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Albert Camus – The Stranger

 

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I have just ‘revisited’ an old friend, ‘The Stranger’

or ‘The Outsider‘ by Albert Camus.

Perhaps the most thought-provoking beginning

(of any novel) is when Meursault, at his mother’s funeral,

expresses none of the expected emotions of grief.

He smokes and drinks coffee in front of the coffin and

does not wish to see the body.

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Albert Camus, an author, journalist and philosopher was

born on 7th November 1913 (to 4th January 1960 in a car crash).

He was a Pied-Noir (black foot), a Frenchman born

in the Maghreb, the northernmost crescent of

Mediterranean Africa then the heart of France’s

African colonies. His mother was of Spanish descent

and half-deaf and his father was a poor agricultural

worker who died during World War 1.

The writings of Camus resulted in a rise of the philosophy

known as absurdism which emphasises that

happiness is fleeting and that the human

condition is one of mortality.

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What this embodies is that we value our lives and

existence so greatly but at the same time we

know we will eventually die and ultimately

our endeavours are meaningless.

 

Although this novel is widely classified as an existential

novel, Camus’s theory of absurdism is a more accurate

description.

In the first half of the story, Meursault exists only

via sensory experience (the funeral procession,

swimming in the sea, his interaction with his girlfriend)

and his actions are reactions to the ‘physical’ experience of life.

He kills an Arab man as a meaningless occurrence

in response to the sun’s physical effects on him.

Only when his own death is impending by formal execution,

is he able to acknowledge his mortality and take

responsibility for his own life.

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In the second half of the story the arbitrariness of

justice is examined.

Emotional honesty overrides self-preservation as

Meursault refuses to pretend to find religion (Christianity)

in an effort to save himself.

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He accepts the idea of punishment as a consequence

of his actions as part of the status quo.

The absurd overrides responsibility, despite his

physical terror.

It did not matter that he paused after the first fatal gun

wound and then shot four more times.

The humanity of the victim and the murdering of another

human being is inconsequential.

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Two themes are explored, that of ‘free will’ and

‘colonialism

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Meursault is aware that he has the freedom to do as

he pleases, he is considered an ‘outsider’ to society

because he doesn’t care what society thinks of him;

he does not feel a need to conform.

 

Colonialism could be evident in that social segregation

is suggested in Meursault’s indifference to it i.e.

Raymond’s mistress, the nurse and the murder

victim are all nameless in the novel, suggesting

their lack of importance.

Albert Camus presents a meaningless world where it is the

individual who gives meaning to the  circumstance.

The French translation of the title into English can mean

‘stranger’, ‘outsider’, ‘unknown’, ‘foreign’, ‘alien’, ‘unconnected’, ‘

irrelevant’ or ‘overseas‘.

Meursault’s downfall in the end is that he is ‘oblivious

to societal norms and expected emotional conventions.

The opening sentence: “Mother died today.”

draws you in as you embark on a deep, disturbing,

emotional rollercoaster which makes you ponder on

society at large and the meaning of life.

A short, compelling read of just over 110 pages.

 

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2 thoughts on “Albert Camus – The Stranger

  1. livvy1234 on said:

    Intrigued. Getting this book this weekend at the library. I also like the work of Kafka. Krishnamurti has offered me mental respite, as well as 12 years of zen. The human mind produces thoughts, just like the stomach produces gastric juices. The mind does not care what it thinks. It’s job is to think. It is our job to take care of our monkey mind. In doing so, we are doing our part to take care of the world.

    • Please let me know what you think. I loved it in a strange, provocative way, Camus is so brutally honest and expresses what we sometimes feel but are afraid to for fear of stepping out of ‘the box’.

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