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Understanding Camus’ Meursault

In Psychology, there is believed to be six main personality traits. There is Honesty/Humility (truthful or honest vs hypocritical or sly), Emotionality (anxious vs calm), eXtraversion (outgoing vs shy), Agreeableness (compromising or cooperative vs revengeful or stubborn), Conscientiousness (disciplined vs disorganized) and Openness to experience (creative vs conventional). These are the very basics of the model and of personality studies. For a deeper understanding of the model click here. In reality, personality is very complex and difficult to box into six categories. However, these six traits otherwise known as the HEXACO personality structure seem to be the most common universal traits. Hence, using these categories, one can come to better understand another person, even if that person is fictional as is with the case of Meursault.

Meursault is the main character of Albert Camus’ novel, The Stranger. Camus is famous for his absurdist philosophy which puts forth the notion that we, as people, are constantly yearning for a purpose and meaning, however, life is meaningless, hence the pursuit being absurd. Eventually, one must understand this absurdity and come to terms with it and create your own meaning that can justify your suffering and work. Meursault is a character who embodies Camus’ philosophy as he is completely detached from normal social norms of everyday life because he finds no value in them. This character, who does not value anything, does not care about anything, does not judge anything and is often emotionless in situations that almost demand an outpour of emotions, comes to be one of the most intriguing characters ever written. Hence why the HEXACO model is used to study him, in order to better understand the character. 

Meursault would be described as a character with a high level of honesty/humility. The reason being, Meursault values very little in life and by behaving so, he never masks his thoughts or feelings. Hence, he often says things that may seem socially off putting but are his true feelings. His response to Marie’s marriage proposition is an example of this. Furthermore, the novel stars with the news of the death of Meursault’s mother and instead of reacting like how society would expect a son to react, Meursault reacts with a lack of emotions, for that is who he is. He does not try to manipulate people by falsifying his emotions and neither is he interested in receiving special treatment during this time. Additionally, once Meursault has been imprisoned for committing a murder and during the trial, the attorney asks Meursault many times to share his feelings and emotions which he felt during the incident so that the attorney could present to the jury an emotionally unstable individual and so that he could receive a lesser punishment. However, Meursault denies such vulnerable feelings and constantly informs the attorney that he was aware of what he was doing when he pulled the trigger.

As for the extraversion trait, Meursault would rank somewhere in the middle, neither too high nor too low. The reason being that although Meursault is a detached individual who likes to spend a lot of time alone, at home, reflecting on his inner state and the state of the people around him, however, he does not mind conversing with his neighbours and listening to their problems and giving his own input if asked. Additionally, Meursault willing goes out to the beach or goes swimming where he interacts with new people and even meets a woman, Marie, with whom he starts a relationship with.

Meursault would rank very low in emotionality. Meursault is extremely detached from societal norms and expectation. He does not feel sorrow when his mother passes. He does not protest his neighbour Raymond’s plan to beat his girlfriend for cheating on him. He does not offer support to his other neighbour whose dog had ran away. Even at the prospect of marriage to Marie, his attitude is one of detachment for he says that he would have married anyone who spent as much time with him as Marie had. Lastly, he does not feel remorse for killing someone at the climax of the novel.

In the agreeableness trait, Meursault would rank on a higher level mainly due to his willingness to compromise and cooperate with others. However, such willingness is not due to his desire to be with others but rather because he simply does not care enough to argue and fight. Hence, Meursault then ends up writing a letter to Raymond’s girlfriend, informing her that Raymond would like to meet and talk to her. He does so at Raymond’s request even though he knows that Raymond has ill intentions and most likely will cause harm to her. It is his lack of care that makes him go along with other people. 

The conscientiousness trait is one of the more difficult traits to judge when it comes to Meursault. The reason being that he does not care about anything. So, there would be a belief that he is low in conscientiousness because nothing in the text suggests that he would be an individual who is constantly challenging himself, setting new goals, working harder than expected. Rather, he would most likely be an individual who meets the work load expected of him and that is it. He describes his flat to be messy which could also indicate low conscientiousness. Overall, Meursault would most likely be at the lower level of this trait.

Openness to experience is another trait that is difficult to measure with Meursault. On one hand, Meursault never speaks about art or beauty or anything related to the creative fields. However, he is imaginative and he does have unusual ideas and is willing to explore what is known as absurdist thought or philosophy. In doing so, one could argue that Meursault is above average in openness to experience for he is willing to explore unusual thought patterns and behaviours. In fact, once he has been sentenced to death, Meursault reflects upon the absurdity of life and how nothing matters, he finds relief in such thought and makes it easier for him to accept his death. This could indicate somewhat higher levels of openness to experience.

