Camus’ The Stranger and Rousseau’s ‘Natural Man’

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Topic: Sociology
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Camus’ The stranger is a depiction of the natural man displayed by Rousseau. Rousseau brings out the characteristics of the natural man as being truthful and mostly affected by natural occurrences.

He argues that the true nature of man is guided by self-preservation and pity; hence actions are not determined only by reason but also by the two principles.

To support these allegations, he illustrates that “a man cannot hurt another conscious being unless his self preservation is at stake” (Rousseau, 12).

What makes people not to hurt others is not so much based on the irrationality but in their ability to feel not only physical pain but also emotional pain as well.

This is the commonplace between man and animals since animals, not being rational creatures, are sentient hence with the ability to defend themselves from any possible danger.

Camus develops this natural man in the character Meursault, the man whose actions were determined by his natural feeling more than rationality. This is evidenced in the way he makes his decisions and behaves towards tragedy.

After losing his mother, he is expected to be remorseful and mourn for her as this is the most rational reaction in any human being. On the contrary, he seems to be going on with his life as normal.

This aspect is also evidenced at the beached when he shoots the Arab simply because the sun is too hot on him. Killing the person had no relation with the heat, but being the natural man, his actions are more directed by nature.

Camus proves that the most important needs to the natural man are food, rest and sex, from the story of Meursault. This character ends up fighting natural feelings by being offensive, and the crimes he commits do not make him penitent either (Camus, 45).

According to this novel, the natural man has no place in the official society. Civilization has played a big role in extorting from the human race of all their instincts such that all that is left for them is just a people who live up their lives not based on instincts but the laws and protocols set by the society.

The natural man is not accustomed to denying what they are feeling (Rousseau, 54). The official society, on the other hand, expects people to act and think based on some expectations of society.

This can be depicted in the way the lawyer never expected Meursault to tell the truth in court when questioned concerning his feeling towards his mother’s death. He was expected to testify as directed by the lawyer and not as the truth of the matter was.

The other aspect of the conflict between the natural man and the official society is seen in the relationship between Meursault and Marie. The lady’s expectations were that he had developed feelings towards her, yet to him, he was just fulfilling his need for sex.

He was attracted to this lady, but the word love had never crossed his mind as far as she was concerned. Rousseau portrays the sexual urge as a basic need for a grown-up man in the natural world (Rousseau, 19).

The society, however, relates sex to love, and its existence between two people should eventually lead to marriage. This is seen where Marie asked Meursault whether he could marry him.

The natural man in him could lie or develop fake feeling towards her, and so he was honest with her when he said that the idea would never come from him.

He, however, goes ahead to explain that he is indifferent over the matter and this leaves Marie even more confused about his character (Camus, 24)

According to her thinking that has been modeled by the official society, marriage should be as a result of love, though Meursault, who is the icon of a natural man, does not think so.

He even goes ahead and admits that had any other woman asked him the same question; his answer would naturally be the same.

Remember the natural man is not relationship oriented but engages in activities that please him. Rousseau brings out the fact that the natural man is always in conflict with the modern society that has been modeled into a specific way of thinking, beyond which, a person is considered a social pervert.

Another aspect of the natural man brought out by the character of Meursault is the fact that he cannot stand discomfort in his environment.

Modern man has been modeled with the ability to withstand a lot of natural strains but the natural man would never withstand such and would always look for a way to counter their discomfort when faced with one (Rousseau, 60). This is illustrated by the way Meursault behaves towards the Arab.

From the story, one can deduce that he did not kill the Arab because of his rivalry with Raymond.

The only logical reason that can be presumed from the article is that the heat from the sun was unbearable and since he could not avenge to the sun, he decided to take it back on the next easy target: the Arab.

This is further confirmed by the fact that he shot him four times after he had killed him. From this one can note that his interest was not to kill but to avenge the discomfort he was feeling.

This proves Rousseau’s assertion that “a natural man will not harm another conscious being unless his self-defense is at risk” (76). Besides, he strongly believes in fair judgment and his actions.

The main difference between Camus and Rousseau is in the presentation of their work. These two have the same theme but one is expressed using a specific character, and in the other, it is explained in a general way.

A good example of this contrast can be developed by taking illustrations from the literature. Rousseau indicates that “savage man is both true to himself and others. He has limited needs and no desire to dominate others.

Indeed, his few dealings with other humans are initially for reproduction alone. There is no possibility of him using or deceiving others because he has no notion of deceit. Savage man can only be: modern man is forced to be and to appear, and so becomes inauthentic” (Rousseau, 98).

This statement is aimed at explaining the nature of the natural man without specifically referring to a specific character.

Camus, on the other hand, explains the same aspect using the character of Meursault. He brings out this character as an innocent man who operates out of his instincts rather than the laws laid down by society.

He uses real-life experiences to bring out his perception of the natural man which at the end of the day rhyme with Rousseau’s assertions.

He explains the elements of the natural man not being able to lie when he displays Meursault as a person who does not conceal the truth to please any person.

He also gets involved with other people not because he understands much on friendship, but, because he feels the need to express his feelings at some point which he cannot do in a vacuum(Rousseau, 74).

For example, he could not have expressed his sexual feeling if he had never involved himself with Marie. These are just a few examples as the whole book is based on Meursault’s expressions of his natural being.

At the end of Camus’ book, different conclusions can be drawn. The first is based on the conflicts between the modern man and the natural man. The modern man has a way of carrying themselves around, and these protocols are the definition points of society today.

Anything that is against these predefined rules is considered as perversion irrespective of how valid it could be. A good example of this is the fact that people are never allowed to tell the truth in court.

The society believes that the truth always imprisons an individual, especially where the law is concerned. That is why defenses require lawyers to help fabricate stories that will appease the judges and make the person in the case.

It is not about how the wrong one is, but how well they can defend themselves in court. This modern system may seem unfair especially to a specific group of individuals who may not be in a position to hire competent lawyers to defend them.

They end up losing irrespective of how true their side of the story might be.

The second conclusion is that in the struggle between modernity and savageness, modernity always outwits the latter. This could be because of the changing trends in society such that everything is adapting to the modern way of life.

The proof of this assertion from the story of Meursault is that at the end, he seemed to be abandoning his innocent way of thinking. In the court, he agreed to the allegations that Raymond was his friend, something he had never been in a position to consider in the past.

After the sentence had been read and during his stay in prison, he finally came to terms with his action and remorse overwhelmed him. He became aware of the real world and for the first time even got to think about his mother.

Even though it happened when it was too late for him to make changes in his life, he finally realized that it was not worth it fighting the impossible.

From this realization, he became glad for his execution and “he hoped that on the day of his execution there would be a huge crowd of spectators and that they would greet him with howls of execration” (Camus, 76).

Besides, he was conscious that spectators would be inspired by his execution and offer undying fairness and help to those who deserve or in need.