Albert Camus – The Stranger

Tl; dr – (Then read the book instead, you won’t regret it.)
In The Stranger Camus uses imagery of nature in an otherwise simply worded text to ultimately express the absurdity of the human condition, and the over-powering steadfastness of nature.

“Aujourd’hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas.”

Camus’ style of writing is simple and neutral in comparison to the main events of the book.  This style reflects the oddly calming existentialist view upon life which is portrayed. Arguably the sole purpose is for Mersault (and perhaps Camus too) to deal with his existence and the identity he has made for himself through his, relatively, short life.

Throughout, this simplicity is mainly consistent, it is a plain and fresh way of understanding the world; nice to read. However a few notable passages provide the exception to this rule (there is always exceptions to rules, especially in literature). Some of these passages are actually quite complex, Camus frequently uses emotive language to form an empathetic relationship with the reader.

For example Mersault’s view on nature, the heat and brightness of the sun in particular, is extremely profound throughout the novel.  His body is almost a foreign entity, something removed from nature by the virtue of being human. One of his main purposes is to seek solace from the “cymbals of the sun clashing on [his] skull” for example.  There are many more examples too; the same passage speaks of a blinding reflection which gouges into his eyeballs.

“There was the same dazzling red glare. The sea gasped for air with each shallow, stifled wave that broke on the sand. …with every blade of light that flashed off the sand, from a bleached shell or a piece of broken glass, my jaws tightened.”

A thought that comes to mind is that the act of rebellion (probably the main event of this short novel), the murder which follows Mersault’s torture by his surroundings, allows this solace he seeks, despite the fact that he knows his grave fate.  The text does support this as he is able to get rid of the “clinging vale of light” and shake the sweat away once he has committed to the act of rebellion; he feels an absolute relief yet is clearly aware of his wrong-doing.

Even after the murder it is this natural element which is the only real affecting feature of his life; during his trial he is worried about the heavy air and the fans which are working to churn it up.  At one point in his prison cell he feels bugs’ crawling across his face and it is described well, so well that the feeling is purveyed to the readers own skin (or at least it was to this reader…). He also states that he can see the sea for example and these things, along with waiting for dawn every night become his whole life.

His new identity is that of a dead man walking. The attempts of the priest to pry Mersault from his apatheism are, of course, fruitless. The resulting anger which he displays only leads to the realisation that while nobody else has the right to judge him, conversely, he too has no right to judge his fellow earthlings.

“I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.”

All this confirms one thing: that the universe, really, is indifferent towards the singular plight of the human being.  Mersault comes to know this, and as a result comes to terms with his own execution. Absurd, ey?

Check out other books I’ve been reading here…