The Stranger highlights Camus’ philosophy of absurdism. Although there is no strong story line and writing style is simple, however, I did a couple of pauses here and there to reflect on certain questions about life in general.
With this book, maybe Camus is trying to surface vacuousness of society at large, where the meaning of life is embedded in the fabric of social milieu. And if an individual does not follow the societal norms, then the person is tagged as lunatic or a threat.
Camus asserts the idea that human existence in general have no rational meaning or order. But by innate nature, they tend to get attached to things, their ideas, their happiness and likewise respond to sadness with depression. Reality, however, is different. Humans constantly attempt to identify and create rational structure & meaning in their lives maybe because this gives them a sense of security.
Right at the beginning of the novel we witness, Meursault’s, the protagonist, indifferent behaviour and his detached persona. His response to his mother’s funeral was quite antithetical to the conventional behaviour.
His indifference is highlighted by his decision of not looking at the face of his dead mother for the last time. And his casual behaviour by drinking coffee and puffing cigarette during the vigil. He also longs to return home, only to sleep. Same night he moves back to Algiers and enjoys swimming the subsequent day.
There he happens to meet Marie, his co-worker, with whom he goes to watch a comedy at a theatre. And eventually spends the night together. Marie asks him to get married to which Meursault replies that he has no reason to not to and so they become engaged.
Next, he encounters his neighbour who beats his dog. One day Raymond Sintès, the same neighbour, come to him crying that his dog has run away and that he misses him.
Raymond’s grief over his dog seems to juxtapose with Meursault indifference on his mother’s death.
Later, Raymond fights with his mistress and manhandles her. Police then appears on the scene and summoned him to the police station. On his request, Meursault testifies in favour of him. And so, Raymond is let off with a warning.
On the next Sunday, Raymond invites Meursault and Marie to a friend’s beach cabin. There they happen to confront Raymond’s spurned girlfriend along with her brother and his Arab friend. The brother wounds Raymond with a knife and runs away. Meursault and Marie took the wounded Raymond in cabin. Later, Meursault again walks back along the beach alone, but this time with a revolver.
He then encounters and eventually, kills the brother of Raymond’s girlfriend. Although one can say that the same atmosphere – of sun glaring at his forehead – made him remember the uncomfortable atmosphere of the burial of his mother. And the shining of the knife’s blade to his forehead made him disoriented enough to pull the trigger. An involuntary and absurd act.
Meursault, eventually, is arrested and thrown into jail. From this moment, his character, life, attitude, behaviour, everything including his lack of remorse over his crime is judged by the society and by the readers as well.
In prison he is tormented by the ideas of freedom of walking in park, freedom while swimming, puffing cigarettes and women. In some time, he, however, starts sharing his mother’s attitude, that is, “after a while you get used to anything”.
Unwritten laws of society
Courtroom represents society, they tag him as a threat. They believe that his emotionless attitude can swallow up society. Furthermore, his defiance in believing God earns him the title of “Monsieur Antichrist”.
His sincerity by always living in the present moment and his desire of not speaking unnecessary but to the point makes the people in the courtroom uncomfortable and therefore thinks he is mad. When asked why he killed the Arab, he replied, because of the sun. This made people laugh. Ultimately, he is found guilty and is sentenced to death by guillotine.
While waiting for his execution, he struggles to come to terms with his situation. Somehow, he finds it difficult to accept the eventuality of his fate.
Later, he is visited by Chaplain who tries to dissuade him from walking on the path of atheism and turn towards God. Instead, Meursault declares that he doesn’t believe in the existence of God, which renders the life meaningless and that he has nothing to do with religion and the world.
Irrational existence of the universe
The hero is condemned because he does not play the game imposed by the society, one of which is grieving of course. Any person who does not follow the unwritten rules set by the society is doomed, per say.
He looks at the world around him with emotionless observations. For him, the physical facet of the world is more practical and understandable than emotional or social aspects. For instance, the glaring sun was causing him more pain than the thought of burying his mother. Later, the sun torments him at the beach and so he kills the unknown Arab.
The protagonist views the world as a baseless place. He observes life as meaningless therefore, he is against the idea of imposing rationality on an irrational universe.
Death is the only eventuality
He hardly enjoys anything in the “external” world except scent of flowers, freedom to walk alone on beach and swimming. His “internal” world lacks regular arrangement, he commits murder in a fit of irrationality.
Meursault’s predominant interest lies in the physical world. He has no emotional inclination towards any person or thing. The book begins with his unfazed attitude towards his mother’s death and ends with the same unperturbed notion of his own execution.
Camus puts forward the notion of Existentialism and meaninglessness of life. There is no purpose of life and everything converges to death. Meursault finds solace with the notion that ultimately, he will die, whether it’s by execution or natural death, it doesn’t make any difference, towards the eventuality.
Overall, The Stranger is intriguing and thought provoking. A good book for those who want to explore philosophy, existentialist and absurdist literature.