Therese too had been visited by the ghost of Camille during that feverish night. These imaginings and hallucinations, at times becoming palpable visions that convince them of the dead mans existence, eventually drive the two characters over the brink of insanity. The lovers panic grew worse, and every day their nightmares made them more demented and distraught, before they even got married. They looked upon their forthcoming wedding as an alleviation to save them from their terrible imaginings. However, we see just how misguided this expectation is on their wedding night; they feel they are still separated by a gaping chasm¦ they dreamed that they had been violently separated and flung in opposite directions. This signals the drastic changes to come about in their lives, and is highlighted by the dynamic verb flung and the emphasis on violence. They begin to believe the dreadful memory of Camille separates them not only in their minds, but physically, feeling that his body is still here between us, turning our limbs to ice, and this idea stays at the foremost of their suffering that the ghost of Camille is haunting them and making its presence felt.
Zola portrays their response to this as they are experiencing profound disturbances¦they found themselves in the grip of a common terror¦ seized by a feverish delusion: they could touch the body, see it stretched out there like a greenish, half-putrefied¦mass of decomposing humanity which constantly stays in their awareness for the rest of their miserable lives. The physical and psychological anguish for the two lovers was so great that Therese would have flung herself into the fire, had she thought that the flames would purify her flesh and deliver her from her pain and Laurent being driven to distraction as he sees five Camilles in front of him, created by the power of his own hands simply because the playing of the dead man on his conscience is enough to take root in everything he does, whether it is painting or touching his wife.
However, it is not clear whether the two characters actually ever feel any sense of remorse for their crime. Their terror is undeniably because of the act they committed, but probably down to the actual experience, and their fear of being discovered, than a sense of regret or guilt Laurent even goes as far as to say that they would chuck him in again if we had to. Despite Laurent and Thereses dread of being discovered, the forced endurance of psychological battering eventually causes them to confess their crime to Madame Raquin, when Laurent had a kind of fit during which he talked like a man hallucinating. We can question the basis of their terror of being found out by others, and whether it is guilt in that they believe they have done wrong, or simply their fear of the guillotine.
However, we learn that they were frustrated with their crime itself, and despairing that it had ruined their lives for good, showing their utterly selfish nature in that they are repenting not because of the actual murder of a man, but because of the toll it takes on their own lives. Zola demonstrates the effects of this internal turmoil, as it was inevitable that it would come to hatred in the end. They had loved each other like animals, with the hot passions of the blood; then, in the nervous upheaval following their crime, love had turned to fear and they had felt a physical horror at the thought of their embraces. This acute hatred for one another takes shape as night after night, Therese and Laurent fight viciously, Laurent often striking Therese as she desperately provoked him; until their whole lives are swallowed up in this bitter feuding, a colossal irony considering their earlier passion and love, and their plotting of murder to allow themselves to live a life of luxury and sensual pleasures.
Their animalistic traits are what governs them and leads them into such a state that they lived in a hell¦ bitterly and cruelly¦ trying to push each other over the brink of the precipice which they felt yawning at their feet, and into which they were in fact both already plunging. The horror that Therese feels is perfectly depicted when she believes herself to be pregnant, and the thought fills her with such despair and dread that she offers her stomach to [Laurents] blow. She allowed herself to be kicked almost to death in that way, and the next day she had a miscarriage. Laurent, on the other hand, possesses none of Thereses apparent rationality he is driven to distraction, to the point that he was literally afraid of Francois [the cat]¦and flung it with all his strength against the black wall.
Therese and Laurent experience these various stages of fear, hate, indifference, remorse (feigned so well that she ends up believing it) on the part of Therese, and depression. Laurent is described as having all the life¦gone out of his flesh. The madness that they succumb to leads them to murder each other yet, at the point of their ensuing deaths, the two discover that they need the unconsciousness of death; as it is the one place where their torment cannot follow them; as they thought back over the past, they felt so weary and disgusted with themselves that they were filled with an immense need for rest, for oblivion. They exchanged a final glance¦of gratitude, before¦the glass of poison.
There are some significant similarities with this process that Therese and Laurent undergo and that of Meurseault as he comes to terms with his murder of the Arab. In the early part of the book, the reader sees a Meursault devoid of a spoken consciousness and one who feels total adversity towards society and vice versa. Camus has juxtaposed his character against the norms of society to bring out his stark differences through the usage of Meursaults uncanny ability to register cold, hard facts.
Meursault refuses to spend the time and effort required in connecting these facts. This narrative effect can be seen from the opening passage, Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I dont know. Here, we see Meursaults shocking indifference to his mothers death and his event stating quality. He merely recounts the dubious facts of his mothers death as plainly as the telegram had stated it. Throughout the whole process of his attending the funeral is treated with the same jarring coldness. Events and conversation are retold in a photo-journalistic like frankness, chronologically precise from the moment he catches the bus to time when he crawls into bed.
