Muersault: Trapped in Mortality Kevin Jefferson As is made apparent by several characters throughout the novel, Muersault is truly a misfit

of his society with respect to his religious philosophy. His nonchalant attitude concerning the story of Jesus sharply contrasts with the predominant Christian attitude of Algiers at this time. Although he may not outwardly show it, Muersault is more than just indifferent towards what Christianity preaches. Prior to his sudden introspective realizations due to his imprisonment, he existentially traps himself in his own mortality by symbolically rejecting the daunting importance of a Christian Hell and the promises of a Christian Heaven. Muersault has a direct encounter with the violence and sin of Hell long before he commits his only significant sin in the novel. This encounter takes the form of his observation of Raymond’s reprimand for his treatment of his mistress. However, a few days prior to this encounter with Hell, Muersault mingled with the devil himself in the form of Raymond. When he learned how his mistress was allegedly cheating on him and began to seek advice, Raymond told Muersault that he would take it upon himself to physically punish her for her disloyalty. This whole situation is completely tangled up in sin and temptation – all that Hell stands for. His mistress has committed the initial sin that incites Raymond to violence. He then decides to play the part of the devil, punishing the original sin with further, more aggressive sin. In this situation, Muersault literally plays devil’s advocate by providing a voice to Raymond. Soon thereafter, once he directly intervened in the business of Hell, Muersault turns on Raymond and refuses to defend him in a time of great need – he even refuses to have any involvement with his entanglement of sin. As he knows Raymond’s motivations and intentions against his mistress, Muersault could easily deduce what was happening when he heard screams coming from Raymond’s apartment. Unlike most moral-driven humans, Muersault completely

ignores the situation at first, explaining his inaction away by saying that “[he doesn’t] like cops.” Symbolically, this represents his self-removal from the world of sin, as he no longer wants anything to do with Raymond’s chaos of sin. Muersault’s next set of actions displays that his intentions were not to help Raymond, but rather to refuse to be further involved in the situation. When the policeman appears nonetheless, Muersault, along with the rest of the apartment building, gather around in the stairwell to watch Raymond’s humiliation. Here is depicted a stairway spiraling down into Hell, with Muersault at the top staring down into its depths. Lurking there are devils and sinners, whom everyone watches solely as spectators. However, Muersault’s role is not so: Raymond attempts to drag him into the action, when he physically looks up to him as though for help. Muersault gives him neither a sense of comfort nor a source of aid. Instead, he just stands there with Marie and continues watching on without jumping in to help Raymond. Muersault is now a traitor to Hell, and no matter what he does, he cannot return to Hell to seek refuge, for he has already rejected its very existence and played traitor to it. At first glance, a rejection of the sinful life may sound like a positive action for Muersault’s character development. But for Muersault, that is not the case, for he also symbolically succeeds in rejecting Heaven. Muersault commits one major sin throughout the entire novel: murdering the Arab on the beach. Rather than committing sins against other humans as Raymond does (or against animals, as Salamano does), Muersault’s sin, through symbolism, is directly against the divine. It is the setting of this passage that firstly makes this murder a sin against the divine: it is filled with symbolism of the Christian Heaven. Throughout the entire scene, Muersault repeatedly mentions the presence of a haze on the beach, caused by the sunset. This haze is

reminiscent of the special effects often used in films to represent dreamscapes. In this way, Muersault travels from reality into a dreamlike state, just as though he is leaving the earthly world and entering Heaven. He also mentions a “blinding halo of light” that is present, connotatively representative of heavenly angels. When he kills the Arab, he notes that “it seemed to [him] as if the sky split open from one end to the other to rain down fire.” This is especially reminiscent of Heaven’s behavior at Jesus’s baptism, with the exception that fire, practically the opposite of a dove, descends upon Meursault. Most important symbolically, though, is the omnipresent nature of the sun. Ever since the ancient times, the sun has been worshipped as a prominent god: as Ra by the Egyptians and as Helios by the Greeks. Thus, God himself is symbolically present in such a way that no matter what Muersault does, he cannot to escape God’s sight: he constantly feels the sun’s heat and sees its light. Merely being in Heaven’s presence puts the two at each other’s throats, implying that Muersault does not belong in the presence of the divine: the “heat was pressing down on [him] and making it hard for [him] to go on” and “all [he] could feel were the cymbals of sunlight crashing on [his] forehead.” Surprisingly, Muersault has no need to actually commit the murder before he makes his first move against heaven. As soon as he reaches the place where the Arab lies, he notices a large boulder, in the shade of which there is a cool spring. The spring, as it draws its source from deep within the earth, represents the earthly, separated from heaven. The rock, a product of the earth, represents the only shelter from divine notice in the whole expanse of the “heavenly” beach, gargantuan in comparison. When he arrives on the scene of this rock and spring, he feels an instinctual desire to “hear the murmur of its water again, to escape the sun and the strain, … and to find shade and rest again at last.” Subconsciously, Muersault tires of exposure to God’s eyes

on his trek, and instinctively seeks a way to escape his gaze – not from reverent fear, but from disdain. Finally, Muersault’s murder of the Arab caps off his rejection of the divine. More than just the setting in metaphorical heaven makes this a crime against God, for Muersault practically stares God in the eye as he pulls the trigger. Immediately before he kills the Arab, he complains of the sharply blinding nature of the sun’s light reflecting off the Arab’s knife. The “dazzling spear flying up from the knife” is God’s last warning to Muersault in attempt to discourage him from carrying out the murder. But Muersault stares back into the eye of God, and shoots the gun the first time. As though this were not enough, he fires four more, excessive, bullets at the Arab and almost seems to say to God, “there, take that; see how I need You!” In taking these actions, Muersault practically asks to be removed from the jovial lightness that is Heaven, by “knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness.” Throughout the novel, it is established that Muersault is a stranger in his own society. But Muersault does not consciously make an effort to be this stranger from the mortal way of life, as he does only what he feels like doing and only later recognizes that he does not fit in. In the same mode, Muersault subconsciously decides to outright tell both alternatives to mortality that they are worthless to him. The actions by which he rejects Heaven and Hell reveal his innermost philosophy: he desires to live existentially without both Heaven and Hell and to build himself up as the highest authority to whom he must report. By rejecting both sides of the equilibrium, Muersault hopelessly traps himself in his own sad sense of human mortality.