By Penny Theodorakopoulou,
“Mother died today. Or maybe it was yesterday, I don’t know”. That is how the book written by Albert Camus, a 20th-century French philosopher, begins. Its title — “The Stranger” in American English, or “The Outsider” in British English. Famous for his philosophy in regard to the philosophy of the Absurd, Camus wrote “The Stranger” in order to take on the realistic side of life; that everyone will eventually die, and there is nothing we can do to revert or change that fact.
The book is divided into two parts. In the first part —which is written in first-person narration, because it exposes the daily routine of the main character— is an almost diary day-to-day narration of some events in the life of the protagonist, Meursault, a Frenchman who lives in Algiers and an employee of an import-export company. The narration begins with Meursault being informed about his mother’s death. He attends his mother’s funeral but does not express any expected feeling of mourning. Instead, he is observing the gathered crowd, his surroundings, the road, the nature, whilst waiting for the funeral to be over, so he can finally sleep.
The next day, he bumps into Marie Cardona, a former co-worker, with whom he swims, goes to the cinema, and has an affair. After a few days, he helps his friend and neighbour, Raymond Sintès, who is widely rumored to be a pimp, to get revenge on Raymond’s girlfriend, who is under suspicion of cheating on him. In fact, he agrees on writing a break-up letter on behalf of his friend, because, as he claims, he finds no reason not to help him, since he will thank him. A few days have passed (eighteen, to be exact), Meursault, Marie and Raymond go to the beach where they come across Raymond’s ex-girlfriend’s brother and his Arab friend. They get into a fight and Raymond is stabbed. Later, Meursault takes Raymond’s weapon and goes back to the beach, where he sees the Arab friend of Marie’s brother, and kills him.
Moving to the second part of “The Stranger”, which covers a period of eleven months. In those eleven months’ worth of narration, Meursault is imprisoned and reviewing his arrest. We also get to read about the time he spent in prison, as well as his trial, all of which are being narrated by Camus using the narrative technique of retrospective narration.
During the trial, Meursault’s calmness and apathy are considered indicative of his absence of remorse and guilt for his act. The lawyer and the prosecutor focus more on the hero’s inability or unwillingness to cry at his mother’s funeral than on the murder. Meursault explains to us, the readers, that he simply was not able to feel remorse or personal feelings for any of the acts of his life in general.
The prosecutor accuses Meursault in a dramatic tone, saying that he is a lifeless monster, unable to feel remorse and that for his crime, he is worthy only of death. Although his lawyer is awaiting a light sentence, the judge finally announces that he should be beheaded in public.
In prison, Meursault, while awaiting the execution of his death sentence with a guillotine, meets with the prison’s priest but rejects his proposal to turn to God. He claims that God is a waste of time. The stubborn priest provokes the wrath of Meursault who attacks the priest, almost injuring him. Finally, among other things, he confesses to the priest that he has been an atheist his whole life and he will not turn to God, especially now that he sees the whole universe is indifferent to humanity. Meursault, purified by the evil of hope, as he says, remembers his mother and wishes for many spectators on the day of his execution to greet him with cries of hatred:
“I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.”
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, Camus is famous for his introduction to the philosophy of the Absurd. Absurdism is “a philosophy based on the belief that the universe is irrational and meaningless and that the search for order brings the individual into conflict with the universe”. Camus’s “The Stranger” strips away the hypocrisy of daily life. For Camus, humans desperately seek for their purpose in life or the meaning of life in an attempt to avoid the harsh reality: that all of us will eventually die, with no exceptions. Meursault is criticized as a lifeless and emotionless monster, because he did not cry at his mother’s funeral. In fact, he is often criticized for his nihilistic perspective of life. In other words, we could say that he is detached from life, hence his apathy for events happening in his life and around him. For our society, it seems more than normal to mourn our parents’ death; but for Meursault, that is not the case. He has accepted death, for it is the only natural thing that has happened, happens, and will happen to every single being — be it a mother, a dog, or ourselves. And because Meursault does not express any feelings of remorse or mourning, he is considered as an outsider by society — an outsider among “normal” people.
Camus’s anti-hero, Meursault, refuses the conventionality of every-day life and is apathetic towards the emotional and ethical values of the society he lives in. In addition to that, we notice that Meursault is feckless and passive, he does not get happy or sad. We could also claim that he is emotionless. However, he has accepted that life has its ups and downs, whether it is his mother’s death or his engagement to his friend’s ex-girlfriend.
Conclusion – Personal viewpoint
Camus was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century and, clearly, his literature is proof of this. Camus wants us to accept that the universe we live in does not run on rationality and hence, trying to justify every part of its actions will just lead to wasting what is left of your time on this earth. He does not want us to be sad and depressed because of this thing. Camus wrote “The Stranger” so the readers could ponder their mortality and the real meaning of their lives. As far as I am concerned, the moral of the story Camus wishes to share is to embrace the Absurd; embrace and accept the fact that nothing matters and that we are all destined to one common destiny: death. However, that does not mean we should just wait for our death; instead, he asks us to come in terms with our mortality and try to make the most of our time here.
Kate Lohnes, The Stranger. Available here.
Harsh Kichambare, The Stranger by Albert Camus – A Comprehensive Book Review. Available here.
Thomas A. Dorfer, The Stranger – Albert Camus. Available here.