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1st US version
(publ. Alfred A. Knopf, 1946)
|Cover artist||Jack Walser|
|Publication date||1943, French 1942|
|This article may contain original research. (September 2007)|
1st US version
(publ. Alfred A. Knopf, 1946)
|Cover artist||Jack Walser|
|Publication date||1943, French 1942|
The Stranger or The Outsider (L’Étranger) is a novel by Albert Camus published in 1942. Its theme and outlook are often cited as exemplars of existentialism, though Camus did not consider himself an existentialist; in fact, its content explores various philosophical schools of thought, including (most prominently and specifically) absurdism, as well as determinism, nihilism, naturalism, and stoicism.
The title character is Meursault, an Algerian ("a citizen of France domiciled in North Africa, a man of the Mediterranean, an homme du midi yet one who hardly partakes of the traditional Mediterranean culture") who seemingly irrationally kills an Arab man whom he recognises in French Algiers. The story is divided into two parts: Meursault's first-person narrative view before and after the murder, respectively.
Part One begins with Meursault learning of his mother's death. At her funeral, he expresses none of the expected emotions of grief. When asked if he wishes to view the body, he says no, and, instead, smokes and drinks coffee with milk in front of the coffin. Rather than expressing his feelings, he only comments to the reader about the others at the funeral. He later encounters Marie, a former employee of his firm, and the two become re-acquainted and begin to have a sexual relationship, regardless of the fact that Meursault's mother died just a day before. In the next few days, he helps his friend and neighbour, Raymond Sintès, take revenge on a Moorish girlfriend suspected of infidelity. For Raymond, Meursault agrees to write a letter to his girlfriend, with the sole purpose of inviting her over so that Raymond can have sex with her but kick her out at the last minute as emotional revenge. Meursault sees no reason not to help him, and it pleases Raymond. He does not express concern that Raymond's girlfriend is going to be emotionally hurt, as he believes Raymond's story that she has been unfaithful, and he himself is both somewhat drunk and characteristically unfazed by any feelings of empathy. In general he considers other people either interesting or annoying or feels nothing of them at all.
The letter works: the girlfriend returns, but the situation escalates when she slaps Raymond after he tries to kick her out, and Raymond beats her. Raymond is taken to court where Meursault testifies that she had been unfaithful, and Raymond is let off with a warning. After this, the girlfriend's brother and several Arab friends begin tailing Raymond. Raymond invites Meursault and Marie to a friend's beach house for the weekend, and when there, they encounter the spurned girlfriend's brother and an Arab friend; these two confront Raymond and wound him with a knife during a fist fight. Later, walking back along the beach alone and now armed with a revolver he took from Raymond so that Raymond would not do anything rash, Meursault encounters the Arab. Meursault is now disoriented on the edge of heatstroke, and when the Arab flashes his knife at him, Meursault shoots. Despite killing the Arab man with the first gunshot, he shoots the corpse four more times after a brief pause. He does not divulge to the reader any specific reason for his crime or emotions he experiences at the time, if any, aside from the fact that he was bothered by the heat and bright sunlight.
Part Two begins with Meursault's incarceration, explaining his arrest, time in prison, and upcoming trial. His general detachment makes living in prison very tolerable, especially after he gets used to the idea of not being able to go places whenever he wants to and no longer being able to satisfy his sexual desires with Marie. He passes the time sleeping, or mentally listing the objects he owned back in his apartment building. At the trial, Meursault's quietness and passivity is seen as demonstrative of his seeming lack of remorse or guilt by the prosecuting attorney, and so the attorney concentrates more upon Meursault's inability or unwillingness to cry at his mother's funeral than on the actual murder. The attorney pushes Meursault to tell the truth but never comes through and later, on his own, Meursault explains to the reader that he simply was never really able to feel any remorse or personal emotions for any of his actions in life. The dramatic prosecutor theatrically denounces Meursault to the point that he claims Meursault must be a soulless monster, incapable of remorse and that he thus deserves to die for his crime. Although Meursault's attorney defends him and later tells Meursault that he expects the sentence to be light, Meursault is alarmed when the judge informs him of the final decision: that he will be decapitated publicly.
