A Review of The Stranger, by Albert Camus
The Stranger, written by Frenchman Albert Camus, is required reading for most high school students throughout the US. It is commonly used as an example of the existentialist mindset.
Essentially this mindset says that there is no Universal Truth, there is no guiding light by which to compare or define one and one’s actions as right, wrong, good, or bad. It states that the universe is basically uncaring and mankind lives unnoticed by any supreme being, should one such being truly exist.
As a result of this belief, nothing proven by science or rational thought can be believed as it is inherently colored by our unguided and flawed perception.
The book follows the experiences of a young man referred to simply as Meursault who subconsciously lives by these principles. Rather than accepting a universal truth he patronizes personal truths. He does what seems like a good idea at the time without regard for social mores, morals, or taboos. He is perfectly honest to a degree which makes him see naïve. In actual fact he sees no point in hiding what he thinks, says, or does because he doesn’t think them wrong nor care if anyone else thinks them wrong.
The book starts out with Meursault going to the all-night vigil which is traditionally held prior to his mother’s funeral. He is alone at the funeral save for the funeral director. The funeral director is very disturbed at the fact that Meursault displays neither remorse nor grief at the fact that his mother has died. Meursault even went so far as to decline from viewing the body one last time before the coffin was permanently sealed, preferring instead to drink coffee and smoke his cigarettes all night.
In reality Meursault had not visited his mother for over five years, putting her in an elderly home because she could no longer care for herself and he did not wish to take up that responsibility.
The story continues onward, eventually resulting in Meursault shooting a man to death who had attacked and stabbed his best friend, Raymond. Again he did not kill the man out of revenge, but because it seemed like a good idea at the time.
His subsequent trial ends up having him sentenced to death by guillotine because of the testimony of the funeral director, who described Meursault as a cold, emotionless man. In the end he is executed not because he committed murder, but because he is dangerously “different” from the rest of society. In accordance with the tragic irony that Camus called ‘The Theory of the Absurd”, only once Meursault’s death is assured does he finally acknowledge the fact that he in indeed responsible for the outcome of his own life.
There are currently several translations of this work from the original French manuscript, each of which does an equally fine job in capturing the essence of what Camus is trying to convey to the reader. This book would be highly recommended toward those who enjoy anything of a surreal or philosophical nature.
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