Meursault is also one who has virtually no emotion, detached from basic human experiences of love and affection. This can be seen when his fiance, Marie, provokes an answer, She asked me again if I loved her. I replied, much before, that her question meant nothing or next to nothing- but I supposed I didnt. Curious, she then asks whether he would have given the same answer to another girl who had asked you to marry her, to which he replies in total honesty, Naturally. His inability to feel love is coupled with his almost animalistic mating-like quality where it is a question of when, not whom. His indifference, lack of emotion, and his way of reporting his impressions factually shows little involvement in society, as if he were an outsider, a spectator, who must judge objectively and it is from this that his estrangement from society be felt. Meursault; a middle class bachelor with a painfully simple life, is viewed as indifferent in the eyes of society.
He does not care and is not ashamed of it. But his indifference is not one of callousness but stems instead from the benign indifference of the universe in relations to his own existence. The murder which signifies the end of Part One, unwittingly commits Meursault to the laws of society. He suddenly finds himself a victim of societal norms, the very thing he shunned. Here Meursault is obliged to accustom himself to society for his impending fate depends on it. He finds society absurd and it is through this experience that the reader comes to sympathize with Meursaults point of view and evaluates the absurdity of society. While being held, the prison guard discusses with him: youre being deprived of your liberty. I saw his point. Thats true, I said. Otherwise it wouldnt be a punishment.
Meursault finds this all completely baffling to the point that he has to talk with the warden to find out that prison deprives one of freedom which totally defeats the initial purpose of putting him in jail. While society tries to enforce its ideals on its Meursault, he acts in honest aloofness. In a conversation with the magistrate, In the same weary tone he asked me a last question: Did I regret what I had done? After thinking a bit, I said that what I felt was less regret than a kind of vexation. But he didnt seem to understand. The magistrate wanted to hear that Meursault felt guilty and sorry for what he had done. Instead, Meursault feels annoyance rather than regret, to the frustration of the magistrate.
Faced with these challenges, Meursault attempts to make sense of what is happening around him and through it, tries to understand society. In his cell, he makes a conscious effort to learn about his new surroundings, I made a point of visualizing every piece of furniture, and each article upon it, and then every detail, so to speak: a tiny dent or incrustation, or a chipped edge, and the exact grain and colour of the woodwork.
This symbolizes his willingness to acquaint himself with an entrapment which is alien to him: society and its workings. However, even on close inspection, he fails to make sense of it and this drives him father away from society. This is evident from an episode he had with his lawyer: I wasnt to have any say and my fate was to be decided out of hand. It was quite an effort at times for me to refrain from cutting them all short, and saying: But damn it all, whos on trial in this court, Id like to know? Its a serious matter for a man, being accused of murder. And Ive something really important to tell you.
Meursault clearly feels frustration from this estrangement which fuels even more reason for his dislike of society and its morals. Through this, he gathers experiential evidence that society is indeed absurd and it does one no good to be a part of it, hence forging an even greater alienation from it.
In the concluding chapters, Meursault accepts his fate which enables him to squarely face his death and come to terms with his position in this world. While undergoing this metamorphosis, Meursault discovers his independent consciousness. In prison, he relates, ¦I heard something that I hadnt heard for months. It was the sound of a voice; my own voice, there was no mistaking it¦ the voice that for many a day of late had been buzzing in my ears. This voice he speaks of is his consciousness, spoken freely, unrestricted, and wholly accessible to his thoughts. This sudden enlightenment allows Meursault the grace of accepting his death. He rationalizes for the first time: ¦Its common knowledge that life isnt worth living anyhow¦ it makes little difference whether one dies¦ the world would go on as before.
Although he does not wish his death, he embraces it as an end. It did not matter how or when he achieved this end for to him, all ends ended the same- in death. In the final moments before his death, the absurdity of society no longer bothers Meursault for now he deals with the greater elements of truth and reality. Meursault makes peace with himself, but not without a sudden purging of restrained convictions. He gets tangled in an argument with the prison chaplain who in the last moments of his doom, tries to convert him. In his rage, he reveals his ultimate assurance: that he was sure of myself, sure about everything¦ Id been right, I was still right, I was always right. Id pass my life in a certain way, and I might have passed it in a different way, if Id felt like it.
Meursault develops such a rational consciousness that it becomes his moral code of belief, his belief of truth. This sudden outburst gradually forces the felt but unspoken philosophy of his existence to emerge into the open, and to finally express itself in words. It was necessary too for it gave him a new sense of direction: I, too, felt ready to start life over again. It was as if that great gush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe¦ Id been happy, and I was happy still.
Meursault at last finds peace within himself. Alienated from society and life itself, he finds honour in death, taking nothing from this world with him, because it gave him nothing. Thus, Meursaults journey towards discovery (and, ironically, death) can be seen as a celebration of the human consciousness, grounded in the human spirit and its ability to overcome the absurd, to triumph when failure seems so imminent. Meursault finally realizes his estrangement from society and disregards what society thinks about him as long as he is happy with who he is and what he had done. This is on a whole separate level to the feelings of Therese and Laurent: while all three find death a means of escape, and wish it on themselves, they view it as a comfort, to end their tired, self-destructive lives, whereas Meursault seems to find happiness and fulfilment in the idea that he is reaching his destination.