Character Analysis of Therese and Meursault from Zola's Therese Raquin and Camus' The Outsider

Pages: 7 (2545 words) Published: January 17, 2013
How do the characters of Therese, Laurent and Meursault change after they have committed their respective murders? The protagonists in both the novels “Therese Raquin” by Emile Zola, and “The Outsider” by Albert Camus, ultimately commit murder. This is the turning point in both cases, and the way in which their various characters change because of this will be analysed and compared. In Therese Raquin, after the murder of Camille, both Therese and Laurent react at first with shock, Therese flying into fits of hysterics and Laurent with a rationality that seems to be his coping mechanism at first. However, as time passes, it seems as though the characters begin to relax again, although Zola foreshadows upheaval to come: “it was changing them, for a hidden process had taken place within them”. The first indication of this is their loss of passion; “love had lost its appeal, their appetite had disappeared... the touching of their skin made them feel slightly queasy”. Their decision to get married brings up tortuous nightmares in L, as he imagines the corpse of Camille in the place of Therese’s body. This is the very beginning of the agonising torment that the two characters suffer as a result of the memory, perhaps even the guilt, of their crime. “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 man’s 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 Therese’s 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...
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