Society is usually based on both reason and emotion, but throughout history reason and emotion have been fighting to be in the dominant side of society. In The Stranger by Albert Camus it is evident that there is a struggle going on. An example of this is in the aspect of justice. Justice has always been understood as something ethical and neutral and always right, and also something that is really important to any society. However, justice takes on a whole different meaning in the novel. Here, justice is determined by how a person reacts towards death and the society in the novel believes this to be fair and just. In the novel the reason why the protagonist Meursault was sentenced to death in court, was not because of the act of murder, but because of his emotionless reaction towards his mother's death. This situation presents a dispute on what society should focus on, reason or emotion? This is what Albert Camus was trying to show the readers, that reason and emotion is always battling for the main place in society, and that people do not realize it. The question then arises as to which side wins the battle and how does it affect the society within the novel?
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As mentioned above, people are unaware of this struggle between reason and emotion. To understand why, first we must look at the two forces more closely in relation to the novel. In the society of The Stranger, emotion plays a big role from the very beginning of the novel. The moment Meursault received the news of his mother's death, up to the point where he went to Celeste's to eat, everyone felt sorry for him. The simple act of giving condolence already shows how important emotion is to people. It is possible that those in society believe that if they did not give their condolences to Meursault, it will be taken as an insult. However, if a person uses more reason as Meursault has done, condolences would be unnecessary since their view of death would be something natural, unavoidable and commonplace. So basically, the society in the novel already has this sort of mindset in which they believe that using emotions, or more specifically empathy, is respectful, mannerly, and normal. Reason then, when it comes to basic human involvements, become secondary.
Another reason why emotion is very important to the society of the Stranger is that emotion for the society is an aspect that separates normal from abnormal. In the case of Meursault, he is a person who shows very little emotion, and acts in a rational way according to his views. For example, he thinks of his mother's death just as a death of a person and not something to cry about and mourn. The next day, he goes and makes love to Marie. To society however, Meursault is an abnormal person, because of his lack of emotion towards his mother's death, and the fact that he doesn't mourn for his mother and instead spend his time with his lover and makes love to her the day after his mother died. So for the society emotion acts like a determinant to see if a person is normal or abnormal, which leads to segregation in a society. In this case it is Meursault who is being segregated.
How about reason? How important is it to the society of The Stranger? In The Stranger we see that it does not really play a big part in people's lives. For example, the situation of Raymond who beats his mistress and two Arabs, because he thought his mistress was using him. The act of beating shows extreme emotions on the part of Raymond, which actually leads to Meursault killing an Arab and sentenced to death. This shows that Raymond was not using any logical reason, or he probably thought he was, but the fact is that it was clouded with emotion. If Raymond was using reason and not let emotion to cloud his judgment, the story would have gone very differently. Probably with an ending in which there is no death and more understanding. But that is not what happened. Through Raymond we see that society likes to act more on emotion rather than reason.
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Another example of how reason is not really important within the society of this novel is when the Chaplain keeps forcing Meursault to renounce his sins and accept God, even though Meursault has continuously denied it. This shows the lack of reason in the actions of the Chaplain. For the Chaplain it might be reasonable to keep on asking for repentance, but in fact it is not. The reason why the Chaplain kept on persisting is not because out of reason but because of emotion, specifically pride. The Chaplain is overcome with the hope that he will be the one to change an emotionless Meursault. Perhaps he might have pitied Meursault because of his coming execution, but pride for his beliefs and profession guides his actions. When Meursault refused to repent and acknowledge the Chaplain's words, the Chaplain became increasingly agitated and began to shout and use force. This shows that the supposed symbols or authorities of reason within this novel still subject themselves to emotion, and allows it to run their judgment. Reason might seem an important part in the society of The Stranger, but the fact is, emotion plays a bigger role, because it also affecting reason within the society.
So how does the difference in importance between reason and emotion affect the society of The Stranger? We must look at what a society should be based on. The answer is that there must be an equilibrium between the two opposing forces. If in a society reason outbalances emotion, you will have a society in which people will be more like robots, just living their lives in a very scheduled way. On the other hand, if emotion outbalances society, you will have a society with more chaos than order. So in The Stranger we see it clearly that emotion outweighs reason, specifically in the courtroom scene. In the courtroom, we see that the prosecutor, attacks Meursault not with evidence from the crime scene or anything closely related to the dead Arab that Meursault killed; instead he uses Meursault's insensitivity and his reactions toward his mother's death as the main reason why Meursault should be convicted and be given the death penalty. "â€¦when I look into a man's face and all I see is a monster." (Camus 102) So in the courtroom when the jury decided on the verdict, which was to sentence Meursault to death because of his emotionless reaction towards his mother's death, they thought they were basing it on reason, but actually the reason was clouded with emotion of disgust and hate.
So how is it that the society of The Stranger confuses emotion with reason? It is because the society in this novel has placed greater importance on emotion rather than reason. This lets emotion unconsciously change different parts of the society, including parts of the society that should have been guided reason, like justice.
In conclusion reason and emotion are always fighting for the lead role in society. In the case of The Stranger, it is emotion that wins the battle. However, since reason is still needed in society, what emotion does is it unconsciously assimilates itself with reason, but still dominates over it. Like in the case of the jury, they probably thought that their verdict was based on reason, but what they didn't know is that their emotions already clouded their judgment and sentenced a man to death based on irrational grounds. Camus' novel shows us a view of a society that allows it to be governed by emotion, and how this society drastically affects individuals like Meursault, who can't help but be governed by their reason. In the end, the effect is not ideal.
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