Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Stranger by Albert Camus (novel #155)

"I have never been able really to regret anything in all my life." ~ Meursault, The Stranger


I had no idea what to expect from The Stranger. I knew it was a thesis to some extent for Camus’ philosophy of absurdism, but that had very little meaning for me. Blissfully ignorant I began.

Blissful didn’t last long. It begins with the main character, Meursault, learning of his mother’s death and departing for her funeral. Set in Algeria, mid 1940s, it details a few days, and then a year or so in the life of French Algerian Meursault.

The reader begins to see Meursault is a man without great passion or emotion. He goes through some of the motions of mourning, but doesn’t really seem to mourn. It isn’t as though he had a bad relationship with his mother, he professes to have loved her and to have got along. He is just indifferent to her passing.

This blasé attitude is the mark of Meursault. The day after the funeral he begins, or perhaps renews, a relationship with a girl from work, goes to the beach, goes to a comic film, and shows no sign of mourning. When his girl, Marie, asks him to marry her, he flippantly agrees, but later when she asks if he loves her, he responds, "I suppose I don’t" – but he’s still willing to marry her. It doesn’t mean anything to him.

Meursault’s aloof attitude toward life culminates when he kills an Arab. The first fatal shot is probably self-defense, but after pausing…
…I fired four more shots 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.

Meursault is arrested and tried. The most damning evidence being his indifference to his mother’s death, and indifference to everything.

Meursault is Camus’ embodiment of absurdism – the futility of seeking meaning or value from life. As such, I thought Meursault and the novel do a fair job of portraying absurdism, but do nothing to convince me of its merits; in fact, quite the opposite.

I pondered the title, and I suppose Meursault is the stranger – a stranger from humanity. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I did find it interesting and well written. I’ll read more by Camus, but certainly with a predisposition next time.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



This novel satisfies square G5, Classic Science or Philosophy (Absurdism) in the 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge, and Classic in Translation (from French) for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020.

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12 comments:

  1. i read this about fifty years ago and as i recall it really didn't register much... like oatmeal without anything on it...

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    1. I'm certain it wouldn't have meant much to me either when I was very young. In fact, it still doesn't mean much, though I do at least think I see his "deeper meaning"

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  2. I feel like if you've read one or two absurdist books or plays, you've read them all.

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    1. I hadn't thought of that, but yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

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  3. I agree, the story was an experience, but not enlightening. If Camus' goal was to convince us that his philosophy is truth, he did a terrible job. It was rather insulting. I had it out with him in my review. LOL! Since I've become a Christian, I cannot be convinced otherwise about life and our purpose. It's so nice to not have to search anymore or make things up, which is what I think Camus did in his lost state. Sadly, he was/is not alone. An Anon commenter tried to convince me that I was wrong; but I wasn't having it. :D

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  4. I read this a few months ago, and I found the story deeply disturbing.

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  5. I recently read The Plague & have been thinking I’d like to try his other books, but now I’m not so sure!!
    Absurdism is not really a philosophy I buy into completely - chaos & lack of inherent meaning sure, but hope & loving relationships & personal purpose - yes, yes, yes!

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    1. I think a little Camus goes a long way, though I think I'll give him at least one more read, but not expecting anything much different.

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  6. I read The Plague by Camus last year year and found it meh. I also have a sort of superstition against Camus now since, several months after I read The Plague, a plague broke out... so it probably will be a while before I read him again.

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    1. Not my favorite either. Thanks for the feedback.

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