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The Stranger (1989)

The Stranger (1989)
3.93 of 5 Votes: 3
vintage international
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The Stranger (1989)
The Stranger (1989)

About book: Let me begin my review with a quote from Jean-Paul Sartre :“At first [Man] is nothing .Only afterward will he be something ,and he himself will have made what he will be”One more quote ,this time from Dostoevsky’s ‘Notes from the Underground’ :“What Man does is not done by his wiling it, but is done of itself, by the laws of nature”‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus is a powerful, riveting novel, where you may feel like an insect caught in a cobweb of thoughts and confusion. It has to be noted that, this novel elicits a blend of ambivalence, tentativeness and solipsism, which, needless to say, is a convoluted framework where Camus started building this mind-racking short novel. The most singular and dominant characteristics of humans are the vivid nature their minds possess, and their profound calibre to draw up conclusions and interpretations of their own. Free will is a lethal possession; If the entire human race was free to use their will, the results would be catastrophic, as you can imagine. Thus religions and cultures have played a pivotal role in bringing the world to an equilibrium of thoughts, so as to pacify their vivid nature, through indoctrination of the human lot with sets of ‘pre-determined’ principles and teachings. As the generations passed by, these very set of principles and morals became embedded in people ever since their infancy. Such people with conformist ideals, eventually, became the ‘majority’.Meursault was very much like you and me, outwardly. Meursault was a ‘Stranger’, an ‘Outsider' because his perceptive view on life was not based on any morals or principles. In a nutshell, his views/disposition were contradictory to the views of the ‘majority’. The word majority, as the word suggests, always has an ‘upper-hand’. They think they are right with the strength of their numbers. Thus the people who don’t belong to the majority have to lapse into the ‘underground’ to speculate their ideas and views (remember 'notes from the Underground ‘?) . People who oppose the conformist or established ideas or people who try to topple the existing ideals are often termed ‘revolutionaries’. They are always a threat, as their existence always poses a threat of bringing about a ‘change’ – distortion/hindrance to the general course of events. Thus, such people are subjected to oppression, they are down-trodden, and they are considered ‘fiendish elements’. Meursault knew for himself that his feelings were dominated/maneuvered by his general health condition (strange!). His feelings tend to cloud/clog when his physical well-being is disturbed. This is too complicated, unfathomable of a reason for the majority to stomach. He is “Strange’ …he is erratic… he is an ‘Outsider’. Why?1,He didn’t mourn for his mother during her funeral because he was tired and sleepy.2.He made love to a woman the very next day after his mother’s funeral because he had a very peaceful sleep, and he was feeling light and jubilant.3.He killed a man because of the ‘scorching’ sun.4.He was reluctant to move to Paris because he didn’t think it was necessary to change his course of life which was satisfactory, and, after all, what’s the difference it makes?Dear people, I have been reading philosophies for quite a long time. So kindly allow me a small digression, which, I think, could be very useful in explaining what I feel: Existentialism is a philosophical idea that expounds, emphasizes, the colossal significance of ‘existence’, ‘freedom’, and ‘choice’. Life, no matter how people may define it, is an uncertainty between two certainties – Birth and Death. Thus existentialism expounds that individuals are entirely free and must take personal responsibilities for themselves. They are bound to derive ‘their own meaning of life’, which indeed is considered as their right.Existentialists never believe in any supreme power or ‘Deity’; they are never pious. They narrow down all their focus to existence, which, to say precisely - ‘Embracing Existence’.Main Review:1. Mother’s funeral:The Novel kick-starts with the news of Meursault’s mother’s unforeseen death . The erratic demeanor of Mersault starts to pick up from the very first page. When he reached the Old age home, where his mother had died , he was sleepy and travel worn . His desire to sleep exceeded his capacity to grieve. This caused a significant turn of events in the latter parts of the novel. Instead of these trivial ratings about his erratic behavior during this scene , I weaved up a short imaginary conversation with Meursault, that might show how his indifference and outlandish behavior manifested itself :Me: Bonjour, Meursault !Meursault: hmm..Me: Why didn’t you shed even a drop of tear at your mother’s funeral?Meursault : I was sleepy and my leg was aching ( feeling embarrassed at the question).Me: Still... She is your mother!Meursault : What’s the difference it makes if I cry or don’t cry ? It all comes to one thing – Nothing!Me: eh!? (confused)Mersault didn’t reply, he was indifferent and longed for me to get out of his room.What!!? Everyone says the same whenever he talks something. He is outlandish, he is strange.. he is an ‘outsider’ ..2. The scene at the court.This scene showcases Meursault’s indifference and ennui, hearing the long tirades and tiring procedures of ‘his trial’. When he saw himself the chief subject of this huge gathering, where people greeted each other convivially, he felt himself to be out of place, a sort of ‘gate crasher’. He was evidently bored of all these conventional wave of events taking place which was trivial to him. He longed to surrender to deep slumber, and to finding solace at his cell .His concentration was solely focused on the countenance of the young journalist and the robot woman, which, to him was more interesting than the actual event happening around him – his trial. He even picked up a sound of a passing ice-cream van which brought him back flashes of enticing reminiscences of his past. How profound and diligent Camus had been in sketching the very details of these scenes in an impeccable and moving fashion!.3. The scene with the Chaplain.This is perhaps the most fascinating and eventful of scenes in the novel. This is the part, where, I think a transformation of the Indifferent Meursault to infurious Albert Camus takes place. This is the major turning point of the novel where Camus (Meursault) grabs the chaplain by his collar and spews out his welling emotions.