The novel begins with Meursault being notified by telegram that his mother has died. He takes a bus to the funeral, shares coffee and cigarettes with the doorman of the rest home his mother was living in, and decides against having his mother's coffin opened:
While he was going up to the coffin I told him not to trouble.
"Eh? What's that?" he exclaimed. "You don't want me to? . . . "
He put the screwdriver back in his pocket and stared at me. I realized then that I shouldn't have said "No," and it made me feel rather embarrassed (Camus 6).
Camus is foreshadowing Meursault's eventual downfall. The character cannot feign emotions that he does not have, and, though his responses are authentic, they are frequently contrary to societal convention. He is, above all other characters in the book, fearlessly, brutally honest with himself. At the risk of offending people and, eventually, at the risk of his life, he is unwilling to bend to others' expectations of him.
What others in the novel expect from him is an assent to the established social order. The world is a place in which mothers are mourned with copious and highly public tears, where romantic love is an absolute prerequisite to a happy marriage, where one's friends are of the highest class, and where remorse for ignoring these assumptions is mandatory. Meursault, through his disinterest in such expectations, has made himself a perfect scapegoat. His response to the world, while eminently reasonable, is perpetually alarming and unpredictable. His behavior, understandable to the reader who has the benefit of seeing the narrative from the protagonist's view, is a rebuke to those who uphold society's standards. He has ripped the veil away from what he perceives to be artificial relationships, and those who profit from those relationships cannot endure his disinterested scrutiny: "What is truly natural and thus inherently untheatrical in human nature is paradoxically perc...