The Stranger is a famous novel written by French philosopher Albert Camus. It tells the story of a young Algerian man, Meursault, whose perception of life, behavioral norms, values, and himself, differ drastically from those shared by common people. The name of the novel comes from the characteristics of Meursault as a person detached and extraneous from the social and cultural context in which he lives. Despite the fact that he is an immoral person and can be considered an antagonist not only to society, but also to himself, he can be compassionate. Meursault’s life story is tragic, but he does not realize it.
The novel begins as Meursault receives a telegram about the death of his mother. Three years ago, Meursault placed her into hospice care, and since that time, he showed no interest in her condition. At the funeral, he also does not seem to express any grief or other feelings. Instead, he comments on the terribly hot weather and the behavior of other attendees at the ceremony.
The next day, after returning from the funeral, Meursault meets his former colleague, Marie. They spend time together, make love at night and start a relationship. Despite the fact of his mother’s death, Meursault stays calm and does not seem to observe a period of mourning. He helps his acquaintance—a man who works in the stock market and is also known as a pimp—Raymond Sintes get revenge on his girlfriend, who cheated on him. They lure the girl on a date, where the pimp beats her. When the police interfere, Meursault agrees to testify in favor of Sintes.
The following Sunday, Meursault, Marie, and Sintes spend time on a seaside. Once there, they suddenly encounter a group of Arabs, one of whom is the brother of Raymond’s former girlfriend. They start fighting and Sintes gets wounded with a knife. Frightened, the Arabs run away. Meursault, during this scene, acts as an observer. Later, when he walks along the beach alone, he meets the two Arabs again. They start to threaten him with a knife, but he is now armed with a revolver he took from Raymond. Disoriented with the summer heat, he shoots and kills one of the Arabs, then after a brief pause, he fires four more bullets at the corpse. Camus does not give any descriptions of Meursault’s emotions at this moment, so it seems that Meursault is fully detached from himself and his doings.
At the court trial of his case, Meursault also stays passive and indifferent, as if he is viewing a theatrical play about himself. The prosecutor and a number of witnesses accuse him of cruelty, and in the absence of grief over his mother’s funeral, the fact that he started a love affair and made friends with a pimp on the next day after the funeral, does not go well in Meursault’s favor. His insensibility is perceived as a sign of someone who planned to murder. Due to this, he is found guilty and sentenced to death. It is difficult to understand whether his guilt lies in the emotional detachment or in committing the murder.
“I had no time to look, as the presiding judge had already started pronouncing a rigmarole to the effect that, in the name of the French people, I was to be decapitated in some public place,” says Meursault, showing little or even no feelings. “It seemed to me then that I could interpret the look on the faces of those present; it was one of almost respectful sympathy. The policemen, too, handled me gently. The lawyer placed his hand on my wrist. I had stopped thinking altogether. I heard the judge’s voice asking if I had anything more to say. After thinking for a moment, I answered, No. Then the policemen led me out.”
In prison, Meursault is visited by a chaplain, who tries to draw him from atheism to Christianity. Instead, Meursault claims believing in God is a waste of time and that the expectation of the afterlife is not worth a single hair of a woman. He does not see any difference in dying in 30 or in 50 years, and states that human existence, including his own, is meaningless and the world itself is chaotic and lawless. He awaits his death with the same indifference he used to live with; his only wish is that his execution should be seen by as many people as possible and by people who hated him.
Camus, Albert. The Stranger. Vintage International, 1989. Print.
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