Albert Camus’s 1942 novella The Stranger is considered a literary classic of the 20th century and remains one of his most famous works. The novel follows Frenchman Meursault in Algeria and his indifference to the world around him as he attends his own mother’s funeral and is nearly emotionless during it. Weeks later under the hot Algerian sun, Meursault senselessly shoots-dead an Arab man. During the ensuing trial, he is apathetic in the courtroom and shows no remorse for his actions. It is because of this apathy, rather than the evidence, that the judge sentences Meursault to death.
Meursault’s indifference reflects Camus’s philosophy of “The Absurd,” which is the conflict between humans searching for meaning in an inherently meaningless world. Society attempts to find a reason behind Meursault’s motiveless killing but to no avail. Along with these philosophical undertones, Camus illustrates his own home of colonial Algeria beautifully. The streets of Algiers, Mediterranean beaches, and small jail cells come alive on the paper. Though there are other characters in the book, they mainly serve to move the plot forward and contrast Meursault’s dispassion.
The Stranger is an accessible book at 123 pages and I’d recommend it to everyone. Although short in length, readers should take their time with each page to fully appreciate this best seller in French literature. Although Meursault may seem like a villain, his defiance of society’s status quo-even when faced with death and acceptance of a meaningless world–is heroic.
“I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.”