The Stranger is a haunting, challenging masterpiece of literature. While it is fiction, it actually manages to express the complex concepts and themes of existential philosophy better than the movement's most noted philosophical writings and almost as well as Dostoyevsky's Notes From the Underground. This is a new kind of literature. The story in and of itself is rather simple, but the glimpses into the intellect and feelings of the protagonist are the sources of the magic of this novel. M.Meursault is a normal man in Algiers, France. When we meet him, he is on the way to his mother's funeral, where he says very little, expresses no remorse over her death, and immediately returns home. The next day, he goes swimming, meets Marie, takes her to see a comedy that night, and spends the next few weeks living his normal life and occassionally seeing Marie. He ends up getting indirectly involved in a dispute between his neighbor Raymond and a girl who did him wrong, and the conflict culminates in an encounter on the beach between Raymond, Meursault, and the girl's Arab brother and friend. Raymond is cut with a knife, but the whole episode seems to be resolved. Meursault, though, decides later to take another walk on the beach because he is too worn out to go inside and rejoin his friends, and somewhat inexplicably he ends up killing one of the Arabs. The second half of the novel examines Meursault's thoughts in relation to his trial and sentence; interestingly, he is prosecuted as much if not more for his moral character than for the crime of murder itself.
Basically, Meursault does not care about anything, does not feel anything for anyone (including himself, for the most part). He looks at life objectively and determines that it really doesn't matter whether he does something or not in the overall scheme of things. When Marie expresses her love for him, he tells her he will marry her if it will make her happy but that he cannot say he really loves her. He expresses no remorse for killing the Arab because it just happened; he had no intention of doing it, but the fact is that he did, so there's little point in dwelling on it. He cares about the present and, to a lesser degree, the future, but the past is meaningless for the very reason that it is the past. Meursault sees things as they are; rather than rely on flights of fantasy and imagination (the typical tools of the Romanticists), he deals with facts in the here and now rather than run from them and has no problem admitting the seemingly obvious fact that man is a creature of utter depravity. He rejects religion; since each man must eventually die, what does it matter what he does while on earth. It is a man's hopes and dreams that weigh down his very existence; Marsault can only find happiness by cleansing himself of all such illusory notions.
Needless to say, this is not an uplifting book, but it is an engaging, thought-provoking one. While Camus cannot be called a true existentialist in his own philosophical outlook, his fiction does epitomize many existentialist ideas. Marsault is a protagonist like no other in literature--you cannot like him, he is obviously guilty of killing a man in cold blood, and he is of a cold-hearted nature, yet you do understand some of his thinking, find yourself more and more interested in his dark outlook on life, and have to admit that much of what he believes makes sense.
When I first started reading `The Stranger' by Albert Camus it seemed rather dull. It's a first person account from a somewhat bland character named Meursault, the titular `Stranger'. While working my way through the book I had to wonder if an alternate translation, `The Outsider', would be more appropriate for `L'Étranger'. Meursault is a Frenchmen living on Algeria but in no way is he a stranger. He has a circle of friends, a job and even a girlfriend. What sets him apart from humanity is his possibly pathological indifference to just about anything whether it be abuse of a dog, abuse of a woman or even the death of his own mother. Not that he engages in abuse it's just that he seems unaffected by the suffering of others. Other descriptions I've read on this book have described Meursault as honest to a fault with this being his downfall. I'm not sure that gives people the correct impression. Meursault's honesty is not the kind where you tell a fat woman she's fat. His downfall is more his inability to feign sorrow, regret or empathy. When his girlfriend asks if he loves her he considers it and answers "no" without any thought that the answer might be painful to hear. About half way through the book, in a bizarre set of circumstances, Meursault ends up killing a man and when asked by the police if he feels regret he says he never looks on the past with regret and in this case feels only vexation. There is no evident malice only utter insensitivity.
Philosophically The Stranger is one of the most intriguing and moving books I have ever read particularly the final act where Meursault confronts the priest who attempts to lead him to the Christian God in the last days before his execution. Despite the perceived indifference he exhibits throughout the book Meursault has a consistent and well defined philosophy of existence. In this moment Meursault disgorges everything he has on the hapless priest and lays bare his soul (so to speak). Knowing that his death is but weeks, days or perhaps hours away, he achieves a moment of clarity seeing his place in the universe, a universe even more indifferent than himself. Camus never absolves him of his crime but in a sense Meursault rises above the simple act of killing a man, above his imprisonment and above life itself. He achieves full acceptance of his existence and place in the universe and in that moment transcends life and God. I`m genuinely saddened that I'm not able to read the final chapter in its original French. If the translation is this good I can hardly imagine how amazing the original must be.
