Meursault’s behavior at his mother’s death substantiated his guilt in the eyes of the law. Siddhartha lives the moment and takes responsibility for his decisions. To what extent are Meursault’s and Siddhartha’s status as existentialists and outsiders defined by their conscious and unconscious actions. Existentialism is a philosophy that explains the journey to discover the true self and the meaning of life by free will, choice and personal responsibility.
By their conscious or unconscious actions, the protagonists, Siddhartha and Meursault are examples of existentialists and radical individuals, who refuse to conform to the norms of their respective societies. Meursault’s conscious and unconscious actions after his mother’s death led others to believe that he was a non-conformist. He declined to see her face one last time before she was buried. He has no pangs of guilt, only a vague awareness of social norms. When the guard offered to open the coffin for Meursault, he told him not to take the trouble.
The guard “stared” at him. The guard’s reaction makes him realize his folly and he feels “embarrassed”. On the day of his mother’s death, when he was offered a cigarette by the doorkeeper he accepted it. He “wasn’t sure” if he could smoke “under the circumstances”. “It really didn’t seem to matter. ” Most people would have pretended to grieve in order to avoid social scrutiny. His casual dismissal of the thought was probably unconscious. The day after his mother’s funeral, he meets Marie, and asks her out for a swim and a movie.
On a day when most people spend their day in quiet mourning, Meursault went on a joyful retreat spending time with Marie. Meursault was unconscious of the social unacceptability of his actions until Marie “shrank away”. Marie was perturbed by Meursault’s lack of regret. At that moment Meursault felt a “bit guilty”. His lawyer asks him to admit that he regretted his mother’s death to build a strong case. “That wouldn’t be true” says Meursault. It was one of those rare instances where he consciously and deliberately defies conformity.
Would it have really hurt Meursault to admit that he did regret his mother’s death? Later, during the interrogation wanting to help Meursault, the magistrate asked him if he regretted killing the Arab and Meursault told him that he did not feel so much regret, but “a kind of vexation. ” A simple ‘yes’ would have helped, but his answer portrayed him as a remorseless killer rather than being extraordinarily naive. In a conformist society dominated by norms, Meursault’s perceived defiance made him an “outsider” Another remarkable existentialist trait is his emotional detachment, bordering on apathy. Marie came and asked him “that evening” if he wanted to “marry” her. He said that he “didn’t mind”; at a poignant moment such as this one, Meursault disappointed Marie with his reaction. A moment that should have elicited joy was lost. Was it his intention to hurt Marie? Unlikely.
It was an unconscious response that reflects the detachment which constituted an integral part of his shallow emotional existence. While Meursault stood aloof most of his life unconsciously, Siddhartha carved his path deliberately. Siddhartha, unlike Meursault was aware that he was a non-conformist. Siddhartha was starting “to nurse discontent in him” None of his actions, be it awakening his father to the realization that ‘Siddhartha no longer dwelt with him in his home’ or forcing him to permit Siddhartha to become a samana were done unconsciously. Siddhartha lived a charming life. Why was he discontented? Was it the infirmity of the will or emotional detachment? It is tough for anyone to severe ties with a family. He suffered from an obsession of self-discovery which bordered on egocentric anti-social attitude.
None of his actions were apologetic. A rational human would feel frustration for not being able to achieve his pursuit, regret for upsetting people around and guilt for hurting loved ones, which were uncharacteristic of Siddhartha. Siddhartha says that he had grown “distrustful and tired” of “teachings and learnings”; He is steadfast in his decision when parts ways with the Samanas undeterred by doubts raised by his friend Govinda or the anger of the samanas. There is no sense of loss or regret. He takes absolute responsibility for his decisions.
When he meets Gotama, he knows that he had never before “venerated a person so much”, and had never “loved a person as much as this one”. Yet, he makes a decision after his dialogue with Gotama that ‘nobody will obtain salvation by means of teachings’. When his friend Govinda followed Buddha, Siddhartha is not swayed by the multitude to reach salvation guided by a teacher. He chooses to keep his journey to ‘salvation’ his own personal undertaking. His choices are always about what he desires, not what is desired by society.
