The Stranger, by Albert Camus, is pre-existential novel centering around a man named Meursalt.
Meursalt, the main character, is described as being logical, placid, and emotionless. Camus is an Algerian writer born in 1913. His early life was spent in poverty and through his experiences he developed a personal philosophy of hopeless optimism which is similar to the concept of existentialism displayed in his writing. Camus suffered as a young adult losing his father in World War I and had to work his way through his university studies which ended prematurity because he became sick. I was through his experiences that he asserts that life is meaningless and absurd. A major theme in Camus’ The Stranger is importance of having and understanding emotions.
The setting of the novel is in Algeirs, Algeria, during the first part of the 20th century. This particular time in history is defined and often referred to as French colonialism. The majority of the characters are French. The Arabs in the novel are not referred to by name which is reflective of the French attitude toward Arabs in. The novel is written in first person narrator through the eyes of the main character, Meursault, from his jail cell.
He is waiting to executed. Much of the first chapters are flash back where Meursault recounts the events of his life and the actions which brought him to prison.As the novel begins Meursault is seen as an emotionless man. He has walked through life with little understanding of his emotions. However, once imprisoned he has time to think about his life and his lack of true feeling. He displays indifference many times throughout the novel. It is not until, his life might be taken that he finds emotion and truly understands them.
It is only after a rough confrontation with a priest that Meursault is able to break into his emotions and they come flowing out. Meursault experience in life and in death parallel the levels of existential though. Once he is able to make sense of his past, and understanding his emotions he is able to to meet his fate head on. There are really two Meursault in this story.
The first is the repressed individual who had gone through life indifferently, never taking the time to invest himself, emotionally or otherwise, in anything real or time worthy. Even after his mother dies, he is emotionless. His reaction to his mother’s death in the very first paragraph of the book is to say, “Today, Mother died.
Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know. I received a telegram.” He is unable to express grief as well as love.Marie, the girlfriend of the main character, knows that Meursault does not love her. She simply pretends because she is content with her position.
Lack of emotion also plagues her. A conversation between the two follows “a minute later she asked me if I loved her. I told her it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so. She looked sad. But as we were fixing lunch, and for no apparent reason, she laughed in such a way that I kissed her” (Part 1, Chapter 4, pg. 35).
She is in an indifferent relationship with a man that is unable to express love for her. It is only after Meursault is imprisoned that she seeks out a new relationship with a man that is able to love. She finally came to understand her emotions and her emotional needs.
In contrast to Meursault, who feels nothing, Raymond feels too much. He is an abusive man who beats his wife. He is unable to control emotions. He is so emotional he plots revenger against her to degrade her. “He [Raymond] asked if I thought she was cheating on him, and it seemed to me she was; if I thought she should be punished and what I would do in his place, and I said you can’t ever be sure, but I understood his wanting to punish her” (Part 1, Chapter 3, pg. 32 ).
Raymond is the polar opposite of Meursault who does not want to hurt anyone because he does not care and is not in touch with his true emotional self.The climax of the novel is intense and is essential to the transformation of Meursault. The climax occurs when Meursault kills the Arab. Camus writer (His) whole being tensed and (he) squeezed (his) hand around the revolver.
The trigger gave…” (59). This is the turning point in multiple ways.
It is the end of the flashback portion of the novel. It is also the beginning of Meursault journey into the level of existentialism. These stages leave to his emotional release and ultimately, Meursault understanding his emotions. Camus’ writer “as if that blind rage has washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, I that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.
Finding it so much life myself – so like a brother, really – 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” (Part 2, Chapter 5, pg. 122-3).The theme of emotion is supported by major literary elements within the text.
Imagery is extremely important in developing this theme. The images for the most part are in black and white represents Meursault emotional state. In particular this imagery shows his responses to the physical environment which parallels his emotional state.
The explanation given for shooting the Arab is “because of the sun”. The bright and glaring sun represents the rageful emotion being experience but repressed by Meursault. When the main character feels, but represses, his feeling of grief at the funeral. What he does feel is hot and tired. This symbolizes his true feelings which is unable to express, or understanding. In addition, Meursault speaks in concise none complex sentences.
This symbolizes Meursault lack of emotional depth.A major theme in Camus’ The Stranger is that of the importance of emotions and what happens when those emotions are not expressed. Through the duality of Meursault and his character development the reader is able to see his journey through indifference, accountability, and, ultimately, true understanding of his emotions. This theme is supported by the character of Raymond which is Meursault’s foil or exact opposite.
He represents what happens when an individual feels too much. In addition, the imagery in the text also revolves around hidden and repressed emotion. It is not just the understanding of emotions but confrontation of emotion that must occur for an individual to fully understand the absurdity of life.
There is no book that I know of that better captures modernity’s sense of spiritual dissolution than The Stranger. Meursault is quite weary, after so many centuries. He has had enough. This novel is well worth the time and a great read.Works CitedCamus, Albert. The Stranger. Trans.
Matthew Ward. New York: Vintage International, 1989.