This is the kind of book that one could read and ponder over and over again and I have a feeling I will. There is a considerable amount of symbolism throughout particularly the scorching sun which seems to continually oppress Meursault until he can take it no more. It starts off very slowly and builds throughout. I've never been on trial and certainly never been on death row but Camus gave Meursault an inner dialogue that rang so true it felt more real than any other portrayal I've seen or read. Despite his crime and often callous view of the suffering of others Camus created a character so real and open to the reader that I couldn't help but pity him terribly for his situation but in the end Meursault found peace regardless of the outcome. If you haven't read this book you really should and it's a short read so if you don't find it as profound as I did at least you wont have to endure it for long.
Although Albert Camus had achieved some fame as a journalist in his native Algiers in the thirties and as a writer for the French resistance during WW II, he first achieved an international critical reputation with the publication of this classic novel in 1946. The portrait of the detached, unfeeling, uncommitted, amoral, perpetually abstracted Meursault is one of the most haunting in 20th century literature. For many, it is the supreme 20th century literary depiction of nihilism. Unquestionably it is one of the premier literary efforts of the century, though Camus managed several other books just as powerful and superb in their own way, in particular THE PLAGUE, THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS, and THE FALL.
Meursault reminds me so much of figures from the paintings of Manet. In painting after painting, Manet depicted individuals alone in crowds, failing or refusing to interact or even acknowledge the others in the frame. In one famous painting, a lower middle class girl sits alone in her own little orb, sitting beside an upper class gentleman, neither acknowledging the existence of the other, both self-contained, seemingly detached from the busy world surrounding them. Behind them, a barmaid drinks a beer, equally oblivious to everyone and everything around her. They might all be on separate desert islands. Manet repeats this in painting after painting. Meursault seems almost as if he had stepped out of one of those paintings. He can at least communicate with others, socialize with them, but he cannot express strong moral sentiments or develop affectionate (as opposed to sexual) attachments.
This is not a happy book. The story deals with Meursault's almost accidental killing of an Arab whose sister had been harmed by one of his acquaintances, but the novel trivializes everything--the killing, his subsequent arrest, his imprisonment, his trial and conviction, and his sentencing. The closest the novel comes to a happy sentiment is near the end when Meursault imagines how much nicer it would be to witness an execution rather than be executed, to have to puke in revulsion than to literally lose one's head to the guillotine.
Camus would never write such a despairing book again. THE PLAGUE the next year would come close, but not close, while THE FALL would seem almost optimistic and upbeat in comparison. But for those who want to find perhaps the quintessential expression of what we like to think of as existentialism, this could stand as the premier literary instance.
on January 18, 2004
Without a doubt one of the most important books of the 20th century, The Stranger is a classic piece of literature and one of the literary pillars of existentialism, a movement that continues to color the way we see the world.
The storyline is very simple: a young and aimless Algerian immigrant to France, Meursault, unmoved by his mother's death, becomes involved in petty events beyond his control and ends up killing someone. The trial is a ridiculous farce, and the real art comes from the way Meursault dispassionately describes the events overtaking him: the funeral, the trial, the sentencing. The story is at once beautiful and unsettling.
Of course, none of this is anything that hasn't already been said among the other reviews here. What prompted me to write a review about this now (after all, I had first read this story more than 20 years ago and have only re-read parts of it recently) is the new and much-heralded translation from Matthew Ward. Mr. Ward's work has been almost universally praised by critics, who have called it an essential update and a production that will make the book more accessible to American audiences.
That may be so, but I can't escape the feeling that it also cheapens this great book. I realize that some traditionalists will always accuse a modern translator of a classic piece of literature of tampering with art. But even if I keep that in mind as I read The Stranger in its newest form, I still get that sinking feeling.
Take the opening paragraph, for example. I have always considered the opening lines in The Stranger among the best in the western literary cannon, and they seem to lose firepower in Mr. Ward's version of the story: "Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe. I don't know. I got a telegram from the home: `Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.' That doesn't mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday."
Compare that to the classic Stuart Gilbert translation that is familiar to most English speakers to have read this book: "Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure. The telegram from the Home says: `Your mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Deep sympathy.' Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday."
Don't the short and choppy sentences of the telegram contrast strongly to the emotionless as-a-matter-of-fact narrative from Meursault in the second example? And isn't that lost in the newer version when both Meursault and the telegram have the same tone? The Meursault from Mr. Ward's translation always talks that way, giving the impression that he actually puts a bit of thought into what should be his dispassionate commentary, rather than just speaking in meandering run-on sentences as someone simply going through the motions would (and the way author Albert Camus described Meursault in later years).
Also, who is Maman? I'm not sure I would recognize the word as a form of "mother" if I weren't already familiar with the story.
