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Summary of Outsider by Albert Camus

Updated on September 6, 2014

If one were to sum up the tone and mood in The Outsider , authored by Albert Camus, in a word, it would be ‘apathy’. If a phrase was required to convey the entire mood of the book and its main character Mersault, it would be ‘emotionless apathy’.

Mersault, the main character and the narrator has traits that can hardly attract any body. He is apathetic to the people and events around him. The very opening sentence or paragraph of the book says a lot about him: “Mother died today. Or may be yesterday, I don’t know” (p.9). The sentence distinctly sets the tone for the rest of the story. A melancholic apathy characterizes the mood of the story plot from now on. Dramatic events and circumstances plunged the author in a series of situations with several other people and places over the time. But the mood of the narrator as of the story remains the same. It reveals about the author. At least, he is true to himself. He never lies to the others, as well, because given his character, he doesn’t need to. He hardly cares for the society and its laws because he doesn’t feel the compulsion of society. No wonder, he can afford to remain brutally frank with himself and the world around him. After his mother’s death, he is still his own emotionless self- tearless and painless. He is equally unromantic towards his girl friend, Marie Cardona. He is guiltless, passionless and remorseless even after killing an Arab. This cold and callous attitude towards other people and neighbors distances him from the emotional comfort of his surrounding, yet thee are at least two people-a young woman and a neighbor- who appear especially fascinated towards him.

As the story unfolds we get a clearer picture of the mood that defines the hero of the novel. When his mother dies, he is not only tearless but enjoys a cup of coffee with milk. He is also depicted smoking apathetically along with the caretaker of the nursing home where his mother died.

He is so casual and indifferent towards life that he is seen with his girl friend at the sea beach, the very next day after his mother died. They have fun together as they swim, watch a movie together and later sleep together. The sense of apathy is apparent not just in conversations with his girl friend, but even when he kills an Arab, and during his trial. He seeks no defense for his action and admits to having committed the murder. To him love and marriage is as devoid of meaning and emotion as murder and death. He neither fears death, nor loves life. Any one else in his situation might have sought defense and appeal and might have even escaped death by guillotine, as he would have, had he explained the circumstances under which he killed an Arab. But he chose not to because he didn’t feel the need to.

His indifference can be fascinating to some people as his girl friend and a pimp. His indifference doesn’t mean he is anti-social or criminal. It simply means his attitude to life is one of uninvolvement. He doesn’t intrude and mess around with other’s life. He is an individualistic human being to the core who harbors neither positive nor negative feelings. He embodies the characteristics of ‘existentialist’ philosophy. His apathy doesn’t emerge out of hatred or pessimism or value judgments or even policy. His apathy and indifference emerges from his belief system that perhaps recognizes the true essence of man, the true essence of life and its meaning.


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