In prison, while awaiting the execution of his death sentence by the guillotine, Meursault meets with a chaplain, but rejects his proffered opportunity of turning to God, explaining that God is a waste of his time. Although the chaplain persists in attempting to lead Meursault from his atheism, Meursault finally accosts him in a rage, with a climactic outburst on his frustrations and the absurdity of the human condition and his personal anguish at the meaninglessness of his existence without respite. At the beginning of his outrage he mentions other people in anger, that they have no right to judge him, for his actions or for who he is, no one has the right to judge someone else. Meursault ultimately grasps the universe's indifference towards humankind (coming to terms with his execution): "As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the benign indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—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 howls of execration."
Meursault is a French Algerian who learns of his mother's death by telegram. Meursault's indifference to the news of his mother's death demonstrates some emotional detachment from his environment. There are multiple instances throughout the novel where significant moments do not have an emotional impact on Meursault. He doesn't show emotion to the fact that his mother is dead, Marie loves him or that he killed an Arab. Another aspect of Meursault is that he is an honest person. He always speaks his mind and does not care how other people see him. He is regarded as a stranger to society due to his indifference.
Raymond Sintès is the neighbor of Meursault who beats his mistress which causes a conflict with the Arabs. He brings Meursault into the conflict which ultimately results in Meursault killing the Arab. Raymond can be a foil character of Meursault in that he takes action while Meursault is indifferent. Raymond and Meursault seem to develop a bond as the story goes on and ends with Raymond Sintes testifying for Meursault during his trial. Raymond also views things on what he owns — he assaults a woman because she cheated and he insists Meursault is his friend after a simple favor from Meursault.
Marie Cardona was a typist in the same workplace as Meursault. A day after Meursault's mother's funeral she meets him at a public beach which sparks their relationship. She asks if Meursault loves her but Meursault replies that he doesn't think so. He still agrees to marry her but he gets arrested for killing the Arab. Marie, like Meursault, enjoys physical contact in their relationship through the act of sex. She represents the enjoyable life Meursault wants and she is also the only reason that Meursault regrets going to jail.
Masson is the owner of the beach house where Raymond takes Marie and Meursault. Masson is a carefree person who simply likes to live his life and be happy. He wants to live life without restrictions.
Salamano is an old man who beats his dog and routinely takes it out for walks. He ends up losing his dog and asks Meursault for advice. Meursault does not offer helpful advice and Salamano acknowledges that his life has changed.
In the novel, Albert Camus creates a number of character foils for Meursault's character in order to bring out various features.
Meursault and Thomas Perez – The relationship that Thomas has with Meursault's mother is one of the few in the novel that show a real emotional attachment. This is a contrast to the relationship that Meursault had with his mother. Whereas Meursault shows indifference to her death, Thomas is truly hurt.
Meursault and Raymond Sintès – This is one of the more obvious foils in this novel. Raymond is insincere and telling lies is nothing new to him. He is somewhat thoughtless – this can be seen in his letter to his mistress, which was quite ruthless. On the other hand, Meursault is very honest about what he feels. He doesn't see the need to lie about things in order to conform with society's morals. This is precisely why he didn't shed 'false tears' at his mother's funeral.
Meursault and Salamano – When Salamano's dog is lost, he is heart-broken. This emotion that Salamano expresses exacerbates Meursault's lack of feelings because when Meursault's mother dies, he shows indifference.
Meursault and the 'Robot Lady' – Whereas Meursault just likes life to happen as it does, this lady (whom he meets at Celeste's diner) is the exact opposite. In this sense, these two characters are polar opposites – she counts the money at the diner to the exact coin. On the other hand, if Meursault were a few francs off, he probably wouldn't care because it is part of his nature to avoid conflict.