Poem: Outer Eye

Eye always turned inwards,

thinking of the self,

constantly watching you like a proper guardsman,

like a hound sniffing out any intruders,

barking and growling when your attention shifts to others,

recalling your sight back to you,

as one does with a lost pup,

for you care only about you,

your own dreams, hopes, desires, wants and needs,

like a child, balled fists, teary-eyed,

you want that yourself,

which is self-fulfillment.

 

When you manage to see others,

you see them as mirrors,

reflecting you back to yourself,

constantly comparing, envying, competing,

thinking of your own perceptions,

your own self-esteem,

looking only to affirm what you are,

all in the hope for your own happiness,

the inner eye is still guarding you,

guarding your prison.

 

What about the others?

Your brother, your sister, your parents, your friends, your neighbor,

they hope too, dream, desire, want and need,

yet you see them only for a brief moment,

that moment when your sight is unblinded, hearing undisturbed, thoughts derailed,

before your jailor steps in,

blinded sight, obstructed hearing, settled thoughts,

you were an adult for a moment,

back to a child,

back in the playpen with others just like you,

“give Me My toy”,

“I want that”,

“that’s Mine”,

“I…My…Me…”

the extent of your vocabulary.

 

While the others scream in whispers,

living tired lives,

you’re unable to hear them,

daily they drift further away from their fulfillment,

for none can reach it alone,

your helping hand could guide them,

if only it wasn’t busy, clawing at your own self,

blinding your outer eye.

Writing Advice From William Faulkner

In an interview with The Paris Review, William Faulkner was asked how much of his writing was based on personal experience. The following was his response:

I can’t say. I never counted up. Because “how much” is not important. A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination—any two of which, at times any one of which—can supply the lack of the others. With me, a story usually begins with a single idea or memory or mental picture. The writing of the story is simply a matter of working up to that moment, to explain why it happened or what it caused to follow. A writer is trying to create believable people in credible moving situations in the most moving way he can. Obviously he must use as one of his tools the environment which he knows.

I often think of this piece of advice from William Faulkner when I am struggling to finish a scene or transition into a new scene. Just remembering that either experience, observation and/or imagination is all one needs, gets me through those instances when self-doubt begins to seep into my mind. The scenes that seemed impossible to finish look like obstacles rather than dead ends when you sit for a few moments and think back to something you have observed in real life that could be applied here. Similarly, the practice of imagination, the “what if” allows one to create several different scenarios, allowing the writing to pick the one that fits the best. Experience meanwhile is like an intuition, almost a certain mindlessness state where you just know what should come next because you have either read enough or written enough to know. This experience can help with the flow of the story because you just know that what you have written isn’t quite right and there is something missing.

I think the most valuable aspect of Faulkner’s advice is that all three things, experience, observation, and imagination, are in your control. There is nothing external about it and neither does it depend on some genetic ability. One gains experience through writing and reading. Observation through the practice of an inquiring mind, trying to really capture your daily life and what you have noticed. Imagination is something that is grown through reading and experiencing life and keeping a sense of wonderment. All three are nurtured by you and all three can help you get through the troublesome parts of writing.

For me, the simplest advice works best. Whether it be Stephen King’s advice of read a lot and write a lot, or what Haruki Murakami considered to be the three essential aspects a writer needs or Ernest Hemingway’s belief of what to write about, it is all simple and to the point. Just as Faulkner’s experience, observation, and imagination.

Poem: The Many Yous

So many yous exist,

the yous of the past,

those who were believed to be you back then,

the you that was going to be a lawyer, doctor, police officer,

not anymore,

but that you is alive in the thoughts of distant relatives, old friends, acquaintances,

who believed you when you told them,

who might still believe,

but now, that you is left behind for you went another way,

that old path was once clear, now, blocked off by thoughts that were yet to come,

experiences that were yet to be felt,

some of the past yous are lost and some went along with you.

 

So many yous,

even in the present, you multiply,

each handshake, each embrace, giving birth to another you,

your grandparents know you that is good,

your parents know you who messes up but is trying,

your friends know you who is alive,

your better half knows you who is vulnerable,

each living with a different you, for the real one cannot be known.

 

So many yous,

all the different yous in the mind of others,

all with different expectations,

you sit and think,

who can you please? who can you make happy? who can you be?

even the stranger thinks of you one way, another you that you are supposed to be,

passing by, catching a glimpse of you, the way you walk, the way you look, the way you breathe, all noted, giving birth to another you,

then, when you act, who do you let down with each action?

