The concept of Crime and Punishment in The Outsider
and A Doll’s House.
By: Emily Griffith
ACS Egham International School
Session: May 2012
Candidate Number: 001211-018
Word Count: 1,491
The concept of Crime and Punishment in The Outsider and A Doll’s House.
The concepts of crime and punishment are two dominant themes that run throughout both The Outsider, by Albert Camus, and A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen. Each author expresses these themes in contrasting ways, Camus dealing with it from a more judicial and physical approach, and Ibsen from a more social and psychological approach.
The nature and context of the crime committed in The Outsider are very different from those of A Doll’s House. Firstly, the stories are set in different time periods, both of which have different value systems and societal norms. In The Outsider, set in the mid 20th century, the murder committed by Meursault is a shock to society because of Meursault’s nature, not because of the crime itself, which is a reflection of the classism and racism present during that time. The crime may have been less shocking because of Meursault’s working class status. However, Meursault’s reaction to the crime and the way he associated with people shocked society and appeared to be the real ‘crime’ for which he was condemned. There is a clear racial prejudice presented between Meursault and his victim, who is only referred to as ‘the Arab’. Meursault committed murder as an act of random aggression, and although he was convicted for the murder, it appears his sentence is influenced as much by his abnormal behavior as it was by the actual crime. Meursault states, “…during the prosecutor’s and my lawyer’s speeches, a great deal was said about me, possibly even more than about my crime.” (Camus, page 95). It appears that the murder was overshadowed partly due to the fact that Arabs were held in lower esteem than people of Meursault’s class, contributing to why society is relatively less shocked by the crime he committed.
In contrast, the crime committed in A Doll’s House was less acceptable to society due to classism and the sexist values of that period. In the time and place of A Doll’s House women were considered socially inferior to men. The forgery that Nora committed, if discovered, would have been shocking to society because she is a housewife who should not have control over family money. It is not only the actual crime that shocked society, but also the familial crime that Nora commits by borrowing money. At the time, it would have been unacceptable for Nora, a woman, to borrow money without her husband’s permission, as illustrated by Mrs. Linde’s statement in Act 1: “No, a wife cannot borrow without her husband’s consent.” (Act One, page 11). The nature of the crimes in A Doll’s House and The Outsider are similar in that they are assessed by society in the context of social norms, values, classism, and racism or sexism. However the crimes also differ from each other within these concepts because they either become more acceptable to society due to personal abnormalities, as in The Outsider, or less acceptable due to social hierarchy, as in A Doll’s House, showing the contrasting uses of crime by Camus and Ibsen.
The influence of family on the motives for the crimes in A Doll’s House and The Outsider are opposite. In A Doll’s House, Nora commits a forgery and borrows money in an attempt to save her husband’s life. Family, and love for her husband were the motives that influenced her decision to commit the forgery. When Nora’s husband, Torvald, discovers what she has done in Act 3, she states: “It is true. I have loved you above everything else in the world.” (Act 3, page 62). This motive of familial love conflicts with Meursault’s motive in The Outsider. Meursault has no family or love motive when killing the Arab; rather his action was driven by intense physical pressure and psychological confusion....