Albert Camus’ The Stranger took the world by surprise because of its subtlety in its absurdity. It was first published in 1942 in French, and in English, in 1946. Many claimed it as an existentialist novel, but Camus disregarded such claim, so it rather fits the category of a philosophical novel with black humour lingering within its plot. The novel is set in Algeria and it is narrated in first person, that is, everything that is happening is narrated from the point of view of the protagonist, Meursault, who is the stranger that the author is referring to in the story. It is a ‘mediocre’ novel in its attempt of being profound, quintessential in its style of being a quick and a simple read.
The novel opens with Monsieur Meursault receiving a telegram telling that his mother has died, the opening lines being, “Mother died today, or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure”. Meursault never preferred to live with his mother because he never had anything to say to her; on the day of her funeral, he smokes and drinks coffee in front of her coffin and comments on the attendees. The very next day, he makes out with Marie, his office colleague, goes out to watch a comedy movie with her, engaging in sex at the end of the day. He soon becomes acquainted with his neighbour Raymond, whom he helps in writing a letter to his girlfriend inviting her over whom Raymond suspects of infidelity, with the sole purpose being so that Raymond can emotionally avenge himself by having sex with her and spit on her face after it’s done. The trick works, but the situation intensifies when Raymond assaults her and he is let off with a warning in the court. Soon, Meursault, Marie and Raymond go on a vacation to a beach where Raymond’s girlfriend’s brother and his Arab friend stalk them. When the Arab brother tries to attack Meursault with a knife, he shoots him, the one shot being fatal enough. But, he doesn’t stop there, he goes on to pump four more bullets into his body.
The reader, most of times, is not given any indication which would point out Meursault’s feelings when he is encountering a situation; the plot is dry, making it elusive for the reader to decipher its underlying meaning. In the end, Meursault is tried, and he is to be publicly guillotined, the time when he realises the absurdity of human condition, and the meaningless concepts of freedom, responsibility and existence. He awaits his execution, ecstatically, for the congregation that will assemble on that day, where he will find ultimate joy when he relinquishes his despair.
Meursault does not feel in the ‘feel’, he is an acute stranger which defines the connotation Camus gives to this novel, “The nakedness of the man faced with the absurd”. It raises the question of whether much of our emotion is created by ourselves or is it the society expecting us to do and act in a certain manner at all times. Is it all defined and setup? And what happens when someone disregards these set of rules? The book is an indictment on people’s efforts to dictate others’ lives, how we are continually influenced, whereas, in this case, Meursault being completely detached. He does not conform to what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, which leads him to be marginalised as ‘inhuman’. He calls out that no one reserves the right to judge him on his actions or anyone else.
The book dwells on the aspect of what is the meaning of life, if there is one, how is it meaningful? Albert Camus famously said, “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life”. Meursault survives without attachment to the pre-existing norms and falls graciously as he welcomes the ‘benign indifference of the world’. But, he leaves us astounded, in the end, with a piercing truth that raises questions to which there are no answers.