How is the theme of universal indifference portrayed in The Outsider and Candide
Albert Camus’s thought-provoking story of The Outsider and Voltaire’s whimsical satire Candide both question faith and mankind’s tendency to explain away events through the mystical nature of spirituality. Both authors seem to consider the idea of evil as part of a Divine Plan, or as an ultimate cause of good, as weak, and on the whole, unsatisfactory. They respond differently to this, though; Camus rejects religion completely, while Voltaire approaches the notion more cautiously by mocking mankind’s fickle justifications for evil and blind faith.
The first section of The Outsider almost seems irrelevant to the philosophical climax that dramatically completes Meursault’s simple character. Through the striking contrast of the initial structure and fallaciously predictable content of the earlier sections, Camus delivers the message unexpectedly and dramatically. As a first-person narrative, the reader expects to finish the book with Meursault sincerely narrating his unremarkable life as he grows accustomed to jail; yet the change of setting does not really bring upon any renewed interest.
Instead, the subtle introduction of the Patrician, whose irrational and blatantly irritable beliefs eventually annoy Meursault to the point of an philosophical outburst, whereby he declares his beliefs wholly and soundly to both himself and the Patrician. Voltaire, however, mercilessly satirises the idea of optimism throughout Candide, and mocks these theories through physically manifesting them as characters. Candide himself is the embodiment of optimism; however much he dares to find a good side to any situation, he inevitably finds himself in increasingly miserable situations.
While he never dares to blatantly dismiss the existence of God, he prefers to suggest that He is, instead, an indifferent deity. Particularly amusing is Cunegonde’s recount of the Bulgarian pillage of her father’s castle, where she starts off by saying, “I was in bed and fast asleep when it pleased God to send the Bulgarians to our delightful castle of Thunder-ten-Tronckh; they slew my father and brother, and cut my mother in pieces. “( Candide, Dover Thrift Ed, pg. 7) Voltaire mocks optimism and faith by bringing upon an endless string of misfortunes to every character brought up to indulge in blind faith, thereby portraying the notion as an undisputedly ridiculous concept; however, the novel is fictitious, and is written as an exaggeration of a pessimist’s ideas and issues. Meursault is Camus’s “puppet” in The Outsider. He is, in the novel, an embodiment of truth. Without any heroic pretensions, Meursault stubbornly refuses to see anything for anything other than what it is.
As a simple character, he finds no reason to see complicated reasoning behind essentially simple phenomenon, such as death, and does not pretend to show emotions he does not feel, such as remorse or grief. This is perhaps why he is so harshly persecuted during his trail; his reason for killing the Arab was, to him, very simple, but ironically too simple for the jury. This may also be a subtle satire of the very human tendency to complicate fundamental things. The Outsider seems to suggest, with considerable conviction, that every human is the same essentially simple ape, and that the basis of society is, in reality, without substance.
In truth, Meursault’s simplicity terrifies those around him, because instead of an evil, cold-blooded murderer, people seem to recognize their primal selves within him, and instantly causes them to doubt every illogical faith they’ve been brought up with. It scares people to think everything they’ve ever believed in is nothing more than a beautiful illusion; it was therefore easier for an entire court to persecute a single insightful “outsider” and assume safety in holding common values.
Camus conclusively asserts that humans are petty in their unspoken fear of the raw truth, and Voltaire bluntly and steadfastly implies this throughout Candide. Voltaire does not require a special outsider on which to model true indifference. Being a convinced atheist, Camus used a living being to reflect the indifference of the world and the pointlessness of human spiritual faith; while Voltaire prefers to allow the possibility of spiritual faith and honest followers amongst an overwhelming majority of fools and hypocrites.
He allows his characters, many of them amiable and in no particular way deserving of punishment, to endure torturous misfortune and strife, regardless of immovable faith. Despite being satirical, the novel reflects many faith-challenging issues: if God really is all-powerful, why does He let bad things happen to good people? Humorous as is, it has the potential of tempting a reader into considering the possibility of God being indifferent to human affairs.
The mention of the Lisbon earthquake in Chapter 5 is reminiscent of Voltaire’s Poi?? me sur le di?? astre de Lisbonne, which he wrote in honour the actual Lisbon earthquake in November, 1775. This event played a major part in his life, and it provided him with indisputable proof that “all is well” was absurdity; it disgusted him to think that thinking men were under the guidance of a benevolent and concerned deity who would reward the virtuous. Therefore, the mention of the earthquake is a subtle, yet malicious, attack on believers of God and Optimism; 30 000 people died in the event, and that, to Voltaire, is proof that any Higher Power is completely indifferent to mankind and wellbeing.
Candide employs a mixture of Horatian and Juvenalian satire; it jests at human folly and lashes out at human evil and corruption. Voltaire makes use of gross exaggeration, euphemisms and repetition in order to effectively drive his message through – it becomes so repetitive and unrealistic that it simply can’t be ignored. Pangloss’s tired old doctrine, “All is for the best”, is constantly met with ironic contradiction, and a common form of irony is Voltaire’s use of understatement in reference to tragedies and misfortune.
Candide, after learning that the Oreillons intended to roast and eat him, declared that “All is well, I won’t argue about it; but I must admit that it’s a cruel fate to have lost Lady Cuni?? gonde and then to be roasted on a spit by the Oreillons. ” (Candide, Dover Thrift Ed, pg. 38) These understatements are intended to frustrate the reader and impudently challenge anyone who maintains that Candide lives in “the best of all possible worlds”; for anyone who declares validity in optimism within this book is a fool. Camus has a much simpler style and consequent message in The Outsider: “Nothing, nothing mattered and I knew very well why. (The Outsider, Pg. 115)
The entire novel is written in a very casual and simplistic style. The story is moderately descriptive, generally has low vocabulary, and supports a rather weak story line; instead, the novel focuses on Meursault and his peculiar approach to human relationships. There seems to be very little use of foreshadowing or hooks in the story; reader interest is sustained because his character is so uninteresting as to be utterly intriguing; the reader soon realizes that Meursault is, in a manner difficult to pinpoint immediately, different. He is detached to everything, but not to the point of seclusion.
Having no personal qualms about associating with obvious low-life denizens or murder, Meursault is neither a moral or immoral person – he is amoral. In the more fast-paced second half of the novel, he demonstrates a complete lack of concern for the death of other people, and is instead more absorbed with his forced abstinence from cigarettes and homely comforts. Society is appalled at his action and outlook on life, and regards him as a monstrosity. His given reason for murder and his “lack of emotion” at his mother’s funeral is, by all means, perfectly valid: death is the final frontier, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
He “probably loved” his mother, but now she’s dead; he killed a man, and now he is in prison. There is absolutely nothing more complicated about it. Meursault is Camus’s portrayal of an indifferent deity; he becomes “enlightened” in his outburst with the Patrician, and enunciates what he has always known; that nothing matters, and no-one cares or has any right to care. When he is taken away from the Patrician to his cell, he wakes up to police sirens and realizes that They were announcing a departure to a world towards which I would now be forever indifferent…
I laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world” (The Outsider, pg. 116 -117). Camus’s conclusion is that Meursault, the enlightened being of supreme indifference, is ultimately and unremarkably fated to receive the same death as everyone else. Voltaire and Camus both assert in their novels that humans spend too much time on senseless beliefs and little superstitions, which comfort and reassure them when the world becomes difficult to understand.
Truly, humans are being led by mass misconception; Voltaire mercilessly strikes his faithful, optimistic characters with misfortune and strife, which goes against the characters teachings and upbringings, making the harsh reality of the world particularly brutal. Voltaire does not even reward the wealthy and fortunate characters with happiness; the Count Pococurante, a wealthy Venetian, is bored with life and unfailingly critical; Brother Girofli?? e is a miserable monk who does not even find happiness after Candide’s generous monetary donation.
Voltaire is convinced that life is wrought with hurt and disappointment, and deserves no optimism or sacrifice, as the shortcomings of life vastly outweigh the benefits. There is, according to him, no point in praying to any sort of deity to end one’s own petty troubles, because any form of Higher Power is completely indifferent to the lives and wellbeing of individual people. Camus’s own view largely overlaps this, however, he is not particularly passionate in rejecting the theory of optimism, and does not share Voltaire’s idea that God is a detached and pitiless being.
Camus is an atheist, and rather than weeping for the evil of the world and satirising hope and belief, calmly denounces religion and the overwrought concept of human faith as a completely fabricated, useless value, and that humans waste far too much time trying to understand their own petty values and non-existent forces around them. Conclusively both writers are ardent in their allegation that, despite man’s own inflated sense of self-importance, no greater force has anything to do with us at all, and that we are, with the possibility of a great Creator included, profoundly and universally alone.