“In his view, man’s justice was a vain thing, only god’s justice mattered.I pointed out that the former condemned me.‘Yes’, he agreed, ‘but it hadn’t absolved you from your sin’.I told him that I wasn’t conscious of any sin, all i knew was, I had been guilty of a criminal offense.”The scene with Meursault and Chaplain, according to me, was a cogent bout with existentialism on one side and other philosophical ideologies like Theism, Theological Determinism, Conformism and Fatalism on the other side. This confrontation was merely symbolized in the form of Meursault and Chaplain.Also you must have undoubtedly noted that, the background, where the confrontation took place was a ‘Cell’, where Meursault was a prisoner. The whole novel seems lucid on the outside but it actually is a whirlpool of obscure, yet, clear symbolisms, and conflicts between ideas. Camus had deftly layered his novel like a painting of Leonardo Davinci.Part ‘Finale’:Let me bring to you the closing paragraph of the novel. Don’t hurry yourself while reading the last paragraph. In all great, intriguing novels, the final few pages can do a great deal of help in making you arrive at a conclusion-A positive, well formed conclusion that shows justice to your judiciousness. I read the last page of this novel several times, meditated upon it, and formed a conclusion of my own as to the essence of the story .“Almost for the first time in many months I thought of my mother. And now, it seemed to me, I understood why at her life’s end she had taken on a “fiancé”; why she’d played at making a fresh start. There, too, in that Home where lives were flickering out, the dusk came as a mournful solace. With death so near, Mother must have felt like someone on the brink of freedom, ready to start life all over again. No one, no one in the world had any right to weep for her. And I, too, felt ready to start life all over again. It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I’d been happy, and that I was happy still. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.”I think nothing has to be said more. The last paragraph impeccably articulated what this so-called ‘Outsider’ thought at the brink of his ‘execution’ , how he, ’the stranger’, visualized his final moments – ‘they should greet me with howls of execration’ .4.5 stars on 5 ! -gautam PS : Sky is the last resort of a struggling man to unload his luggage of suffering!It had caught my attention how ‘the sky’ had a great effect on writers - how they find solace in gazing at the calm sky, or how they compare sky to the eternal peace.. I have taken some notes verbatim from some great novels I had the luck to read, so I thought I would share some of it with you.“Above him there was now nothing but the sky- the lofty sky, not clear yet immeasurably lofty, with grey clouds gliding slowly across it. ‘How peaceful, quiet and solemn not at all as I ran’, thought Prince Andrew-‘not as we ran, shouting and fighting ,not at all the gunner and the Frenchman with frightened and angry faces struggled for the mop ; how differently do those clouds glide across that lofty infinite sky! How was it I did not see that lofty sky before? And how happy I am to have found it at last! Yes! All is vanity, all falsehood, except that infinite sky. There is nothing, nothing, but that. But even it does not exist, there is nothing but quiet and peace. ‘Thank God!’”…. – Prince Andrew Bolkonski (War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy)“Gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I’d been happy, and that I was happy still” –Meursault( The Stranger , Albert Camus)“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years,how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of god which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty ,and light the universe with their admonishing smile.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson ( Nature, Selected writings)

I have long felt like a stranger and an exile, so I have nothing but goodwill for fellow exiles, outcasts, eccentrics, and people who feel estranged from the majority. I adore those who think differently and who challenge the certitude of the beastly herd, which always seems to be trying to stampede the dissenters off of a cliff. “I had the strange impression of being odd man out, a kind of intruder.”In “The Stranger” Meursault, the narrator, confronts his own mortality after committing a senseless murder and being sentenced to death. In Part 1, his mother dies, and he appears indifferent to her death, but he is still unconscious to life’s “absurdity” in the French colony of Algeria in the 1930’s. In Part 2, Meursault endures a Kafkaesque trial where he is condemned to death—ostensibly for murder-- but partially as prejudice toward his lack of apparent remorse, religion, and grief. “Here we have a perfect reflection of this trial; everything is true and nothing is true!” However, as a prisoner, Meursault gradually awakens to “perfect contentment” with “reality.” He remembers the simple things in life: the sea; the stars; the sky; the comforts of a woman and the smell of salt her hair leaves behind on his pillow. I often thought that if I had had to live in the trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do but look up at the sky flowering overhead, little by little I would have gotten used to it. I would have waited for birds to fly by or clouds to mingle… After a while you could get used to anything…. I realized then that a man who had lived only one day could easily live for one hundred years in prison. He would have enough memories to keep him from being bored. In a way, it was an advantage. Meursault's lack of self-pity, unyielding candor, and simplicity were appealing. I appreciate that he never displays emotions that he does not feel. In the closing pages, Meursault becomes a “rebel” when he finally explodes with anger at the chaplain who attempts to comfort him with platitudes before his impending execution. Meursault’s response: “Nothing, nothing mattered, and I knew why.” Absurdity. It offends a man trying to stay alive in this world to be promised an uncertain afterlife. His explosive hostility is