The Outsider by Albert Camus challenges the reader’s opinions through a philosophical perspective on the meaning of life, and absurdist outlooks within a diverse range of settings throughout the novel. Meursault, the protagonist of the story, is represented as an emotionally repressive, misunderstood and unaffected individual who holds the value of indifference and triviality towards the many people surrounding him. Through this idea, the use of a variety of settings in The Outsider assists the reader to identify Meursault’s personality and altered character traits. Camus’ further enhancement of setting is explained through the change in consciousness Meursault experiences as well as his different emotions and moods. This is most effectively represented in his apartment, the beach, the visiting room and the prison cell. Given that the novella is written in the 1940’s during World War II, the conflict atmosphere assists develop the central themes of doom and suffering which are explored repeatedly within Meursault.
The appearance of Meursault’s apartment is a key setting in the beginning sections of the novel. The apartment in The Outsider is the base where Meursault is able to reflect and consider his life and be free of his thoughts by relaxing over smoking cigarettes or viewing the streets from the balcony. Camus also uses the apartment to deepen the physical relationship between Meursault and Marie, even though Meursault expresses indifference towards a marriage proposal, ‘that evening Marie came by and asked me if I wanted to marry her. I said it didn’t make any difference to me and that we could if she wanted to’ (Camus, 1983 p. 29). The Absurdity in this situation enhances the lack of emotional contribution specified by Meursault and ultimately disregards the request being questioned by Marie. Since Meursault dominantly focuses on physical representation, it harnesses him down to the present moment in life and prevents him from thinking about anything besides what is directly in front of him. The association between Meursault and the apartment is portrayed through a simple routine, he sleeps, cooks and wanders about. Meursault declares that it was ‘just right when mother was here’ (Camus, 1983, p. 25) and the flat had become too spacious, thus emphasising the impression of existential philosophy.
The setting of the beach is first presented to the readers in the early parts of chapter four when Meursault and Marie travel a few miles outside of Algiers. By Meursault attending this particular beach, Camus demonstrates the protagonists’ characteristics as always concentrating on sensual physical pleasures and the vitality of the environment and nature through the main symbols of the sun and sea. This is shown through the quote ‘the four o’clock sun wasn’t too hot, but the water was warm and rippled with long, lazy waves’ (Camus, 1983, p. 37). In addition to this, one of the central conflicts in The Outsider is developed in the setting of the beach, where Meursault murders the Arab. During this vital scene, Camus uses the technique of imagery through the nature of heat to intensify the emotional tension amongst Meursault’s conscience of pulling the trigger. Meursault’s conscience also traces back to the memory of his mother’s funeral at the beginning of the novel. Meursault quotes on how sun had the same effect on him, ‘It was the same sun as on the day of mother’s funeral and again it was my forehead that was hurting me most and all the veins were throbbing at once beneath the skin’ (Camus, 1983, p. 59). The parallel between the sun and mother’s funeral depicts that Meursault had used the sun as an explanation for his lack of emotional actions of murdering the Arab and shooting an extra four more times. Camus lures the readers into determining the intention for Meursault’s murder, when the answer is there was no exact reason for the actions, hence reinforcing the central themes of absurdity and meaningless of life.
Following Meursault’s murder of the Arab, the setting of the visiting room in prison shadowed by the prison cell was introduced. The visiting room is a location where Camus purposefully makes Meursault focus on immediate sensory details such as sound rather than intangible feelings, precisely when Marie visits. Meursault spends most of his time describing his urgent surroundings ‘the noise made me feel rather dizzy’ (Camus, 1983, p. 73). Meursault appears to be extremely bothered by little constructs as it signifies change in his life; he is used to quiet, dark and peaceful settings resembling his apartment. In relation to when Meursault was placed into a prison cell, the effects that Camus initiates through the change of setting demonstrates how it changed Meursault’s lifestyle completely. The prison has no longer given the freedom Meursault had always enjoyed ‘the days ended up flowing into one another’ (Camus, 1983, p. 78), he feels trapped and can only rely on his memory of the past pleasures he once had. Awaiting Meursault’s execution in prison, he begins to come into terms by understanding the direction of where life is headed and the meaningless of life. Passing time in prison by undertaking pointless tasks was something Meursault was always thinking about, ‘I’d remember every piece of furniture, every object, every detail, every mark, crack or chip, and the colour or the grain of the wood’ (Camus, 1983, p. 97). By Meursault focusing on the specific details in his prison cell, it reinforces how intrigued he is by the outside world as well as how much he values self-determination. Camus places Meursault in this position since he is looking for something to ultimately give him a sense of happiness and fulfilment in life before the day of his execution.
Camus’ The Outsider portrays the importance of settings through Meursault’s apartment, the beaches, the visiting room and prison cell. It was demonstrated that there was a significant change from the beginning to the end of the novel both in Meursault’s emotional state and personality which had all been due to the diverse range of settings explored. From a philosophical perspective, Meursault expresses the views of an absurdist as he believes the universe is profoundly without absolutes. Camus’ message in The Outsider is that the only certain guarantee in life is the inevitability of death, and since all individuals encounter death, all lives are equally meaningless.