In Albert Camus’s The Stranger, the main character and those who live with him seem unable to take responsibility for their actions. This has a negative impact on both their lives and on the lives of those with whom they come into contact. There are two ways in which the characters could have improved both their lives and those of others. First, by considering the impact of his words and actions on others, Monsieur Meursault could have built better relationships with those who love him. Second, by considering the long-term affect of their actions on other people, Meursault and his neighbors could avert tragedy and prevent grief. The characters in The Stranger could have avoided tragedies in their own lives by carefully considering the long-term impact of their actions and might have had more fulfilling lives if they became more empathetic.
The first suggestion that could be offered to Monsieur Meursault in terms of thinking through his actions is to develop a sense of empathy. He does not seem able to understand how his unemotional words and actions can hurt those around him. In not considering this, he pushes away everyone that might come close to him. For example, he does not consider his actions toward his mother. He sends her to a home for his own convenience. The man at the home, far more empathetic than he is himself, excuses his behavior because he is young and has a job which made it difficult for him to take the time with his mother that she needed (Albert, Part One, I). And yet, Meursault himself notes that he sent his mother to a home because he did not have time for her and refused to see her much after she went to the home because it would have taken away from his Sunday (I). Because he was too wrapped up in himself to spend time with his mother, he missed the fact that she was close enough to someone that her friends joked that he was her fiancée.
Monsieur Meursault passes off his lack of communication with his mother as “not my fault” (I), and yet if he had considered his actions with a little empathy he might have had a better and more loving relationship with her. This is also true of his relationship with Marie. Marie asks him at several points if he loves her, and he says no without any thought of how hurtful that is for her. When she asks him to marry her, he says that he will, but admits that he would say yes to anyone that asked him such a question because he really does not think marriage is a serious commitment (V). If he considered his actions and the impact his words might have on Marie, he would have been more empathetic. Instead, he hurts a woman who genuinely loves him because he does not put time or thought into understanding others or trying to see the world from their point of view. Because of this lack of empathy, Monsieur Meursault makes potentially loving and fulfilling relationships with others difficult.
Secondly, Monsieur Meursault and his neighbors should consider the long-term impact of their actions and think how those actions might impact others. Lack of empathy and forethought, both on the part of Monsieur Meursault and others around him, leads to tragedy because they refuse to accept the fact that their own actions have consequences. One example of this is the loss of Salamano’s dog. Salamano treats his dog terribly, and yet is surprised and grief stricken when the dog finally flees from him. He cannot see that it was his own abuse of the dog that made the dog leave. He can only see that he raised the dog from a pup and cannot see how harmful his mistreatment was (IV). Because he is unable to take responsibility for his actions, he cannot understand why his dog left him.
Meursault’s own lack of empathy means that he cannot see how he could have helped Salamano’s dog. He did not see Salamano’s mistreatment as a shameful thing (III), which he would have understood if he could think beyond his own comfort. Also, it is Meursault’s inability to take responsibility for his involvement with Raymond and the girl which eventually leads to his tragedy. He writes a letter designed deliberately to hurt the girl because he cannot see any reason not to do so (III). He then testifies on Raymond’s behalf against the girl without putting much thought into the consequences of his actions (V). Because of this, he is directly involved in both the Girl’s fate and in the retaliation that follows. If not for his actions regarding the Girl, he would not have been in a position to kill the Arab. A little forethought on Meursault’s part would have made him realize the potential for tragedy that might follow from his actions. It might have stopped him from getting involved at all, because he would have seen both how morally questionable writing the letter in the first place was and how it might impact the life of a probably innocent girl. However, Meursault and those around him are unable to consider the long-term consequences of their actions, so they are forced to deal with those consequences.
Meursault could have had a much happier, less complicated life if he considered the thoughts and feelings of others, and if he put thought into the long-term results of the actions he takes. Because he does not, his life is oddly devoid of human compassion and quickly turns tragic.