the first sign of emotion from this undemonstrative and indifferent narrator. We create our own meaning, says Camus. “Only yesterday and today matter.” I just don’t think Meursault, in his typically inert fashion, persuasively argues the possibility of creating one’s own meaning in a compelling manner. Camus states his argument more forcefully and elegantly in his nonfiction book of essays, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. Also, I much prefer Doctor Rieux from Camus’ The Plague as a narrator and an existential hero. Yet, what is most problematic for me are Meursault’s final words, delivered in “a wave of poisoned joy”: And I felt ready to live it all again too. As if that blind rage washed me clean, rid me of hope; in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so like myself--so like a brother--I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate. I recognize that this book is greatly beloved by many of my close GR friends, and I pay Camus, Meursault, and the many adherents of this classic my respect. But blind fate did not choose me to be a nihilist. Though I recognize the great mystery of life (and adopt no certitude toward it), I think it premature and overstated to proclaim it absurd. I have read this book three times over three decades, but each reading has left me feeling more estranged because each decade has brought me another existential threat of my own that taught me a lesson different from Meursault’s. I can only appreciate “The Stranger” as a novel of ideas, written elegantly in clean simple prose like the Algerian sky. Genetics gave me an ardent and romantic heart, and it is hard for me to identify with or to become a disciple of Meursault, who belongs to a different tribe. Moreover, Meursault’s final shake of his fist at life does not resonate with my values of kindness, empathy, compassion, love, passion, mercy and grace—the virtues which give my life meaning. I have faced down death by a serious illness, and during my illness, I resolved to die, if I had to, with hope in my heart and a song of blessing on my lips for the gift of life. Most of all, I resolved to die at peace with my fellow human travelers-- regardless of their religion or politics. Hate and indifference would receive no utterance from my tongue before it be stilled. To my friends whom I love and respect, I am sorry to dissent from your beloved novel. Intellectual fashions have changed dramatically in some parts of the world since this book was written 70 years ago. Perhaps its antihero message is now quite common to me. Perhaps I am the rebel--the stranger. April 19, 2014
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If every few words of praise I’ve seen for “The Stranger” over my lifetime materialized into small chunks of rock in space, there’d be enough sh!t to conjure up the Oort Cloud. Much like this distant collection of debris bordering the outer solar system, I can’t really comprehend the acclaim heaped on this story, but luckily, like the Cloud, it’s usually out of sight, out of mind, and has absolutely no discernable current influence on my life. And just like the Oort can occasionally spit a chunk of sh!t at the earth and devastate all life upon it, so too can I hear/read some lip service paid to “The Stranger” resulting in my transition to Freak-Out Mode, resulting in me slapping someone in the face, usually someone I have to deal with again at some point in time (if only in court).tPersonally, I don’t see what the big deal is. Armed with a 100-word vocabulary, a meager 123 pages to bore one with, and a character who simply doesn’t seem to give much of a damn, Camus somehow shook the world of literature with this inane garbage. I haven’t sat down to conduct a thorough analysis, but using some reasonable guesstimation I will say that the average sentence in this book is about eight words long. I’m not asking that every sentence in a book run the length of a page, but the end result when employed by Camus was that either a twelve year old or some sort of retarded robot wrote this. (Cue robot voice) It struck me as strange. The sentences were so short. It was very peculiar. This could be read very fast. I began to read this on the train on my in to work. I finished it on my way back home. tWho the hell writes like that? More importantly, who the hell reads a book like that and suspects therein lay some complexity? Each time I noticed how condensed everything was it occurred to me that somehow the literati had spent all this time adoring the published equivalent of a commercial. tHere’s a snapshot of the dude we’re supposed to give a hoot about. He doesn’t readily assimilate to or accept the conventional mores everyone else seems accustomed to. He’s not overly concerned, but he seemingly knows there’s some kind of disconnect. He’s also not out to go f#ck with the system for lack of anything better to do or in some attempt to make a statement. He’s pretty emotionless, he shows some genuine concern for himself at times, but even those close to him really aren’t too significant in his grand picture. His testicles are extremely small and sterile, and he fondles them often.tNot long after the death of his mother, Our Hero is chilling on the beach when some Arabs come around looking to start sh!t with an acquaintance of his, and after a small skirmish earlier in the day, Our Man goes back down to the beach and shoots an Arab. He gets arrested and pretty much just goes with the flow, he rolls over and let’s the prosecution have their way with his scrawny white ass. The whole time he pretty much just thinks it’s all pretty ridiculous and isn’t too concerned with the proceedings.tI wasn’t too concerned about the book. More than anything I was just bored with it. There was no build up, there was no action, there was no climax. There was nothing funny, nothing exciting, nothing interesting, and nothing to really take away from the book; just the same words repeating over and over, grouped in strings of seven or eight. The longest sentence in the book was also the only thing which I found even remotely amusing: “Finally I realized that some of the old people were sucking at the insides of their cheeks and making these weird smacking noises”. That isn’t particularly funny, but compared to the rest of the book it was comedic gold. t“The Stranger” is some seriously weak shit. I’ve gotten more enjoyment from looking a map of Kentucky.