Literarily classed as an existential novel, The Stranger exposits Camus' theory of absurdism. In the story's first half, Meursault is an unperceptive man, existing only via sensory experience (the funeral procession, swimming in the sea, sleeping with his girlfriend). Meursault is unaware of the absurdity of human existence, yet it colours his actions, the only real and true things are his physical experiences, thus, he kills the Arab man as 'his response to the sun's physical effects upon him', as he moves toward his "adversary'" on the brightly overlit beach. In itself, his killing of the Arab man is meaningless, merely another occurrence that "happens to" Meursault. The episode's significance is in his forced introspection about his life, and its meaning, while contemplating his impending death by formal execution; only in formal trial and death does he acknowledge his mortality and responsibility for his own life.
The story's second half examines the arbitrariness of justice: the public official compiling the details of the murder case tells him repentance and turning to Christianity will save him, but Meursault refuses to pretend he has found religion; emotional honesty overrides self-preservation, and he accepts the idea of punishment as a consequence of his actions as part of the status quo. The actual death of the Arab as a human being with a family is seemingly irrelevant, as Camus tells us little to nothing about the victim beyond the fact that he is dead. Indeed, Meursault is never even asked to confront, reflect or comment upon the victim as anything other than as a consequence of his actions and the cause of his current predicament. The humanity of the victim and inhumanity of murdering another human being is seemingly beside the point.
Thematically, the Absurd overrides Responsibility; despite his physical terror, Meursault is satisfied with his death; his discrete sensory perceptions only physically affect him, and thus are relevant to his self and his being, i.e. in facing death, he finds revelation and happiness in the "gentle indifference of the world". Central to that happiness is his pausing after the first, fatal gunshot when killing the Arab man. Interviewed by the magistrate, he mentions it did not matter that he paused and then shot four more times; Meursault is objective, there was no resultant, tangible difference: the Arab man died of one gunshot, and four more gunshots did not render him 'more dead'. The absurdity is in society's creating a justice system to give meaning to his action via capital punishment: "The fact that the death sentence had been read at eight o'clock at night and not at five o'clock . . . the fact that it had been handed down in the name of some vague notion called the French (or German, or Chinese) people – all of it seemed to detract from the seriousness of the decision".
Camus and Sartre, in particular, were of the French resistance against the Nazis; their friendship ultimately differing only in philosophic stance. Albert Camus presents the world as meaningless, therefore, its meaning is rendered by oneself; it is the individual person who gives meaning to a circumstance. Camus deals with this matter and Man's relationship with Man via considerations of suicide in the novels A Happy Death and The Plague and in non-fiction works such as The Rebel and The Myth of Sisyphus.
The Librairie Gallimard first published the original French-language novel in 1942. British author Stuart Gilbert first translated L’Étranger to English in 1946; for more than thirty years his version was read as the standard English translation. In 1982, the British publisher Hamish Hamilton published a second translation, by Joseph Laredo, that Penguin Books bought in 1983 and reprinted in the Penguin Classics line in 2000. In 1988, a third translation, by the American Matthew Ward, was published, by Random House Inc., in the Vintage International line of Vintage Books. Because Camus was influenced by the American literary style, the 1988 translation was Americanised.
The three translations differ much in tone; Gilbert's translation is formal, notable in the initiating sentence of the first chapter. The French original is: "Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas. J'ai reçu un télégramme de l'asile: Mère décédée. Enterrement demain. Sentiments distingués. Cela ne veut rien dire. C'était peut-être hier". Maman is informal French for the informal English Mum/Mommy/Mom.
Gilbert's 1946 translation is: "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."
Laredo's 1982 translation is: "Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know. I had a telegram from the home: 'Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely.' That doesn't mean anything. It may have been yesterday."
Ward's 1988 translation is: "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."
Each carries certain connotations that could affect the reader's interpretation of the book. In the first two translations, Meursault is given a cold stature; the third translation shows curiosity rather than indifference towards Mother's death, which is close to the original French.
A critical difference of translation is in the connotation of the original French emotion in the story's key sentence: "I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe" in Gilbert's versus Laredo's "I laid my heart open to the gentle indifference of the universe" (original French: la tendre indifférence du monde = literally, "the tender indifference of the world"). The ending lines between the two aforementioned translations differ as well, from "on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration," to " with cries of hatred", respectively, a significant scene that serves as a foil to the prior "indifference of the world". In French, the triad is "cris de haine", which Ward's transliteral interpretation is closest to in terms of phonics. Gilbert's interpretation takes the liberty of juxtaposing "execration" with "execution".
