If you paid attention to what you were reading in high school, chances were at least some of you came across The Stranger, which was written in the 1940s by Nobel Prize in Literature winner Albert Camus. Perhaps, it was to provide an example to existentialism in literature or perhaps it was on a list of stories your high school English teacher selected from when it came to executing their lesson. With that being said, this short novel is one that will make you think deeper if you pay attention to what is going on. The Stranger is one of those novels that you should actually be able to enjoy, because it actually hooks you from the beginning and lingers in your mind far after the story is done.
I will provide a warning that I do not provide to most of my book reviews. There will be potential spoilers in this review. I am analyzing this novel as well as reviewing it, so if you were looking for a simple review and you yourself want to analyze it, I would advise that you stop reading and seek another review on Amazon, hoping there is a spoiler free review. I will tell you that this is a good novel with interesting characters involved in an interesting plot. This is a thinking person's piece.
If you are still reading this, the novel is about Monsieur Meursault and it follows his complex, but reasonable mind. Meursault's mother has just died, due to "old age," and he is attending her funeral. He is showing no outward emotion to these events and those around see this as being incredibly strange. Perhaps, Meursault is just holding these emotions in or he is just handling the situation a little more calmly than someone much handle it if they lost a loved one. There is also the suggestion that Meursault may simply not hold any emotion toward the situation. On the contrast, a close friend of his mother's, Thomas Perez, attends the funeral and shows incredible emotion and is saddened by the death of Meursault's mother, who was a friend of his.
Meursault's stance of an emotionless disposition is also exposed by the comic relief of the story, Salamano, who is constantly kicking and cursing at his elderly dog. He constantly refers to it as a "filthy, stinking bastard" and sees it more as a nuisance than a friend. Suddenly, the dog goes missing and he becomes emotional about the loss of his dog and is desperate to find the dog or have the dog return to him.
The turning point occurs when Meursault pays a visit to Masson's beach house with Raymond and Marie, the latter being a mistress he holds no emotion toward, even though he is taking part in her affair. An Arab, holding no name, is walking the beach in what Meursault sees as a threatening manner. Meursault pulls out a gun, the Arab pulls out a knife, and Meursault shoots him dead. He continues to shoot even it is assured that the Arab is in fact dead. While many see this as Meursault shooting the character for no reason, he could have very well felt threatened on the inside.
While those he knows, such as those at the beach house and Salamano, feel he's innocent, the prosecutor in the case feels he guilty. He doesn't necessarily feel that he's guilty because he committed or didn't commit the murder on the beach, but he felt that because he was emotionless and indifferent to many situations, such as not acting emotional when his mother died, that he was threatening in society. Meursault is sentenced to death.
Meursault is revealed as being an Atheist when he is arranged for his final rites. During a visit with the Chaplain, Meursault holds no interest in accepting them, because he is not ready to accept a belief in God, because he does not believe in his meaning to society. He ultimately drives the Chaplain out following a religious argument. Meursault sees the meaningless of life before being sent out to die.
Albert Camus may have not held an existentialist position, but Monsieur Meursault held a position that was incredibly mysterious to the reader. Meursault was emotionless and did not provide much of an explanation for how he thought and why he engaged in specific actions. Camus does an excellent job being able to portray and keep Meursault as consistent as possible, because this is a legitimate way for people to think. The author has the option as to whether or not he wants to play God and know what everybody is thinking. The author can even write the story in the protagonist or another character's point of view, so you automatically know what they are thinking. Camus takes the direction of being a writer who is making an observation, only providing a realistic view as to what Meursault and the others are thinking. That only makes Meursault's character stronger.
This novel is very short, just a little over one hundred pages, so there isn't incredible commitment. If you like to think or want to read something that will allow you to exercise your mind, buy this novel and enjoy. Unless you're like me and you own a boat load of books, reading this novel a second time to figure out what you missed the first time shouldn't hurt either. Albert Camus' The Stranger is a piece that you will surely enjoy time and time again and it will make an excellent central topic for book discussions, too.