When a young Algerian named Meursault kills a man, his subsequent imprisonment and trial are puzzling and absurd. The apparently amoral Meursault--who puts little stock in ideas like love and God--seems to be on trial less for his murderous actions, and more for what the authorities believe is his deficient character.
Camus takes us into the mind of Meursault relating his story in the first person, right from the arresting first couple of lines: “Mother died today, Or maybe , yesterday; I can’t be sure”, until the final paragraph of the novel where he says “No one, no one in the world had any right to weep for her” In between Meursault is launched on a bildungsroman that is so beautifully crafted in just over 100 pages that the reader can look back with ease to the relevant issues in an extraordinary life.
Meursault is a man who does not understand how to fit into the society in which he lives. From the opening scene of his travel and attendance at his mother’s funeral, his missteps are many and his embarrassment leads him to shut himself off from other people. He remains true to his feelings but his inability to adapt to the conventions of daily life forces him to lie to himself and to others. It is Camus skill which enables us to almost see the workings of a mind in turmoil and yet be sympathetic to his struggles. It is Meursalt’s behaviour at his mother’s funeral that will come to haunt him when he is on trial for murder.
The singular event that leads to Meursault’s epiphany is the killing of an Arab on the beach. This is the start of his awareness of who he is and Camus ends part one of the book with some marvellous prose:
“And so with that crisp whip-crack sound, it all began. I shook off my sweat and the clinging veil of light. I knew I’d shattered the balance of the day, the spacious calm of the beach on which I had been happy. But I fired four shots more into the inert body, on which they left no visible trace. And each successive shot was another loud fateful rap on the door of my undoing.”.
Part 2 of the novel describes Meursault’s imprisonment and trial for murder, where his past is examined to ascertain/prove that he is an outsider and as such a monster: a danger to the society in which he lives. Our sympathies are all with Meursault as he stumbles towards an understanding of his situation, that he can do so, is the triumph of this novel. His approaching death forces him to reflect on his life and he realises that he is living in an absurd world. His actions have been that of an absurd man and it is now when he can recognise this fact that he can be free. He says when under immense pressure from a priest to finally believe in God:
“I’d been right, I was still right, I was always right. I’d passed my life in a certain way, and I might have passed it in a different way, if I’d have felt like it……….. From the dark horizons of my future a sort of slow persistent breeze had been blowing towards me, all my life long from the years that were to come”
Camus has taken the reader into the absurd world: A world where life has no meaning and we are all at the mercy of an irrational unfeeling universe. It is only when we can finally accept this and our imminent death that we can truly be free. Free that is to live to the utmost in the years up to our death, because our reason tells us there is nothing else.
Meursault becomes an absurd hero, because he no longer fears death and can get on with the rest of his life, however long or short that might be. An understanding of Camus thoughts on an absurd sensitivity adds much to an understanding of L’etranger.
Albert Camus has written a beautiful thought provoking book which has layers of meaning, but on whatever level you come to it I don’t think you can fail to be moved by the fate of Meursault. I was when I first read it and again for different reason on my recent re-read. I say beautiful because of the powerful descriptive writing that makes us see the town in Algeria where this takes place. We feel the malevolent and benevolent power of the sun; another key theme in the novel as it seems to cajole and then goad Meursault into action and non action. The opening chapter describing his mother’s funeral is a masterful piece of writing. At the end of the novel Meursault has come along way from the man who near the start of the novel confessed that he “didn’t like Sundays”
I read the penguin modern classics edition, which has a translation by Stuart Gilbert dating from 1961. I cannot recommend this as I feel that Gilbert takes too many liberties with the text, for example his translation of the title of the book is The Outsider rather than The Stranger. I read it alongside the original French text and thought that Camus’s words speak for themselves and so a more modern translation like that of Mathew Ward may be better.
A 20th century classic and a must read 5 stars.
The way he interprets the world is in stark contrast to those who are judging him. I know this book is one of the pillars of existentialism, and Meursault's personality is quintessential existential, but on some level he read as disabled to me. I kept seeing an alien mind being judged by those who were not his peers. It of course raises the question of justice for those who aren't neurotypically normal. Of course, it also brings up wonderful issues of the way we interpret and experience our world, especially if the personal end is near.
I enjoyed this book immensely and hope to go back to it because I'm sure it will reveal more of itself to me in the future.
The short story describes a number of strange events in the otherwise boring life of the main character who we only know as Meursault. It becomes rapidly clear that this personage has a rather peculiar view on life. It's not that he's manic depressive. He can't even be labeled depressed at all, but somehow this man goes through life empty with his only interest the sensory stimuli provided by the beach, the sea and his mistress. Then again he is not a pure hedonist. It is these odd internal conflicts which I believe makes readers quite uncomfortable reading the story. Of course all of this is to prove a point.
