Detachment from society is one thing, but nonconformity to – or refusal to play by – its rules is another. The detached is deemed cold and pathetic, but the blatant nonconformist is deemed amoral. Are conformity and morality one and the same? Are society’s rules necessarily in the right? For The Stranger's hero, his freeing revelation is based on the notion that, in a senseless and meaningless world, society, its rules, and its morality are just that.
Questions About Society and Class
- Take a look at our lovely ensemble cast in The Stranger. Are these characters (besides Meursault) conformists, or nonconformists?
- The French Algerians condemned Meursault for having no social conscience. How might it be easier to condemn a nonconformist? Is the nonconformist more guilty than a conformist that commits the same crime? Do the French Algerians think so?
- Why was Meursault intrigued by the odd little "robot" woman who shares a table with him at Celeste’s diner? Is she a nonconformist as well? Does Meursault identify with her to some extent?
Chew on This
Meursault is unfairly tried because he is judged by one, arbitrary set of societal values – most prominently the tenet that emotional displays are the necessary and correct response to traumatic events. The irrationality of the absurdist’s world stems from this very fact: that any one given rubric can be applied as a standard to all people.
Meursault only exiles himself from society because he doesn’t understand its constructs. He is not, and in fact, cannot be free to choose; he is hindered by his ignorance.