I'm grateful that I read The Wretched of the Earth before this. Colonialism as a whole is a rather predictable monster, but the specifics of just how far the conquering hoard goes in each particular case and country needs to be reviewed for suspension of disbelief purposes. Kneejerk incredulity and/or sentiment at the horrors of reality rejuvenates itself far too quickly for my tastes.It is perfectly possible to loathe one's mother. We as a species are capable of such immense levels of arbitrary hatred, the stockpile of instantaneous dislikes upon first meetings a popular occurrence in public entertainment and private commiserations. Why should there not be a chance of the one who birthed you being the sort you could never like, admire, or love? There's the imprinting factor, true, but that is a thing of the senses, subject to the binding of self-inflicted control like anything else. A cold turkey of the hormonal heart.I was attached to Existentialism for a time, but the passing of the moment and all the subsequent rebuttal upon rebuttal upon countless rebuttal has made me give up on the declaration of the maxim within that particular field. Debates make for paltry engagements when I have little experience and less interest in all those other name-dropping convolutions of ubiquitous dead white men, so I will stick with what I know. Besides, Camus himself didn't like the existentialist label, although I will keep the tag as a reminiscing shortcut to the proper mood.What is the difference between someone without sight and someone without empathy? Both are missing a common interchange between themselves and the world, interchanges that allow others with a full set to receive a certain range of stimulation both voluntary and otherwise, exchanges of receptors and neuronal firings on the lighter side of pleasure and the danker side of pain. The lack of said interchange reduces a world accordingly, but more importantly modifies the perceptions of the individuals of said world. While a blind person as consequence of their missing sense may wreak as much havoc as one without empathy, it is the latter persona that we fear, for with them we have no god of remorse to call down from on high in the realm of justice. For the blind we have pity, for the unfeeling we have the deepest fear.It is intriguing to note that the popular "sacrifice one sense and all the others are honed to the extreme" trope holds true here, for Meursault is nothing if not a sensualist. His thoughts compose themselves around observations both tactile and otherwise, seizing upon the systems of the humans around him only when they are efficient or forward thinking enough to impress him. A consequence of a lifetime rid of human distraction, leaving the mind open to pressure, temperature, the physics of ensuring oneself a spot in the world with a minimum of fuss and comfortable levels of manipulation? It is a consequence of this line of thought that I wonder at the lauding of networking and the mob hysteria reaction to psychopathy. Really, who are you fooling? Yourself seems the only answer appropriate. As I usually do when I want to get rid of someone whose conversation bores me, I pretended to agree.The word 'absurd' in relation to this continues to mislead my lines of inquiry. I shall have to read more Camus to expand my contextualization of the concept to a sufficient degree. Until then, I shall think of it in terms of 'human', and leave it at that.
I remember loving this book as a teenager, and re-reading it this week, I have felt the same. Meursault is one of the most fascinating characters I've ever read, and at the same time I've always felt a certain kinship to him. Why isn't it okay to not care as deeply, or in the same way, as others, especially on the subjects of love and death? Is there any possible connection we can have with the feelings of another? How would we ever know if we were talking about the same thing? His reactions to things are cold, but seem to be normal human emotions, nonetheless. He is constantly annoyed because of the expectations others place on him, and isn't that a natural way to be feeling? Why Meursault came to be this way is irrelevant to me, but why society is so quick to condemn as a monster one who does not want to pretend to be one of the mass has always bothered me.
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