Camus’s The Stranger

letranger

 

I just read _The Stranger_.  It’s a pretty engaging book.  But I keep wondering:  what the heck was Camus thinking when he wrote this thing?  I cannot understand what the main character’s problem is.  Camus himself claimed the novel’s protagonist, Meursault, “refused to play the game.”  I take this to mean that Meursault did not accept some of his society’s basic values, such as belief in God and Christianity.  At the same time, he is also apparently incapable of familial or romantic love, or of experiencing any emotional reaction to having killed someone.  These “shortcomings” are not the product of some ideological stance against societal indoctrination; they are indications of a severely stunted human personality.  He does boil potatoes.  I suppose I will continue to wonder about this book for some time.

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5 Comments

  1. acilius

     /  February 17, 2009

    I read that book once, years ago, perhaps decades ago. I believe I borrowed a copy of a translation you had. I believe you apologized when you lent the book to me, saying it was not the best translation, but that it might do for a first reading. I remember it only vaguely. Doesn’t he kill an Arab for no reason?

  2. lefalcon

     /  February 18, 2009

    That’s right: he unleashes a series of staccato revolver blasts – like sharp raps against the door of unhappiness – upon an essentially innocent figure, lying prone in the Algerian sands.

    There’s also a long section of the book where he describes in detail the process of whiling away a listless Sunday in his apartment: scarcely more stimulating than Dreyfuss’s _Sophie’s Choice: The Special Edition_.

  3. acilius

     /  February 19, 2009

    I remember the killing. I thought I could see what Camus was driving at, then that happened, and I was utterly baffled.

  4. lefalcon

     /  February 19, 2009

    Yeah: “utterly baffled” is my position with respect to any number of things in that book. People typically summarize the crux of its story along the lines of, “the struggle of a modern hero, faced with a world of absurdity.” But the main character doesn’t strike me as particularly heroic on any level. And the world he inhabits is, true, somewhat ODD at certain moments … but not exactly “tragically devoid of all meaning.” In fact, the most absurd element of Meursault’s environment is, in a way, Meursault’s own behavior / reactions (or non-reactions). It’s almost like the community of scholars and commentators has constructed a shared understanding of _The Stranger_ that is based on what they *think* was in the book … or what they *wish* was in the book … or what they believe *ought* to have been in the book.

  5. acilius

     /  February 20, 2009

    I suppose there were only so many ways a person could react to a story about a Frenchman in Algeria during the late 50s-early 60s. If the story wasn’t a stentorian call to action from either a radical anticolonialist position or an extreme French nationalist position, then it had to be some kind of ironic statement about the world in general. I guess that could be a problem if you were a Frenchman who grew up in Algeria, didn’t agree with either the radical left or the extreme right, and wanted to write novels.

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