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.
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.
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
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.
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.
He accepts the idea of punishment as a consequence
of his actions as part of the status quo.
The absurd overrides responsibility, despite his
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.
Two themes are explored, that of ‘free will’ and
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.