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 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.
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.
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.
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.
A real page turner and very thought provoking.
The next day, he meets a beautiful girl named Marie, and immediately, a mutual attraction between them flares up. When Marie learns that Meursalt attended his mother's funeral just one day before they were having fun at the movies and in bed, she is slightly put off, but continues the relationship.
While on the beach one day in French Algeria, Meursalt, feeling mildly annoyed at present circumstances because the sun is in his eyes, takes out a gun and repeatedly shoots an Arab man who is laying on the sand.
He appears surprised that he is actually arrested and now finds himself being shuffled between police stations and lawyer's offices. He does not view his crime as serious, and seems to be puzzled as to why anyone else would.
He is tried for the crime, and given the death sentence.
This book was so interesting to read. Even though it is well known that Camus rejected the popular association he was given with existentialism, I can see how the label stuck to him. Up until the very end - literally the last few lines - of the book, Meursalt appears to be void of all emotions, simply existing rather than really living.
The book touches into other areas of philosophy as well, and I liked picking them out as I read.
Meursalt is a fascinating character study. There are a lot of small details in things he says, or thinks, that would probably be very easy to miss. He mentions things so passingly and quickly, never with emphasis or passion, that they appear automatically unimportant. I passed over many of them without thought, but stopped to wonder about them after finishing the book.
Whenever anyone asks or consoles him about his mother's death, Meursalt always feels that he must say "It wasn't my fault."
When he and Marie witness a crime in the streets, Marie urges him to call the police. He declines, because he "doesn't like police."
And what is his connection with sunlight about? It is mentioned a few times earlier in the book, but of course it stands out most memorably in the terrible murder scene, where his main motive actually does seem to be "the sun was in my eyes," as he later testifies in court.
Why would he be so baffled at being arrested for his crime? He seems to be aware that murder in general is morally wrong, but he never sees his own crime as being exactly the same type of thing.
Even though I knew it was coming, I was still shocked at the murder scene. Not because it was bloody and graphic (it wasn't), but because it was so utterly pointless.
No background story about the Arab man is given, and he had not been involved in the story or with any of the characters beforehand. We know nothing about him, but even so, I found myself wondering what his life was like, if he had a wife or children, and exactly how old he was. Meursalt himself wonders none of these things, acting as if shooting a breathing human being is as unremarkable as casually firing at a random target. His indifference and disregard for human life made me feel all the more sad over the man's death.
I was not expecting the murder scene to be so beautiful, either. For such terrible events, the language and writing Camus used to illustrate the scene was dark and lovely. It has a building rush of momentum and furious eloquence, which feels all the more dramatic compared to the bland preceding chapters.
I thought to myself that it was the first time Meursalt had actually seemed alive.
And indeed, this shock of vivacity is likened by the main character himself to a beginning, as a door. He says of the four shots he fires into the man: "It was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness." (page 59).
During his trial, attorneys pounce on the discovery of Meursalt's detachment from life and common, normal emotions. They paint him as a depraved, cold villain, which greatly sways the severity of his sentence.
Close to the end of the book, as he awaits his execution, a chaplain visits Meursalt's cell and speaks with him about God, urging him to repent and believe. Meursalt rejects in no uncertain terms, and reveals himself to be an atheist (if he must be labeled). Although I didn't find this shocking, readers in the 40's may have found it a bit more controversial. After the rejected chaplain leaves, Meursalt thinks about God and religions and beliefs and life. His pondering was, again, interesting to read.
All in all, this was a fascinating book about a seemingly emotionless man, a senseless murder on an Algerian beach, and about life itself.
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."
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’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.
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.
"Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: “Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.” That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday. (p.13)"
The Outsider is a simple story with the main protagonist, Meursault, narrating a short time in his life. Here we see him tell of his life, working, sitting by his window watching the world go by, the funeral of his mother, finding a girlfriend, making love and finally going through a personal tragedy which would have most people climbing the walls with fear. Meursault presents this with all the excitement and emotion of a rock. It’s all the same to him. He is matter of fact, descriptive and emotionless. He gives no reasons for his actions and offers no feelings or insight. That is left up to the reader to assume. Things are as they are. In ‘normal’ mainstream society, he could be described as detached, emotionless and apathetic. They’d probably call him a sociopath these days.
Early in the story, Meursault tells us about the time when his girlfriend broached the subject of marriage. He provides a typical response to her request, one of indifference, which runs throughout the book.
"Marie came that evening and asked me if I’d marry her. I said I didn’t mind; If she was keen on it, we’d get married. Then she asked me again if I loved her. I replied, much as before, that her question meant nothing or next to nothing – but I supposed I didn’t. “If that’s how you feel’ she said, “why marry me?” I explained that it had no importance really but, if it would give her pleasure, we could get married right away."(p.48)
Meursault’s indifferent acceptance to whatever comes his way is intentional. It is a wonderful portrayal of the ‘Absurdist’ philosophy which Camus eschewed and which is presented brilliantly with the character of Meursault.
Reading books by Camus is an adventure where one can’t help but look at what lies behind the story in order to give it greater meaning. Without going into a full discourse on philosophy and Absurdism (of which I am sure I would fail), this school of thought describes the conflict between our need to find rational meaning to life where it is impossible to do so. It is in effect ‘absurd’ to think we can possibly know the meaning of life in a universe where there are so many unknowns. As a consequence, the answer to the fundamental question we always seek ‘why are we here?’ is impossible to discover. The Absurdist school of thought would say that there are three ways in which we react to and cope with this conflict. We either comment suicide and thus evade it or we take on religion or spirituality and thus deny the conflict exists by assuming a higher purpose or, finally, we accept this conflict and continue to live life with this knowledge.
The world seems absurd because we are part of nature and yet able to take a step back from nature and rationalize our place in the world. We become aware of what we call the Absurd when we cannot reconcile the two experiences: what we instinctively feel to be true and what we rationally believe to be true. (Simon Lea,The Camus Society)
Meursault accepts everything which happens and comes his way. He attributes no meaning to his actions and offers no explanations. It’s an extreme example which creates this motive less, detached, emotionless character. He isn’t particularly realistic or likeable nor does he invite empathy from the reader. However, he does generate interest and intrigue and that, I believe, is one of the points being made. As humans we always want to find rationality and answers where there may be none. Where we don’t have the full information and facts we make judgements, stereotypes and ideologies to make sense of our world in order to ease the conflict the Absurd brings. With the creation of Meursault, Camus has provoked us to try to provide our own analysis to his actions and words with the very little information we have.
"If I try to seize this self of which I feel sure, if I try to define and to summarize it, it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers. I can sketch one by one all the aspects it is able to assume, all those likewise that have been attributed to it, this upbringing, this origin, this ardor or these silences, this nobility or this vileness. But aspects cannot be added up." (An Absurd Reasoning, Camus)
The Outsider is a quick read (at 120 pages) which nonetheless packs a punch. I find it encourages an interesting discourse and further reading. Yet again, I am astounded at how Camus is able to write about what could be complex theories in such an accessible and simple way. More Camus will be coming my way…..
The apathy towards everything, including a murder, may be an extreme of the particular personality type.
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.
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.
I thought his trial was less about whether he committed the crime or not, but rather on the character of Meursault's humanity. Meursault is the stranger referenced by the title, a man who is a stranger from his self and the rest of society.
I know that wasn't what Albert Camus intended. He never heard of the Autism spectrum. But, that is what Merusault reminded me off. The lack of emotional connection with people. The observing details of his surroundings. It was as he didn't understand the question when asked if he felt bad about his mother's death.