In sum, the value of The Stranger is beyond doubt. But consider the issue of the translations strongly, and, if possible, consider one of the older translations that create a story closer to what I believe Mr. Camus intended and not something that may have been crafted to subtly reshape the story for modern audiences.
on October 2, 2000
The Stranger was the first novel of Camus' labeled "absurd," and it defines Camus for most Americans. The plot is quite simple, with none of the diversions common in popular literature. The main character is not a hero, has no "true" love affair and the pursuit of money and power never enters the story. The Stranger is an honest atheist, waiting for life to happen.
The title l'Etranger, has been poorly translated. The U.S. title, The Stranger, implies that the main character, Meursault, has been viewed as a "strange" or "odd" person for some time. The other possible meaning is that no one knows him. Meursault is a stranger even to those who think they know him. These definitions do not seem adequate. The U.K. title, The Outsider, only serves to confuse readers even more.
Meursault is the archetype of a middle-class man. He works as a clerk, rents an apartment and draws no attention to himself. He is, if anything, very ordinary. Meusault might even be boring. He lacks deep convictions and passion. If he is estranged from any aspect of French society, it is religion--he does not believe in the symbols and the rituals of faith.
Estranged? "Cela m'est égal."
Along with the title, Camus took care in naming the main character. Meursault's name is symbolic of the Mediteranean sea. Mer mean "sea" and soliel is French for "sun." The sea and the sun meet at the beach, where Meursault's defining actions occur.
Meusault is an anti-hero. His only redeeming quality is his honesty, no matter how absurd. In existential terms, he is "authentic" to himself. Meusault does not believe in God, but he cannot lie because he is true to himself. This inability to falsify empathy ultimately condemns him. Meursault has faith only in what he, himself, can see or experience with his other senses. He is not a philosopher, a theologian or a deep thinker. Meursault exists as he is, not trying to be anything more or less than himself.
Why did Camus' readers recognize Meursault as a plausible character? After two World Wars and much suffering, many people came to live life much as Meursault does. Or at least they tried to do so. These people lost the will to do more than exist. There was no hope and no desire. The only goal for many people was simple survival. Even then, the survival seemed empty and hollow. We learn how empty Meursault's existence is through his relationships. He is not close to his mother; we learn he does not cry at her funeral. He does not seem close to his lover, Marie Cardona. Of her, Meursault states, "To me, she was only Marie." There is no passion is Meursault's words or in his life.
What sets Camus apart from many existentialists and modern philosophers in general is his acceptance of contradiction. Yes, Camus wrote, life is absurd and death renders life meaningless--for the individual. But mankind and its societies are larger than any one individual person.
on January 27, 2011
I love this book. I have read several translations of The Stranger. But I returned this copy the same day it arrived in the mail. This translation by Matthew Ward, for the Everyman's Library, is the absolute WORST translation of The Stranger I've ever read. It takes all of the teeth out of Camus' masterpiece. It makes the book into a sloppy, uninteresting mess of colloquial language. It completely obfuscates the meaning, it gives the narrator an unintelligent and boing voice, and it doesn't even "Americanize" the narrator (which is this translation's claim to fame). Just consider a comparison of the opening sentences. The Matthew Ward translation:
"Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know. I got a telegram from the home: 'Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.' That doesn't mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday. The old people's home is at Marengo, about eighty kilometers from Algiers."
And the far superior Stuart Gilbert translation:
"Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure. The telegram from the Home says: YOUR MOTHER PASSED AWAY. FUNERAL TOMORROW. DEEP SYMPATHY. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday." The Home for Aged Persons is at Marengo, some fifty miles from Algiers."
How is the Ward translation (the Everyman's Library translation) Americanized? In what regional dialect of America are mothers referred to as "Maman"??? None that I have ever heard. Or the sentence "That doesn't mean anything." It's completely ambiguous. What doesn't mean anything? What are you even talking about? Next, compare the last sentences of Part I, this translation:
"Then I fired four more times at the motionless body where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace. And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness."
to the Gilbert translation:
"But I fired four shots more into the inert body, on which they left no visible trace. And each successive shot was another loud, fateful rap on the door of my undoing. "
Compare the grand "loud, fateful rap on the door of my undoing" to the spineless "knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness." Matthew Ward probably never got past high school French. The list of passages that are mangled by Ward goes on and on... This translation suffers terribly from its translator. This translation doesn't do Camus justice. Don't get this translation - get ANY translation besides Matthew Ward's.
Otherwise you'll be left with the impression that Camus was as bad a writer, and that The Stranger is as bad a novel, as Matthew Ward is a translator.
on December 17, 2008
The plot of this novel means very little. The focus is really on the main character's arguably detached point of view, which personally, I found galling. His near-autistic lack of identification with anything--hence, I suppose, the title, makes one panicky by the book's end, as if one has just spent the day in a locked, sterile room with a dead man.
