Insiders and Outsiders
Essay title: Insiders and Outsiders
When seen from the readers’ point of view, the literary characters Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter and The Stranger’s Meursault are considered outsiders in their respective societies. Though they are the protagonists of their books, their stories seem not only to be about them, but also how they manage to interact with their societies and handle their conflicts with the “insiders” in their stories.
In Monsieur Meursault’s society, the mainstream cast of characters is emotionally driven in their actions, while throughout the book Mersault is usually logical, amoral, uninhibited by most emotions. Meursault exudes a calm detachment at all times, which gets him into conflicts with others frequently, such as when speaking with his lawyer. The lawyer asks if Meursault was sad at his mother’s funeral, and Meursault responds indifferently yet honestly, that though he probably did love his mother, “that didn’t mean anything.” The lawyer becomes upset at this point and the conversation following this exchange is similar. Meursault then declares, “I felt the urge to reassure [the lawyer] that I was . . . just like everybody else”, indicating his naпvetй.
Meursault never alters what he says to be tactful or to conform to societal expectations, even when Marie asks if he loves her: Meursault bluntly says, “it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so.” His frank words suggest that he does not understand fully the emotional stakes in Marie’s question. Furthermore, in Meursault’s declaration that love “didn’t mean anything”, he is beginning to grasp what he finally comes to understand at the end of the book: the meaningless of human life.
Meursault comes to this revelation after his first sign of rage in the novel; when he accepts his certain death and realizes that the universe is also indifferent to human affairs, it kindles a feeling of “brotherhood” with the world. Meursault finds that he is happy once he opens himself to the reality and irrationality of human existence. He sees his imminent execution as the “consummation” of his new understanding, and he welcomes the angry spectators who are to be his companionship for the last moments of his life.
Similarly, The Scarlet Letter’s Hester Prynne is also an outcast in her society because of her transgressions. Her distinctively good looks and her defiant bearing on her way to the scaffold when being publicly punished only serve to alienate her further; it worsens the “insiders’” opinion of her when paired with the sin of adultery. The women in the crowd on that day make disparaging comments about Hester; they particularly criticize her for the grandeur of the scarlet letter on her chest- “what is it but to laugh in the faces of our godly magistrates, and make a pride out of what they, worthy gentlemen, meant for a punishment!”
The fact that Hester was punished so openly states something about her society and its views on sin: sin not only floods the world but also should be actively sought out and exposed so it can be punished publicly. The beadle