Review of The Stranger by Albert Camus Essay
I feel myself a little like Meursault--the narrator and subject of the book, as passing thoughts just sort of became a perceived reality.
Clearly, I hope you realize, that I am jesting as I don't think or believe myself capable of what Meursault did or allowed himself to do or did not stop himself from doing. But this is the mood of most of the book, which is completely in the form of Meursault's narration. Camus' writing is truly exquisite. This short novel just breezes by easily and is the perfect complement to the nature of this character who is like a tumble weed, or perhaps a dog with his nose to the ground just moving in whatever direction he is inclined or stimulated to pursue. His mother died so, okay, his only concern is whether his boss is upset because he needs to take a day or two off to travel in order to attend the funeral. In retrospect, it is perhaps surprising that he even bothered to go to the funeral, but I suppose that this is intended to suggest that our narrator has at lease some sort of ethical frame. Emotionless he endures the vigil, then goes back home to Algiers and meets a woman he knew a while back and quickly begins an affair the day after his mother was buried. And so on it goes. His friend wants to beat up his girlfriend because he thinks or imagines she is cheating on him and wants Meursault to write a letter to entice the young woman to visit him. Well, he just became friends with this thug so hey, why not, he'll help him. And in one scene and one incident after another this stream of consciousness depicts an utterly amoral individual that is strangely estranged from everyone and everything and, perhaps, most of all, himself.
The Stranger is one of the most famous philosophical novels ever written, I do not imagine what I have to say has not been said by many others, but my reaction is that this semiconscious existence, just living seemingly absent any self-reflection of love or death or friendship or work is shockingly changed at the end of the book. Quite suddenly, as Meursault is coming to grips with his impending execution he is also dealing with the religious exhortations of a chaplain-priest. This non-reflective amoral but generally nice young man who ultimately ends up killing someone--triggered largely on account of the hot sun was beating down on him on a hot summer late morning or early afternoon in Algers, suddenly, finally having had enough of the priest, enters into a highly structured rant on his philosophy of the absurd. And death or taking a life is apparently, for some, as meaningless as living it.
I do not think that there is much question that The Stranger is a great piece of modern literature. And the philosophy of the absurd his extremely important because--and I'm not sure if this is an oversimplification, like hot and cold absurdity and non-absurdity need each other so that the difference is explainable. And this may explain my own discomfort with this book. There also needs to be a foundation for understanding the distinction between absurdist philosophy and mental illness. I think that Foucault addresses some of this in Madness and Civilization. Meursault could have been criminally insane or merely criminal. His philosophically sophisticated outburst at the end of the book, I think, reveals his sanity. I think this conclusion is forced upon us unless we want to defend the indefensible or excuse the inexcusable. Who can possibly doubt that life is brimming with absurdity? Meursault, however, falls into the pit of darkness where boundaries and distinctions are ignored at great peril because--while they are often murky and ambiguous, they are also, in principle, the only things that not only distinguish absurdity and amorality from what is not absurd or is not amoral, but are, indeed, the very things that make philosophy and theater of the absurd possible.