The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Stranger is not merely one of the most widely read novels of the20th century, but one of the books likely to outlive it. Written in 1946,Camuss compelling and troubling tale of a disaffected, apparently amoralyoung man has earned a durable popularity (and remains a staple of U.S.high school literature courses) in part because it reveals so vividly theanxieties of its time. Alienation, the fear of anonymity, spiritual doubt--allcould have been given a purely modern inflection in the hands of a lesser talent than Camus, who won the Nobel Prize in 1957 and was noted for his existentialist aesthetic. The remarkable trick of The Stranger, however,is that its not mired in period philosophy. The plot is simple. A young Algerian, Meursault, afflicted with a sort of aimless inertia, becomesembroiled in the petty intrigues of a local pimp and, somewhatinexplicably, ends up killing a man. Once hes imprisoned and eventuallybrought to trial, his crime, it becomes apparent, is not so much thearguably defensible murder he has committed as it is his deficientcharacter. The trials proceedings are absurd, a parsing of incidentaltrivialities--that Meursault, for instance, seemed unmoved by his ownmothers death and then attended a comic movie the evening after her funeral are two ostensibly damning facts--so that the eventual sentencethe jury issues is both ridiculous and inevitable. Meursault remains acipher nearly to the storys end--dispassionate, clinical, disengaged fromhis own emotions. She wanted to know if I loved her, he says of hisgirlfriend. I answered the same way I had the last time, that it didnt meananything but that I probably didnt. Theres a latent ominousness in suchobservations, a sense that devotion is nothing more than self-delusion. Itsundoubtedly true that Meursault exhibits an extreme of resignation;however, his confrontation with the gentle indifference of the worldremains as compelling as it was when Camus first recounted it. --BenGutersonMaman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I dont know. This is the voice of Mersault, the main character and narrator. Camus perfectly capturesMersaults detached almost indifferent relation to the world. Not only isMersault somewhat indifferent to the details of his mothers [Mamans]death, his relationship with his girlfriend is one more of tolerance thanattachment, he tends to have acquaintances rather than friends, and, onthe whole, has drifted through life. His mothers death sets in action achain of events that effect a dramatic change in Mersault and, likely, thereader.