There is a great connection between strangeness and absurdity in life. When people fail to understand us, we become a stranger to them. That is what Albert Camus had tried to explain in his first novel, which was and still is one of the most remarkable literary works of the twentieth century, THE STRANGER. Camus is better known as a philosopher rather than a novelist, as he was the founder of the philosophical term ABSURDISM. And, THE STRANGER is the novel through which he explored the concept of absurdity.
The plot of the novel “The Stranger” is set in Algiers, today the capital of Algeria which was then a colony of France. Miersault is the protagonist of the novel. The story starts with the death of the mother of the protagonist. Miersault goes to the funeral, but shows no sympathy or despair or sentiment on his mother’s departure. Rather, he shows great indifference and acts as if nothing worth noticing or of any importance has happened at all.
As his mother was living at a nursing home, when the director of the home asks him if he wanted to see his mother’s face one last time, the protagonist refuses to do so. To him, the death of his mother was a normal incident, a part of life. While waiting at the home for the cremation to begin, he smoked cigarettes at the caretaker’s request and also, offered coffee with milk. Soon after the funeral program was completed, he returned to Algiers immediately and moved on with his life. He didn’t think of his mother again until he was convicted of murder and sent to prisons where he had nothing to do except reflect on past events to pass the time.
However, as the story progresses, he continued to attend his work and was involved in a relationship with a girl called Marie for whom he had no serious feelings of affection. He took his daily meals at a nearby restaurant named Celestal and spoke briefly with his two neighbors, one of whom was an old man who had lost his dog, the other a man named Raymond, whose mistress was cheating on him and he intended to punish.
Miersault passed his time in an apathetic way: nothing really mattered to him- not love, not death, not companionship, not even promotion at work. He was always thinking about what he needed to do to get through the day.He didn’t desire anything more; he remained satisfied with whatever he had, and this indifference to material wealth instilled into him the power to do whatever he wanted.
When Marie asked him whether he loved her or not, the question didn’t matter to him. He perceived their relationship as existing only to fulfill his sexual desire. Even when Marie asked him to marry her, he was ready to do so at once, because marriage didn’t hold any great meaning or influence to him. To him, everything that happened was going to happen out of his control, so it was his particular nature not to overthink things. He acknowledged that everything ends in death and that there is no running away from it. So the demise of his mother seemed absolutely natural to him. He also knew that whether it was love or marriage, it all results in sex. So, he placed no special priority on love or marriage. The fact is, behind all of his indifferences and unorthodox ideologies, he had a realistic and practical approach to his life. But those around him were not able to understand his point of view, and as a result, he became a stranger to the world. In this way life became absurd for him.
He went to pass his weekend at the home of a friend at his neighbor’s beside the sea. His neighbor, who had beaten up his mistress for cheating on him, was followed by some Arab men. Among them, one was the brother of his mistress. When Miersault and his neighbor were walking on the beach, they had a fight with the Arab men and at one point, Miersault was forced to shoot the brother of Raymond’s mistress. After that, everything happened as it was supposed to. Miersault was arrested, sent to jail, the proceeding continued, and he was found guilty andsentenced to death by guillotine.
Here a question arises. And that is, why was the protagonist was sentenced to death if he had nothing to do with the murder? Miersault shot the Arab man to defend himself. He neither had any rivalry with him nor any kind of intention to kill him. So why was he found guilty? During the prosecution, all aspects of his life, including the death of his mother, the liaison with his mistress, the friendship with his neighbors, everything was judged by the court and thus, a portrait of him was built with which, the protagonist had no similarity. Nobody understood why he had not cried or seen the face of his mother at the funeral, why he had no warm feelings for Marie, why he befriended a neighbor who had beaten up a woman and shot that man in a dispute he had nothing to do with. No one had the ability to comprehend his thoughts, and he himself was not given the chance to speak on his own behalf. And so, he became a stranger to the eyes of the world around him.
Through this short novel, Albert Camus tried to explain one of the biggest realities about life. That is, life is absurd. That during our lifetime, nobody truly understands us, nobody really feels us, nobody gives us the proper scope to prove ourselves, clear out the layer of confusions relating ourselves. In spite of this, they form their own pictures of us, they give ourselves that particular shape and identity that suit to their thinking. And by going through these occurrences, like described in “The Stranger”, we ourselves also become a stranger in our own world and we also come to understand that, life is actually an absurd thing.
The French title “L’étranger” literally translates to “foreigner”, not to “stranger”. Camus came from French Algeria and his parents were immigrants. It is worth mentioning – the book subtly deals with perceptions of the other, and feelings of being an outsider within a culture.
Camus’ philosophy was also similar to that of Sartre, who said, “Hell is other people.” This idea is portrayed through Miersault’s destiny being controlled by how others perceive him. There is a disconnect between the self and the other, which is the cause for all misunderstandings, and is a basic tenet for all forms of oppression, such as racism and sexism.
Muhammad A. Bashed from Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is currently studying Journalism at The University of Chittagong, Bangladesh. He wants to become a writer. He wants to write short stories and novels. His goal is to become an international bestselling author from Bangladesh. He reads both fiction and non-fiction books. His favorite topics are fiction, politics, contemporary affairs and history and Some of my favorite writers are Dostoyevski, Oscar Wilde, Hemingway, Haruki Murakami, Camus, Milan Kundera, Khushwant Singh, Chetan Bhagat, Edward Said and Noam Chomsky. Besides reading books and writing, He also reads various national and international magazines and newspapers, both mainstream and literary.