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Analysis of The Stranger by Albert Camus
Usually a journey warrants development of a character, making it an essential part of a literary work. But in the case of Albert Camus’ existentialist novel The Stranger, Camus’ main character Mersault under goes a journey that does not lead to self-realization. Mersault’s journey is figurative because it has neither goals he has set from beginning nor goals he would like to end up fulfilling. He makes a journey with out a map because he has no intentions of arriving anywhere and knowing where he, who is he and what is is he. The nature of this journey affects characterization and theme: by revealing the actions, speech and thoughts of the main character and the reactions of society through the daily walk of life.
Characterization is affected by the nature of a journey because the main character’s thoughts, speech and actions are revealed on the figurative journey. Since the journey Mersault made ended up right where he started, he is portrayed as egocentric and selfish where he does not care even for his own mother. He sets afoot on this journey not to make the reader feel better, but just for his own pleasures. He thinks only what he likes, speaks what he deems necessary and does what gives him pleasure to his physical body. Mersault thinks of Marie, speaks to her and kisses her only for the absolute intentions of having pleasure; because if it were not so, he would have replied he loved her thereby making a journey of love, but he did not do that. Since there are no goals present for the main character to achieve, the journey he makes is useless, hopeless, senseless and faithless. As a result nothing has changed; the character is not developed by journey he makes because all the above-mentioned qualities can be seen in him from the beginning to the end.
Only one word can describe Mersault: unconventional. Mersault does not weep when his mother dies, does not love a beautiful woman who loves him, helps a man known to abuse women…Now since the journey he makes is pointless because he is the same in the beginning till the end, he has no defense to prove his unconventionality to society, so society eliminates him. But an example is Voltaire, who said there was no God in a church controlled strata and tried to defend his unconventionality by blaming the Church for its corrupt actions. Voltaire said there was no God because even the Church that served him was corrupt, thereby nullifying his existence. The central theme of the novel is society gets rid of what it does not know unless the unconventional point of view is substantiated with some practical evidence, namely a life-changing journey. The theme, society destroys what it does not know is affected by Mersault’s figurative journey because it could not identify with Mersault’s absurdist views. Society was not open to new ideas and since Mersault’s journey was by no means life changing, society could not accept his unconventional existentialist views of living according to the physical needs of the body.
The nature of Mersaults’s useless journey is useless because he makes no progress while making it. But it rather makes him especially selfish and egocentric and his interactions, conversations and deeds reflect what a senseless journey could do. This has affected the characterization because Mersault is seen to be self centered which gets him a guilty verdict. This hapless journey has also affected the theme by interpreting society is blind to new ideas and destroys what it does not know. While he roamed in a circle and reached the same place, society journeyed on a straight line on the road to self-realization.
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