World Literature: the Outsider Essay
In Albert Camus’ The Outsider, Meursault just lost his mother and as he heads to the funeral, he acts strangely, his actions unexpected. Following the funeral, he engages in risky activities and absurd relationships, killing an Arab and is taken to jail. Through the process, he still acts in a way that confuses society, causing him to be a stranger. Sigmund Freud investigates grief, the byproducts, and the different ways of mourning.
He calls this “pathological melancholia”. This pathological melancholia seems to be evident in The Outsider as Meursault goes through a process of grieving, resulting in dysfunctional relationships with the people around him. Meursault, upon just losing his mother, shows two responses to loss that Freud has determined as mourning and melancholia in his theory, “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917).
Freud’s grief theories state that “mourning comes to a decisive end when the subject severs its emotional attachment to the lost one and reinvests the free libido in a new object” and “melancholia comes about through the loss of – and the inability to relinquish – an object, a place, or an ideal. ” Meursault displays this by trying to end his mourning through the reinvestment in relationships with the people around him such as Marie and Raymond. He also does not make his feelings clear to those around him, yet the reader is aware of his disinterest in the world, a symptom of mourning as well as melancholia.
Freud defines mourning and melancholia as similar in symptoms: “profoundly painful dejection, cessation of interest in the outside world, loss of the capacity to love, [and] inhibition of all activity”. Mourning, in the most normal of terms, and “pathological” melancholia could be a reaction to the loss of a loved one, or lost abstraction. In Meursault’s case, it is the loss of his mother. Freud claims that after the loss of the mother, the boy replaces this maternal object “by one of two things: either an identification with his mother or an intensification of his identification with his father.
The reinvestment in a relationship with Marie is dysfunctional due to the grieving Meursault goes through that tries to replace the loss of his mother with a maternal object. According to Freud, it will be replaced by either an identification with his mother or an intensification of his identification with his father. He and his mother did not have a connection that showed that he loved her. Meursault may have cared for her enough to get the nursing and help she needed but she was just his mother. It was easy to send her off to the home for people to care for her.
Marie may be the identification with his mother that he is using to replace the loss. Meursault shows an indifference towards Marie and her feelings by saying he’ll marry her, that he cares for her, but he doesn’t love her. To Marie, it is emotionally abusive because he will never care for her in the way she wants him to and just like his mother, once something happens to her, Meursault will just leave and move on. In the end, Meursault refuses Marie’s visits in prison. He can easily push her away and although the loss results in a longing for the physical of a relationship, it is not long before he conforms to a world without Marie.
The identification with his mother that Marie has is the passive relationship that Meursault has with both of the women. Another absurd relationship that Meursault engages in is with his friend, Raymond. A symptom of melancholia, being cessation of interest in the outside world, is seen when Raymond is asking Meursault for his help. Raymond is an example of an abusive relationship and beats his girlfriend. While asking Meursault for his help in luring her into getting a “punishment” from Raymond, Meursault shows a lack of interest in what his friend does.
Though he does not necessarily condone Raymond’s actions, he does not care to make an effort to change the actions of his friend. Meursault narrates his feelings, saying, “I wrote the letter. I did it rather haphazardly, but I did my best to please Raymond because I had no reason not to please him” (36). In this passage, Meursault reveals his thoughts and feelings, which he hasn’t been able to with his friends. He is eager to please Raymond in what he does and to help him but does not show any emotional connection to his actions. He does enough to satisfy his friend but not get involved, both physically and emotionally.
This causes the relationship to be dysfunctional, with Raymond being emotionally manipulative and Meursault trying to stay out of anything that would potentially keep him emotionally connected to Raymond. Freud mentions that pathological melancholia shows symptoms of inhibition of all activity. There is a sense of inability to connect and feel relaxed when Meursault interacts with some of his friends. One specific person that Meursault displays this lack of connection is with Salamano. In his conversation with Salamano, Meursault comments that “[Salamano] was mumbling half-finished sentences into his yellowing moustache.
He was annoying me a bit, but I didn’t have anything to do and I didn’t feel sleepy,” once again allowing the readers into his feelings towards the people he is interacting with (47). Meursault does not feel comfortable with Salamano but does his best to please and does not feel any reason not to like he does with Raymond. In another passage, Salamano mentions Meursault’s mother and there is a sense that Meursault is self-conscious with the people around him due to the fact that he now realizes that the local people thought badly of him for sending his mother off.
Yet Salamano thinks he knows Meursault enough that his intentions were out of love. It may even be that Meursault feels self-conscious because Salamano seems to know how he feels whereas Meursault doesn’t know how to convey his feelings with anyone besides himself. After their conversation, Meursault returns to his apartment “and from the peculiar little noise coming through the partition wall, [he] realized that [Salamano] was crying. For some reason [he] thought of mother” (42). Salamano’s loss reminds Meursault of his mother because “mother used to be very fond of his dog” (47).
The only time Meursault is able to have a conversation with Salamano is after the loss of his dog but the connection is dysfunctional due to the constant reminder that Salamano knew his mother well. This then led to discomfort of a relationship with Salamano. In conclusion, the mourning process described by Freud is present in The Outsider. It has to sever any emotional attachment with the lost object and reinvest in another object. Meursault, by reinvesting in relationships as a way to mourn, causes disconnect with his own emotions.
Marie was a replacement for the maternal object as she had an identification with his mother. The way he treated her was the same as his mother, he cared for her but did not love her. It was easy for him to send her away as he did his own mother. There is no emotional connection with anyone he comes in contact with. He is not able to communicate how he feels to anyone besides himself. Meursault, as a people pleaser, does the necessary things to please his friends yet does not get involved.
He becomes disinterested in activity around him and when someone such as Salamano seems to understand or know how he is feeling, Meursault feels uncomfortable around them. The symptoms of melancholia as Freud mentions are similar to those of mourning and Meursault goes through the mourning and the melancholia that comes with it. Through him, this pathological melancholia that Freud describes as part of mourning is seen, resulting in a series of dysfunctional relationships with the people around him.