At first I believed that the pivotal point in the book revolved around Meursault apparently killing a man without any reason at all other than that the sun was in his eyes. For a while this event appears to represent the theme of absurdity which Camus tried to instill in the novel. Only after reading the later parts a few times did I realize that the responses to the crime of those around Meursault were what constituted the real absurdity. Meursault is questioned about his motives by the representatives of the law but they are more concerned with the fact he did not show the expected emotions at his mother's funeral as they seem to be with the odd murder. All the secondary characters are trying to make sense of the world while the protagonist takes life an sich.
As a reader you feel yourself stepping away from all those characters around the protagonist who are trying to either tell him how he should feel or who are trying to obtain some form of confession or meaning. It is the view of the main character of the events in the later part of the book that makes this such a fantastic story. It is as if you're in a slight psychological earthquake in which you find yourself re-orienting after the tremors stop. In that sense the absurdity of life that Camus first and foremost tried to convey is very well presented and represented. So much so that at some point the irrationality of the crime Meursault commits fades into the background.
This novel gripped me in a couple different ways:
1. The apathy and lack of engagement in life on the part of the protagonist echoes the way we live life on the surface today. Camus nailed that attitude over 60 years ago.
2. The protagonist's atheism, especially as it clashed with the prison chaplain's worldview, forces the reader to contemplate death and the afterlife. I found it profound that a clash with religion (even to reject it) was the major cathartic moment in the killer's life.
This novel deserves its fame. If you want to reflect on life as you live it, The Stranger will get the gears spinning.
I'm a firm believer that where non-fiction teaches us facts, fiction teaches us about emotions. What to do then, with a novel's protagonist who is so dispassionate? The absence of a thing can teach us the value of its presence. Meursault has dismissed everything that makes life worth living as being irrelevant to what life is, but then, of what stuff is life? He doesn't say - or rather, he denies it has any substance. There are times we find ourselves not feeling what we think we ought to, feeling unaffected, feeling like the stranger in the room. It's another thing entirely to justify remaining stuck there and refusing to budge, embracing permanent hopelessness and adopting it as one's philosophy. Filed among "books to ban from the house when depressed."
I loved The Stranger, but I shouldn’t have loved the stranger. As a Christian, I should have been appalled at Camus’s insistence, through the story of the condemned criminal Meursault, that life is meaningless and the world is absurd. Yet, I did love it. Regardless of religious beliefs, it is impossible to escape and fail to appreciate the rationality of Camus’s point. Regardless of when we die, we are all going to die eventually, and the world will go on without us. Our existence has no great purpose, and there is nothing to fear in death. Freedom comes from accepting these premises. While I may not agree with the underlying warrants in this viewpoint, it is difficult to disagree with these conclusions if you accept these warrants. For this reason, I loved the novel. Camus’s entire philosophy of the absurd was portrayed beautifully in an engaging story that was difficult to refute if one first accepts Camus’s underlying beliefs.
A real page turner and very thought provoking.
I’ve heard it said that ‘Life is a beach’. So consider this: No one should walk into the ocean and allow the waves to toss them about helplessly without putting up a struggle; or they shouldn’t be surprised to find themselves battered and drowning before very long - even on a seemingly calm sunny day.
That's what I got out of the book - anyway. But I am sure everybody has there own take on it.
The Stranger is translated from Camus’ original French and holds an important place in the philosophical realm of existentialism. It is arranged in two parts – before and after a major turning point for the main character, Meursault – that have two distinct writing styles. The first has short and concise sentences, which, although making it easier to read, often left me feeling distanced from the main character (perhaps this was Camus’ objective?). It is in the second section where Camus becomes more lyrical with his sentences, allowing Meursault to express his thoughts and feelings about this turning point.
While I did find some of Meursault’s existential ponderings interesting and valuable, I think I was too rushed to finish the book to see what happens to his character instead of taking time to examine his ponderings more slowly. I plan to read it again, though, which is why I give it three stars.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Albert Camus' novel. I found the philosophical nature of the novel absorbing. The indifference of the protagonist was shocking yet struck a chord with me. I intend to read more of the works comprising this genre.
In the context of the book the trial is supposed to represent our attempt to make a rational explanation about a seemingly irrational act, the killing of the man with no apparent motive. There are also other themes that run through the book such as the arbitrary nature of justice and the reverence for the physical world.
Overall this short book has multiple layers of meaning and is well worth the read but be warned if you look at it only for the narrative of the story you might be disappointing.
The novel reminded me a lot of Richard Wright's "Native Son" (1940), unsurprisingly both Wright and Camus were minority authors -- replace the story of Bigger and racism, with Meursalt and Absurdism. Both are young men who operate outside the normal social conventions (or so it appears), both run into trouble with the law, both are put on trial and condemned to die for murder, both have a cell-room confrontation with a priest, both a final epitaph. The 1940's were an "absurdest" time in the world. "Strangely", George W. Bush, the U.S. President known for his anti-intellectualism, was seen reading this book in 2006.
The apathy towards everything, including a murder, may be an extreme of the particular personality type.