Ironically, it's his lack of any detectable neurosis that ultimately is so disturbing....he's TOO Zen for comfort...
It might help if he could muster sympathy for anyone, including the various victims of abuse that he encounters, or substantial feeling for the woman he is to marry, sadness at his mother's death, or empathy for the man he defensively (but pointlessly) shoots five times. The author seems to be making the point that he gets persecuted for not EXPRESSING emotion, but I as the reader was hard-pressed for proof that he FELT one.
This lack of empathy becomes contagious to the reader; by the time he is sentenced to die, it is impossible to feel sorry for him. It is almost, in fact, a pleasure--for it gives hope that he might yet "shatter the bell jar" and break through his wall of apathy. But no, all he feels is a vague sense of disappointment that he will no longer know the pleasures of freedom (although pleasure in this book is a relative term). When ultimately he finds something he can identify with, it is nothing less than the "benign indifference of the universe", something he can connect with at last, as he gazes into the night sky, awaiting his execution at dawn.
Galling but enthralling, "The Stranger" is a short and sweet read, deceptively simple, and despite itself, poignant. The protagonist's existential point of view--the axis on which "The Stranger" turns, will provide the reader with philosophical food for thought and--undoubtedly-- fodder for infinite debate.
on July 25, 2004
If you don't know anything about existentialism before you read this book, you will after you finish it. Existentialism is basically the idea that life boils down to nothing more than existence. One lives their life while they are alive and then they die, and in the grand scheme of things none of it really matters. Existentialist, whose greatest representative is Camus, do not generally believe in an afterlife, spirituality or deeper meaning to life. For just over 100 pages, you are hit in the face with these ideas while reading The Stranger.
The plot of The Stranger could be summarized easily and completely in a single paragraph. It is really not a plot driven book, although it does have a few moments of suspense. The pithy prose is concise and eloquent in the style of Hemingway, but does not rival him (at least in this translation). The text itself reads quite easily, and you will probably find yourself flipping through pages faster than you usually do.
Overall, The Stranger is a modern classic and well worth the short amount of time that it takes to read. One of the reasons I may not have loved this book is because it is not in anyway uplifting. The book really leaves you with a sense of emptiness as you turn the last page, as it's meant to, so reading it might not be an enjoyable and light-hearted experience. Those interested in reading Camus for the first time may also want to consider The Plague as a first read. The message is slightly more subtle in its presentation and the story is probably more interesting.
on January 31, 2003
The Stranger is as beautiful as any work of art can hope to be.
It is in the latter parts of the book, where Mersault's words have a lyrical power not seen previous, that the English translation achieves the haunting effect that must be even more prevalent in the French. The first thing readily obvious is that the character has no emotional connection to what he experiences; he simply experiences. Thus, Camus utilizes an American style, terse and detached. Some reviewers were off put by this. "How could he not care that his mother died? " Attaching immorality to Mersault merely shows a total misunderstanding of the book.
Camus believed in "absurd freedom," life has no inner value and is futilely cut short, but it is up to us to determine our life in such uncertainty. If one doesn't interpret life, emotion doesn't exist. But the values that society has incriminate you if you don't conform. They make you strange. They take no account of individuality.
That is the peril of the main character after a bizarre series of events on a sun drenched beach.
The power of Camus is that even though he creates such a bleak, hopeless human situation the characters still go on as best they can, perhaps even attaining happiness. "One must imagine Sisyphus happy," to quote The Myth of Sisyphus.
That is also the power and beauty of mankind.
on June 14, 2001
The other reviewers base their interpretation of this novel on the belief that Camus was an Existentialist and that Camus presented Meursault as a hero. Concerning the last point, nothing could be further from the truth. Before interpreting "The Stranger", one should first read Camus' essays on his own personal philosophy of "The Absurd" and how he relates it to the myth of Sisyphus. These essays reveal that Camus' personal philosophy was distinct from Existentialism in that he imagined that Sisyphus could be happy even though he was condemned to roll a huge stone up a hill in Hades only to have it roll down again on nearing the top. Similarly, Camus believed that people could be fulfilled by searching for the meaning of life even though they know they will not be able to discover it. Consequently, Meursault is not a hero in Camus' eyes because Mersault has given up trying to find meaning in his life and accepts without struggle the lack of emotion and spirit in it. In other words, don't trust everything that was written on the back cover of the american paperback edition of this novel. The back cover contained incorrect information that misled many readers, including myself, about the true meaning of this work. Read Camus' "The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays" before interpreting "The Stranger" and new meaning will become apparent from this excellent and frightening novel.