“My mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.”The Stranger , Albert Camus
Albert Camus lures his readers in like a moth to a flame with his powerful diction, giving the reader a fair idea of the whirlwind of emotions they will be descending into. In this masterpiece, Camus puts forth the absurdity of life through the eyes of Meursault, a peculiar shipping clerk residing in French Algiers. It doesn’t shy away from exploring difficult themes of death, dissociation, and sociopathy
L’Étranger introduces us to Meursault, a man bearing an astonishingly apathetic worldview that is completely detached from society. We witness this when the protagonist doesn’t display any signs of mourning throughout his mother’s funeral instead, maintaining a stolidly indifferent demeanour while smoking a cigarette. This outlandish attitude is met with contempt and hatred from others.
Meursault is merely a spectator of the events around him, leading a life devoid of meaning and emotions. Through this narrative we examine his perceived alienation, relating it with how he is a stranger to the norms of society.
Throughout this narrative, Meursault conducts himself absurdly and often immorally, not putting much effort to assimilate into the world around him. His indifference is mainly pointed towards women which are affirmed through many instances. He comfortably turns a blind eye to his friend’s ex-girlfriend who was brutally beaten, his loveless relationship with his girlfriend which he pursued mainly for physical gratification and finally his refusal to mourn over his mother.
The scorching Algerian sun is revealed to have some form of unusual hold over the protagonist that brings to the surface his irrationality.
Often calling the sun ‘oppressive’ and ‘inhuman’, it can be seen how the heat disorients him. The force of the sun eventually makes him commit murder.
As the murder trial proceeded, the jury was aghast seeing Meursault’s utter lack of remorse for his actions and his disregard for human life. He talked about death in a frigid manner with his jailer, emphasising that death is an inevitable phenomenon. In his words, “I wasn’t unaware of the fact that it doesn’t matter very much whether you die at thirty or at seventy since, in case, other men and women will naturally go on living, for thousands of years even. Nothing was plainer, in fact. It was still only me who was dying, whether it was now or in twenty years’ time. “
Although after he is sentenced to death we see a paradigm shift in this attitude. The readers witness his cold exterior shattering when he realises that his time had come to an end. He is angry at the unfairness of the world, reproaching how he, a simplistic man with such little needs, is unfairly condemned to death. This rage-filled outburst is followed by passivity. While being isolated in a jail cell he is made aware of how he had isolated himself from the world. Upon a priest’s visit before his execution, Meursault’s aversion to religion is disclosed. He found no sense in religion but didn’t outrightly reject it either, believing that the world would descend into chaos without the principles of religion. After letting the priest know that he would rather not waste his last moments praying, he spent his time reflecting on his actions instead and contemplating the worthlessness of life. A newer, more intellectual Meursault was born, quite ironically, only mere moments before his death. He wished to break free from the alienation and hoped that his execution would attract a huge crowd.
Eventually coming to terms with his impending death, he concluded that he doesn’t regret anything and is ready to live his life all over again.
Leading a life sans personal values, morals kept Meursault satisfied. He went through his life without truly living. He questioned the purpose of life, declined the societal conventions and still managed to emerge happy, proving himself to the readers as an existentialist anti-hero.