 

Then there is you,

the nucleus,

the one who is juggling, trying to contain the offsprings, branching out from your being,

some unknowingly, others knowingly as you project different images,

losing track of yourself, of the yous that you have created,

the contradictions rising, disappointing others whose expectations you built,

weighed down by your own lack of inconsistency,

for you cannot be consistent,

when you don’t know who you are.

 

So many yous,

awaiting you in the approaching future,

the present yous will not make it,

more yous will be made,

ever going, every forming, the ever-building you,

for the you that you are can only be known by you,

others only get a mere impression of you,

the fortunate few get a good glimpse of you,

they see your shadow and think that to be you,

but the true you cannot be known,

except by you.

Poem: Wasted Life

Everywhere is wasted life,

as people beg to stay alive,

thinking that breathing is living,

living in servitude for:

desires,

hopes,

and expectations,

desiring that which they don’t need,

hoping that their sacrifices have meaning,

expecting everything to work out,

someday,

worry filled existence, aimless thoughts, mimicking life,

as one fails to live.

 

Those who have the luxury to be wasteful,

judge,

for they are taken care of by those who must waste their life out of necessity,

the working man, the working woman, equal in suffering,

keeping their desires, hopes and expectations bottled up with bottles,

turning them into smoke through smoking,

their aching thoughts taking a backseat to their aching backs,

painful breaths, hardened hands,

unable to accept their worst thoughts,

which are horror-filled images of different paths from which they turned away,

or paths that they could have had if they had the luxury to choose,

and so, stuck in this stage show,

saying and thinking what others say and think,

the only relief now is an eternal sleep,

for the blissful future that was promised is only for the living.

Poem: Tomorrow

Yesterday I said it’ll be different,

the sun rises the same,

the thoughts anew,

rising with yesterday’s promise,

but before the sun could reach its zenith,

the thoughts devolved,

devolving back into yesterday.

 

Yesterday I said it’ll be different,

thinking of tomorrow’s changes,

stepping the same,

walking the same,

running the same,

wishing for change, acting the same, grasping at pleasure,

tomorrow became yesterday.

 

Yesterday I said it’ll be different,

yesterdays mistakes are written down on paper,

never again, that’s the last time, I’m new know, so it’s written,

the clock tic’s, the dog barks, the day passes,

and the paper is still there,

pen in hand, scratching away the word: yesterday,

just to write yesterday again.

 

Yesterday I said it’ll be different,

the different day comes,

boundless energy is finally contained,

It’s thoughtless, mindless, blissful existence,

intrinsic feelings rise,

but a thought comes, singular, innocent, disguised well,

it knocks,

breaking the chains,

the energy is once more directionless,

shackles placed on bliss,

It tu becomes yesterday.

 

Yesterday I said it’ll be different,

leaving behind comfort,

seeking struggle, for it is the only thing that should be sought after,

but after just one dance,

the comfort calls,

missing me and I it,

I owe it a dance too, I say,

I take her home, sleeping with her,

happy in the moment,

but at night, comfort leaves, the struggle calls,

having left her on the dance floor,

shame, yesterday I said it would be different.

 

Yesterday I said it’ll be different,

the shame-filled memories carry me forward,

but those feelings are like candle flames,

soon it’ll be extinguished for it can never burn forever,

no light then,

no guide then,

the path in darkness,

stumbling, crawling, crying,

babe seeking her mother,

I find the familiar path,

yesterday.

 

Yesterday I said it’ll be different,

tonight I say tomorrow.

Poem: Outside/Inside

Outside, she sits pretty,

her pigtails tied with pink ribbons,

watching the green fields swell,

the wet droplets of spring shower worming into the damp soil,

her once innocent gaze follows the bee,

the bee which flirts with the sunflower,

her voice cracks, as she calls for rosy,

wishing to feel her warm belly,

rosy comes, waddling, tail wagging,

her belly as full as hers,

 

Inside, she thinks of him,

then tender touch,

the comforting words,

the fulfilling moment,

and now the lost presence,

the falseness,

 

Outside, mama calls,

“papa is almost home,” she says,

“mama please,”

 

Inside, she thinks,

trying to consummate the little she knew,

some nucleus of sense,

something she could deliver to make them understand,

her adolescent hopes,

 

Outside, her childlike eyes watched rosy sleep,

unbothered, untroubled, unabandoned,

 

Inside, her sullied thoughts wished to be rosy,

wishfully wishing that tomorrow will be better,

 

Outside, a child,

Inside, a woman.