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"The opposite of love is not hate; it's indifference" is a quote by Elie Wiesel, a Romanian born American writer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. This quote revealsã€€that being apathetic to one's surroundings in society is worse than hating one another. The quote directly relates to the novel, The Stranger by Albert Camus. The main character in the novel, Meursaullt, is apathetic in his society, where his thoughts, actions, and attitudes possess no rational order. His life is generally absent of verbal interaction and is centered on the physical aspects of his surroundings. However, Meursault experiences changes during and after the trial as he is separated from the physical world. Meursault becomes capable of understanding the indifference of the universe when he recognizes himself as a stranger in his society, starts to show emotions, and thinks about his past and the future.
Meursault begins to realize that he is a stranger within the society that requires meanings behind actions, which contributes to his understanding of the indifference of the universe. Previously, he did not care of what others thought of him, and his honesty toward others reflected his apathy. Nonetheless, he expresses his unpleasant feeling of being a stranger at his own trial when, "[he] noticed then that everyone was waving and exchanging greetings and talking, as if they were in a club where people are glad to find themselves among others from the same world. That is how [he] explained to [himself] the strange impression [he] had of being odd man out, a kind of intruder" (84). Meursault shows his emerging self-consciousness in this quote. For the first time, he is able to figure out that being different from the society in which he lives is disconcerting. Later in the novel when he is put into a cell at prison, Meursault thinks about his incompatibility with the society's standards when, "All I care about right now is escaping the machinery of justice, seeing if there's any way out of the inevitableâ€¦Everything was against it; I would just be caught in the machinery again" (108) and "It would take all my strength to quiet my heart, to be rational" (114). Meursault gives in to the idea that he is irrational and that he is different from what the society expects to be the norm. Yet, he believes that there are purely not ways he could become rational, and accepts the idea of the indifferent universe.
Meursault starts to portray emotions, which demonstrates his comprehension of the universe of indifference. Nevertheless, in the beginning of the novel, his emotional indifference caused him not to express any remorse upon learning Maman's death, and to answer Marie's marriage request in a blunt manner. As the prosecutor looks at Meursault triumphantly after the testimony of the funeral director regarding Meursault's unreasonable actions at the funeral, Meursault shows his feelings when, "[he] had this stupid urge to cry, because [he] could feel how much all these people hated [him]" (90). This quote is significant; this was the first time in the novel he showed any strong expression of himself. Meursault becomes emotional, and realizes the consequence for being indifferent in his own society. From that point, Meursault exposes his emotions, and at the end of the novel, he understands the indifferent universe through his emotions when, "[he] opened [himself] to the gentle indifference of the worldâ€¦[he] felt that [he] had been happy and that [he] was happy again" (123). Meursault finally concludes that he accepts the world in which he has been a stranger, and that he has finally understood himself.
Meursault used to only care about the present, but now he thinks about his past and future, which contributes to his understanding of the indifference of the universe. Meursault only lived in the present, where he never considered his outcomes in the future, and forgot about the events that occurred earlier. However, he turns back to his past days in Algiers when, "[he] could make out one by one, as if from the depths of my exhaustion, all the familiar sounds of a town [he] loved and of a certain time of day when [he] used to feel happy" (97). This quote proves that Meursault misses his typical day before he killed the Arab, and that those days were enjoyable and never boring to him. Not only about the past, he also thinks about the future when, "Only the words 'yesterday' and 'tomorrow' still had any meaning for me" (80). In his cell, the only thing he could do is to hope for his future or to reflect on his past, because there is nothing for him to do in the present. This change in Meursault helped him into understanding the indifference of the universe, because he now figured out that the present did not have any meaning for him anymore and that yesterday and tomorrow were more important.
Meursault's realization of being a stranger in a meaningful society, representation of emotions, and contemplation of his past and the future caused him to understand the indifference of the universe. He grasped the universe's indifference towards humankind, which is something humans have trouble dealing with. Camus calls this struggle to find where none exists, the absurd. Humans have such strong desires for meaning that they overwhelm the idea that there is none to be found. The society's strong desire to put meaning to everything puts a meaning to Meursault's life, which was before a life full of absurdity into a life more meaningful and rational.