Moral Ambiguity in "The Stranger" Essay

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Has there ever existed a person that has not judged someone else over their lifetime? Judging by reality as well as literature it seems that no person like that has ever existed. It appears that it is human nature to want to pronounce others as either purely good or evil. But does everyone fit into the mold of good or evil? In Albert Camus's The Stranger, Meursault is a morally ambiguous character, and this ethical indistinctness plays a major part in the novel as a whole and the theme that Camus is trying to portray.

Meursault resists being typecast into an archetypal moral category in many of his deeds and actions. Many of his actions in Part One of the novel help contribute to the fuzzy picture of the character. For example,
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Abstractly, it almost seems as though the other characters in the book look down on his for this not because he is not mourning, but rather because he is not mourning in the way they are. This sheds light on the overall theme of the novel, that of people being cast out of society because their views and methods do not line up with the accepted ways of society.

The same moral ambiguity is also present in Meursault's murder of the Arab and the ensuing trial. As far as absolute morality goes, the murder is without question an act that falls on the "evil" side of ethics. That point is not a topic for debate, but in the reasons behind it the reader can find even more of Meursault's moral ambiguity. At the time, he does not seem to know why he is doing what he is doing, but it is certainly not out of spite or malice, nor out of any specific hatred of the Arab himself. He could be harboring a grudge on behalf of his friend, which would be understandable, since Raymond is one of the only people we see Meursault truly connect with in the novel, if it can even be called that. He could be taking preemptive action in self-defense, especially after he sees the knife glinting in the Arab's hand. In truth, it is never truly revealed what his motive for his rash action was, making it hard again to