His friendship with Govinda and his relationship with Kamala are devoid of emotions and unusual. While one can understand Siddhartha not reciprocating Govinda’s friendship in equal measure, his attitude Govinda almost borders on indifference. A normal person would have experienced physical attraction for a woman like Kamala who is a sex worker. But Siddhartha sees her as a path to ‘learn the joys of love’. He views sex, not as a source of pleasure but as a learning process. “Perhaps, people of our kind can’t love,” he says to Kamala.
His choice of Kamala as a mate, because she is so much like him, untouched by normal human emotions is a very rational and conscious one, something that another human being would be very reluctant to do. His approach to wealth is also characterized by indifference. As a businessman in his transactions with Kama Swami, he accepts profits and laughs at losses.. Even in his final moments of realization, ‘Siddhartha stopped fighting his fate, stopped suffering’. He is conscious of the transition. People seldom move towards higher spiritual levels (Maslow’s hierarchy), and even if they do, the transition is unconscious.
He leads life as a bystander. Such supreme emotional detachment and awareness is unusual in the society. The physical environment in many ways shaped Meursault’s life. On the fateful day when he shot the Arab, Meursault was driven by the heat of the sun, which is the physical aspect that influences his action throughout the novel, be it the day of his mother’s funeral or the time during his trial. The heat of the sun makes him disoriented and irrational and he ceases to be the calm and unemotional man that he normally is.
He not only shoots the Arab, but fires four shots into a dead man! His lawyer tells him not to say anything that would jeopardize his case to which Meursault says that ‘his physical condition at any given moment often influenced his feelings’. Again during his trial, he says, “ What with the crowd and the stuffiness of the air I was feeling a bit dizzy. ” Meursault’s focus on the physical aspects overshadowed the emotional and psychological aspects. Meursault generally focused on what happened around him rather than on what happened to him.
Unaware of the implications of the trial and the futility of an acquittal, he was bothered about his physical discomfort. Towards the end of the trial, the judge asks him the motive for killing the Arab and Meursault says, ‘it was because of the sun’. When his lawyer pleads his cause, it dawns on him that he is going to lose his liberty. Even at this moment, his thoughts are only about the physical aspects of one’s life, ‘on missing the humblest pleasures: warm smells of summer, my favorite streets, and the sky at evening…
Such was the influence of the physical environment that even as Meursault faces execution, he visualizes not the pain or the loss, but the large crowd that would turn in to watch the event. While in Meursault’s case the sun was the natural aspect that obliterated his thinking, for Siddhartha, the river was his path to salvation. Siddhartha had a very philosophical perception of his surroundings. The river taught him ” how to listen, to listen with a still heart, with a waiting, open soul, without passion, without desire, without judgment, without opinions. The river in Siddhartha is used as a medium of communication, whenever Siddhartha has a query or doubt he relies on the river for meaningful answers as if the river was his guru. This degree of surrender to nature is unachievable by a normal human being. Natural elements ruled both characters at an unconscious level. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Conformity is the death of individualism”. The existentialism portrayed in Albert Camus’s ‘Outsider’ is of the Amoral Atheist type. This is in contrast to “Siddhartha” where the existentialism is based on individualism, responsibility and convictions.
Both Meursault and Siddhartha did not conform to the society or its expectations. While Meursault’s responses to situations were unconscious or subconscious, most of Siddhartha’s actions were conscious. So is being different unacceptable? Siddhartha and Meursault are existentialists who stand out in a society that values homogeneity, and is critical of individualism. Both novels question the fundamental ethos of the society. It is based on the fundamental belief of Jean Paul Sartre that ‘Man is condemned to be free. ’ Existentialism begs for tolerance and acceptance, not forgiveness.