The Outsider is written by Albert Camus. Originally named Le E’tranger in French, it is titled as The Outsider in Europe and The Stranger in North America.
Meursault will not pretend. After the death of his mother, everyone is shocked when he shows no sadness. And when he commits a random act of violence in Algiers, society is baffled. Why would this seemingly law-abiding bachelor do such a thing? and why does he show no remorse, even when it could save his life?
His refusal to satisfy the feelings of others only increases his guilt in the eyes of the law. Soon Meursault discovers that he is being tried not simply for his crime, but for his lack for emotion – a reaction that condemns him for being an outsider.
The novel is essentially Camus’ treatise on Absurdism and dualisms, showing the beautiful harmony that the universe maintains through the inevitability of the balancing of extremes. He is fundamentally flawed in the eyes of society by his extreme indifference; and that even in the face of events like love and marriage to Marie or condemning a woman to Raymond’s abuse, all he can say is “I didn’t mind” or “that’s fine by me”….. He does not cry at his mother’s funeral, in fact….. life goes on for Meursault. Because of his indifference, and easy-going personality, ironically neighbours and friends around him like him a lot.
In court Meursault is condemned for these actions and for appearing to disregard his mother’s life. This is another way in which Meursault is different from society; rather than stand on ceremony and ruminate fruitlessly on the meaning of a life that has passed, he chooses to give meaning to his own. In this way Camus uses Meursault as an active existentialist who is trying to find meaning in the universe through the only means he knows. Indifference became a sin. The truth became intolerable. Meursault’s fate is met with tragic end.
Meursault, the main character, isn’t someone that you warm up to. I felt frustrated to the fact that, faced with the major events that requires decision for his life, all he can say is “I don’t mind” and that he didn’t love his girlfriend but wouldn’t mind get married and he display a lack of emotion when his boss assigned him to Paris for work. He explained that his “physical needs always distorted his feelings”. At some point I often wonder if Camus was trying to paint a man with autism condition. Meursault sounds like he got a medical condition.
Instead Camus meant this simple story to be a political parable. In the afterword, he said,
‘In our society any man who doesn’t cry at his mother’s funeral is liable to condemned to death.’ Meursault doesn’t play the game. The answer is simple: he refuses to lie. Lying is not only saying what isn’t true. It is also, in fact especially, saying more than is true and, in the case of the human heart, saying more than one feels. We all do it, every day, to make life simpler. But, contrary to appearances, Meursault doesn’t want to make life simpler. He says what he is, he refuses to hide his feelings and society immediately feels threatened.
What moves me was the moment when Meursault was trying to intervene for his own case during the court trial, he was asked to shut up by his lawyer. Meursault feels “In a way, they seemed to be conducting the case independently of me. Things were happening without me even intervening. My fate was being decided without anyone asking my opinion.”
That was the point, when I feel for Meursault and the irony and frustration of not having control of your own fate.
If you decide to give Camus a try, try this one. At 119 pages, it’s quick and easy, much easier than trying to plough through his other more intellectual and academic work.
I am reading this for A to Z and the Classics Challenges.
Paperback. Publisher: Penguin Books 2000 (originally published 1942); Length: 119 pages; Setting: 1940’s Algeria. Source: Library Loot. Finished reading at: 8 May 2010. Translated by Joseph Laredo.
About the writer:
Albert Camus ; 7 November 1913–4 January 1960) was a French Algerian author, philosopher, and journalist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. He was a key philosopher of the 20th-century and his most famous work is the novel L’Étranger (The Stranger, in the context of my post, The Outsider).
In 1949, Camus founded the Group for International Liaisons within the Revolutionary Union Movement, which was a group opposed to some tendencies of the surrealistic movement of André Breton. Camus was the second-youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature – after Rudyard Kipling – when he became the first African-born writer to receive the award. He is the shortest-lived of any literature laureate to date, having died in an automobile accident just over two years after receiving the award.
He is often cited as a proponent of existentialism, the philosophy that he was associated with during his own lifetime, but Camus himself rejected this particular label. In an interview in 1945, Camus rejected any ideological associations: “No, I am not an existentialist. Sartre and I are always surprised to see our names linked…” Specifically, his views contributed to the rise of the more current philosophy known as absurdism. He wrote in his essay The Rebel that his whole life was devoted to opposing the philosophy of nihilism while still delving deeply into individual freedom.
For more of Albert Camus see Albert Camus.