I’m not sure if it has been Tony Parker’s amazing NBA playoffs or something else this spring but I recently recalled being deeply fascinated by the classic French book, The Stranger, when reading it in high school. So, I picked up a new copy of Matthew Ward’s translation of the famous Albert Camus piece a few weeks ago and dove head first in to re-reading it.
Briefly, The Stranger is the story of a common man living in the south of France in the mid 1950s. Monsier Meursault (or simply “Meursault”) is a person who lives a highly non-descript, yet simultaneously absurd, existence. His life is oddly routine consisting of a stable yet menial job, interaction with a small group of friends and colleagues and the occasional trip to the beach or swimming pool. Mersault can be described as a decent person yet he also appears as an indifferent, uncaring and non-emotional being. He simply and happily leads a life without passion, care or introspection. When Meursault gets mixed up in the hostile affairs of one of his friends, he committs a terrible and somewhat indescribable act which results in the end of his existence as he previously knew it.
The Stranger is recognized as one of the great portrayals of the philosophical movement, existentialism, of the 20th century. Meursault is a protagonist that inspires little love from the reader due to his dispassioned and indifferent disposition. He is perpetually focused on tomorrow and external surroundings such as the weather or the actions of others. Conversely, his reality includes little concern or emotion. For example, at his mother’s funeral early in the book, he spends more time dwelling on the summer heat and actions of her mother’s boyfriend rather than any recollection of his family history or feelings of sadness or grief.
Existentialism is a complicated philosophy which lacks simple explanation. It was first developed by great minds including Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and later made its way in to the works of Sartre and Camus among others. More recently, movies including the classic Pitt-Norton film Fight Club, appear to have strong existential roots. In the case of Fight Club, the existential themes of absurdity and alternative reality are more strongly emphasized than the concepts of boredom, indifference and nothingness that are present in The Stranger.
I can’t say that my second reading of The Stranger was as enjoyable as my high school experience when I benefitted from the classroom analysis that accompanied the book. This is clearly a read where there are elements surrounding the story that are far more complicated than the words simply present on the pages. That said, this is a book I recommend reading if you haven’t picked it up before, in no small part due to the fact this is an important piece of literature and Camus is a Nobel Prize winner in the subject. I only ask that, if you pick up this read, you get in touch with me afterwards–I’m still not sure I fully followed all the concepts present here and I’d rather have a discussion on the subject than read this again for a third time.