by Albert Camus
M. (Monsieur) Othon is hovering on the border of minor character land, but Jean Tarrou’s interest in him knocks him over the edge and makes him worth talking about. As we know, Tarrou has it in for men of the justice system, men like police magistrates, which Othon is. Check out the conversation between these two men. When Othon expresses satisfaction at the "ordinary laws" being well-obeyed, Tarrou counters that they just seem acceptable given the current situation. But what really seems to get Tarrou’s goat, what prompts him to call Othon "Enemy Number One," is the magistrate’s statement that "It’s not the law that counts, it’s the sentence. And that is something we must all accept."
What an odd statement! Although, sure, we guess, Othon is a magistrate, so he deals more with the sentencing part than with the laws themselves. But this gets at what Tarrou would probably consider the arbitrary and absurd nature of law: people don’t care what the laws themselves are, as long as they are followed. Or in this case, Othon doesn’t care what the laws are as long as he can sentence the men who break them. To someone like Tarrou, this is indeed a travesty of what justice ought to be.
But it’s hard to hate M. Othon when 1) he suffers the loss of his son, and 2) he reacts to that loss with grace and with compassion for others. After Jacques dies, Othon volunteers to stay in the isolation camp – even after his own period of quarantine is up – because it makes him feel closer to his son.
To us, this sounds great – but how would it sound to Camus? Is Othon portrayed positively or negatively by this reaction? This is a fuzzy existentialism vs. humanism line. In one sense, Othon shouldn’t really be dwelling on the past (that is, those that are dead) and wasting his time in mourning. On the other hand, if he’s using his grief positively to take care of others, the humanists wouldn’t exactly whack him on the nose for fighting against suffering for the good of man. So it’s up for grabs.
Oh, and make sure you check out "Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory" for fun with owls (and M. Othon).