Throughout The Stranger by Albert Camus, the protagonist, Meursault, is worried about being judged. The reader does not realize that Camus sets us up to constantly judge Meursault. Meursault is very analytical and can seem to be insensitive at times. However, Meursault’s actions can be taken many different ways. The ending leaves the reader to give a final judgment on whether Meursault is a menace to society or not. Meursault should not have received the death sentence because he was judged for his behavior leading up to his crime, not the murder itself.
Meursault is always emotionally detached from his situation. This begins with the death of his mother. Meursault understands that everyone will die eventually and does not show much emotion. He also has not seen his mother in months so she was already dead to him. When asking his boss for time off, he says that it wasn’t his fault. This seems insensitive to his recently deceased mother but Meursault just doesn’t want to be judged by society. The motif of judgment returns when the old people at the vigil make Meursault uncomfortable because he feels he is being judged.
This is foreshadowing that the jury for his case will judge him for his reaction to his mother’s death. When the director offers to open the casket, Meursault refuses and the director reacts as if this is strange. It is possible that Meursault just wanted to remember his mother as she was when she was alive. Meursault is criticized for smoking and drinking coffee but the director smoked with him and offered him the coffee. All off Meursault’s reactions to his mother’s death come back to haunt him when he is on trial but they can easily be dismissed as normal.
Meursault also does some weird things when he is in Algiers with his friends. Meursault dates Marie but tells her directly that he doesn’t care if they are married or not. This is quite a blunt statement but Meursault is just telling Marie the truth so her feelings would not be hurt. Marriage is not a powerful institution to Meursault, perhaps because he is an atheist as the reader later discovers. Meursault has several shady friends and would do a lot to help them out. Meursault thinks he is just doing his friend a favor when he lies for Raymond and writes the letter.
This is also the case when Meursault takes Raymond’s gun. Meursault is trying to keep Raymond from shooting the Arabs but the heat of the sun – and maybe the heat of reality – gets to Meursault, causing him to shoot and kill one of the Arabs. During Meursault’s trial, he is judged for his lack of mourning for his mother’s death rather than the crime he committed. Meursault’s lawyer, the judge, the jury and a priest are disgusted by his lack of grief. Meursault is judged and prosecuted because of the actions prior to his crime.
He is only seen as a threat to society because he is an atheist and people can’t understand his indifferent way of thinking. As Meursault realizes the absurdity of life and his situation, the priest still can’t understand why he wouldn’t want to seek God and salvation before he faces the afterlife. Meursault angrily explodes into his existentialist crisis, realizing that human life is meaningless. Meursault is not a monster or a menace to society. Meursault’s atheist and existentialist philosophy is the true reason he is given the death sentence.