Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Stranger by Albert Camus

A man is indifferent to society’s rules, even those rules concerning murder

In the French colonial city of Algiers, a young man’s mother dies, inconveniencing him as he must leave town to sit vigil and attend the funeral. When he returns, he meets a woman at the beach and begins an affair. A rough man in his apartment building has girlfriend troubles and Meursault is asked to help. When he and the man go to the beach, they get involved in a brawl with some Arabs. Afterwards, in the hot sun, Meursault walks up the beach to find one of the Arabs. The man draws his knife, Meursault kills him. Somewhat to his surprise, Meaursault is imprisoned. Also to his surprise, at the trial Meursault is found guilty and sentenced to death. When a priest tries to comfort him, Meursault lets him know he doesn’t care about any of the priest’s (or society’s) values.

This is a comedy, right? It definitely starts off that way: “Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday…” I’m not completely sure what all the hoopla is about - a callow youth kills an Arab for no reason, gets locked up, and is perturbed when the prosecutor paints him out to be a murderer. Meursault has no opinion on anything. On the other hand, the colonists are so certain and self satisfied about their own little society, all their strictures and judicial institutions that are basically meaningless because Meursault doesn’t buy into them. But how would life be in a Meursault run world? There would be no strictures or institutions. We would all be sitting around waiting for the strong man to tell us what to do.

The prose and metaphors were beautiful and flowed like water. The novel was short but I was sucked in and deeply interested in the mundane things that made up this young man’s life. He has no strong feelings or attachments to things. Nonetheless, he cold-bloodedly kills the guy on the beach, supposedly because it’s really hot out. Perhaps the very aimlessness of his life made him do something drastic.

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