Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Stranger

The Stranger, by Albert Camus

I've been struggling to write this post for days--that's the trouble with classics, what is there to say that people don't already know?  This strange novel was the next on the WEM List, and I read it along with the WEM Ladies and Ruth.   I've never read any Camus before, though I've certainly meant to, so I thought this was a good opportunity.  I can't say I loved it, though.

The story is famous; Mersault, a French Algerian, shoots and kills a random Arab on the beach, though he doesn't seem to care about it much.  In fact, Mersault has a hard time caring about anything much.  He is detached from the rest of the world.

So we wonder: why is Mersault so detached?  He doesn't seem to have any desires or emotions, really.  He has physical, bodily desires--food, sex, drink--but nothing emotionally.  He is content to go along with whatever happens.  His mother dies, but he doesn't mind; they didn't have much to talk about anyway.  His girlfriend wants to get married, and he figures it doesn't matter, but he's willing to go along.  He is put on trial, but, you know, whatever.

Is it that the inhuman modern world has detached him from other human beings?  That seems to have been a popular interpretation at one time, but now people wonder whether Mersault has a mental illness or perhaps some form of autism.  I think it's interesting how our interpretations of Mersault depend so much on our own times.  Which is, I suppose, true of all literature, but it struck me here.

I used to own this copy but never read it.

Why did Mersault kill the Arab?  He doesn't know why himself.  Perhaps just because it was so hot and he wanted it to stop.

1 comment:

Amy said...

I have a really hard time with this style of literature--the whole nihilistic, there-is-no-meaning-in-anything genre of the early 20th century. I can understand people producing this kind of thing especially after two world wars and the holocaust. But it's certainly hard to make oneself read.

I like your point about autism and how we project modern issues/sensibilities onto literature.