In French, "étranger" can mean: "foreign", "overseas", "unknown", "extraneous", "outsider", "stranger", "alien", "unconnected", and "irrelevant". Perhaps the seemingly obvious French/English cognate: L’Étranger --> "estranged" most etymologically connotes Camus' essential ontological theme in this work.
Meursault is existentially estranged and does not understand the necessity of adhering to the stock gestures and emotions in everyday life. This estrangement is his downfall in the very end. As he is oblivious of the motifs he lives, he is unencumbered by any meaning exterior to his sensory experience, a character trait rendering him "foreign," "disconnected" and "alien" to his contemporaries.
The 1995 song Noch koroche dnya ("Night is Shorter than Day") by the Russian heavy metal band Aria is based on Meursault's encounter with the chaplain in the final scene of the novel. It is also narrated from Meursault's first-person perspective and includes (in Russian) the line, "The cries of hate will be my reward / Upon my death, I will not be alone."
The 1979 first single "Killing an Arab" by The Cure was recorded at the same time as their first LP in the UK, Three Imaginary Boys (1979) but not included on the album. However it was included on the band's first US album, Boys Don't Cry (1980). Composer Robert Smith has said that the song "was a short poetic attempt at condensing my impression of the key moments in L'Étranger (The Stranger) by Albert Camus" (Cure News number 11, October 1991).
Tuxedomoon - "Stranger"/"Love/No Hope", 7", 1979
The passage in which Meursault accepts his impending execution was read over the end of the song "Asa Phelps Is Dead" by The Lawrence Arms; read by guitarist Chris McCaughan, the excerpt parallels certain themes in the song's lyrics by bassist Brendan Kelly.
The lead singer, Rody Walker of the Canadian Metal band Protest The Hero has the quotation 'It is better to burn than to disappear.' as his first tattoo on his right arm. Note that the phrase "It is better to burn than to disappear" does not appear in the French original. In the Stuart Gilbert translation, this phrase appears between the following two sentences in the original: "Je me suis mis à crier à plein gosier et je l'ai insulté et je lui ai dit de ne pas prier. Je l'avais pris par le collet de sa soutane."
In the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie's English teacher, Mr. Anderson gives him "The Stranger" as part of the extra reading they've been doing throughout the school year.
In the second season The Sopranos episode D-Girl, Anthony Soprano Jr tells his parents that life is absurd, that the hypothetical death of his friends would be "interesting," and that there is no god. Tony and Carmilla ask where this is coming from. Meadow Soprano appears at this moment and explains that Anthony was assigned The Stranger in English class, stating "This is education."
In the film Jacob's Ladder (film), Jacob Singer is seen with The Stranger on the subway. The book is again seen later in the film as Jacob rummages through a drawer.
In the 2006 movie Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Andrew Lincoln's character, Jamie, pretends to know what the book is about.
In the video game Team Fortress 2, the Spy class (who is portrayed as French) has an unlockable pistol called "L'Etranger." As an additional nod to the novel, the gun is part of weapon/costume set called "The Saharan Spy." The in-game design is modeled on the Nagant M1895.
In Titus Andronicus' 2007 debut, 'The Airing of Grievances' a quote from The Stranger, followed by a track called 'Albert Camus' are included
Drama TV series Gossip Girl includes several references to Camus. In the fifth season, the character of Dan Humphrey is gifted a copy of The Stranger by Louis Grimaldi, Prince of Monaco, in exchange for keeping a secret. The title of the book intimates Humphrey's long-standing "outsider" status, but the book itself also foreshadows the moral ambiguity of Grimaldi. The elusive character of Gossip Girl also pays tribute to the writer, asserting "Camus said that life is the sum of our choices. Choose wisely and fortune smiles upon you. But choose poorly? You never know what price you'll have to pay."
Life of Pi (film) briefly shows the main character "Pi" reading the novel.
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