination. Look at the way he describes the scene on the street outside his apartment:
After them, the street slowly emptied. The matinees had all started, I guess. The only ones left were the shopkeepers and the cats. The sky was clear but dull above the fig trees lining the street. On the sidewalk across the way the tobacconist brought out a chair, set it in front of his door, and straddled it, resting his arms on the back. The streetcars, packed a few minutes before, were almost empty…It was Sunday alright.1
This is a purely superficial description of the scene. Ernest Hemingway may also be accused of being sparse with language, but not to the extent that the intellectual and emotional worlds are excised from his writing. The only time where emotion might enter the scenery is when Mr. Meursault describes the sky as “clear but dull,” but this comment only makes the superficial description more precise. One notes that there is no curiosity in regard to what is happening inside the minds of the shopkeepers or even the tobacconist, who gets the most attention in this description. We might wonder what the emotions running across these figures’ faces were. Did they seem relaxed, bored, or animated? How were they spending their time now that no customers were approaching them? Were some cleaning, fussing with their merchandise, idling, or conversing? Mr. Meursault does not seem to care about any of this, because he does not care about other people.
This also comes across in his incessant preoccupation with himself. While The Stranger is a first person narrative, the use of the word “I” seems excessive at time. As a matter of fact, excessive use of “I” in narratives usually comes across as amateurish, but in Albert Camus’s case, this must be a deliberate method to show Mr. Meursault’s narcissism. For example, his reason for joining a friend for dinner has nothing to do with a desire for companionship: “I figured that it would save me the trouble of having to cook for myself, so I accepted.”2 This ought to be a motivator for joining an acquaintance to dinner, not the person who is most nearly a friend to Meursault. It also goes along with his general disinterest in creative activities. Many people enjoy making dinner for themselves if they are not enamored of the company around them!
But, Mr. Meursault is only partially at fault for his inability to think outside of himself. After all, he used to have ambitions: “When I was a student, I had lots of ambitions like that. But when I had to give up my studies I quickly learned that none of it really mattered.”3 This speaks to the fact that modern man is overly economic, as we see also in movements like commercialism, feminism, socialism, and Marxism. People have lost their appetite for things pertaining to the imagination and idealism. Since God creates everyone with a unique soul, Mr. Meursault seems to have been made for an intellectual life, but was convinced that these things don’t matter. Basically, either the circumstances surrounding him giving up his studies or the people who persuaded him to do so robbed Mr. Meursault of his moral imagination. Eventually, the humdrum business of life led to the purely sensual Meursault of the novel. Thus, he does not care for Sundays because there is not an economic point to the day, nor is it a day to have fun like Saturday.
1Camus, Albert. The Stranger. Trans. by Matthew Ward. New York: Vintage International, 1989: p. 22.
Thank you for reading. I hope that you enjoy the second part, which shall be posted this Tuesday.
I found this cogent article by Russell Kirk today titled “The Moral Imagination.” Russell Kirk is kind of one of the two patron saints of Hillsdale College, other bloggers of this website and my alma mater. (The other is Winston Churchill if you were curious.) To emphasize this point, our Western Heritage readers both begin and end with Russell Kirk. This is an article written about what purpose poets and novels should have in their writing, which is to form the moral imagination. Enjoy!
The wife and I put together a quick list of movies we thought quintessentially American:
- The General (1926)
- Duck Soup (1933)
- Modern Times (1936)
- The Wizard of Oz (1939)
- Citizen Kane (1941)
- The Maltese Falcon (1941)
- 12 Angry Men (1957)
- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962)
- To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
- Patton (1970)
- 1776 (1972)
- The Right Stuff (1983)
- Fargo (1996)
- Oh Brother, Where Art Thou (2000)
- True Grit (2010)
What movies would you say anyone who wants to understand America should see?
Colion Noir is one of my favorite YouTube posters. Usually he tackles issues in the gun debate, but here he has just made a goofy video about why people carry the .45 ACP. I hope that you like it and will check out some more of his great videos.
Here’s another one of his comedic videos for good measure: