Death in Farewell to Arms and The Outsider
Hemingway once said that "all stories...end in death." Certainly, each living person's "story" ends that way. The interrelationship of a narrative to a life, of the "boundary situation" of an ending, is of vital importance to the existence of these two fictional narratives, A Farewell to Arms and The Outsider. Death plays an important, one might say necessary, part in both novels, too: Frederic Henry is, of course, in war and witness to death many times, wounded himself, and loses Catherine; Meursault's story begins with his mother's death, he later kills an Arab, and then is himself tried and sentenced to death. In fact, the defining death-confrontations (Frederic's loss of Catherine, Meursault's death sentence) transform the characters into narrators; that is to say, the stories are told because of the confrontations with death. We must recognize that the fictive characters are attempting to provide or create an order or meaning where it appears there is none. Or, there are pre-existing versions, meta-narratives, which prove inadequate or unsatisfying, and which must be replaced by the narrative each character produces. Meursault responds directly and violently to the priest who represents one such meta-narrative for Meursault's life. In the crescendo of the final scene of that novel when Meursault confronts the priest and finally re- leases the pent up anger and frustration repressed for so long, he does experience an epiphany:
As if this great outburst of anger had purged all of my ills, killed all my hopes, I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world. And finding it so much like myself, in fact so fraternal, I realized that I'd been happy, and that I was still hap- py. For the final consummation and for me to feel less lonely, my last wish was that there should be a crowd of spectators at my execution and that they should greet me with cries of hatred.6
Underneath the surface meaning of the ruling icons of his culture (law, religion, conventional morality) Meursault is finally able to experience a subjective and intense "meaning" in the form of a separate peace brought about by this surrender to the benign indifference of the world. The skepticism raised by the famous passage in Hemingway about the embarrassment felt by Frederic Henry when confronted with the emptiness of the conventional vocabulary is sharpened by Camus, writing after one more war, who condemns not only the inflated language of society, but also its institutions, with irrelevance at least and mendacity at worst. Frederic Henry finds "sacred, glorious, and sacrifice" to be embarrassing because they have no referents in the world as he is experiencing it, because these words are used in a corrupted fashion as a part of the military or political vocabulary of manipulation and control. Meursault finds the institutions...