The Outsider, or The Stranger as it is called in French portrays the story of Meursault, a bachelor in early twentieth century Algeria. It opens on the hot summer’s eve of his mother’s funeral, but given his uncharacteristically normal behavior, no one would have ever known it was his mother. He has very little attachment to the elderly woman, and feels no shame in his lack of tears at her wake. Upon his return from the funeral, he stumbles upon the beautiful Marie Cardona while at the swimming-pool and they begin a casual romance. After a peaceful, lethargic weekend, Meursault returns to work and everything seems to go back to the way it was before his mother’s death. Weeks pass slowly, and Meursault falls in with old friend and neighbor Raymond Sintes, a low-life pimp, who asks Meursault to help him get a little revenge on his girlfriend for cheating on him. A few days later, Raymond is reported to the police for physically abusing his girlfriend. Raymond asks Meursault, who is indifferent to the violence inflicted on the girl, to be a witness for him, to which he agrees. As a result, Raymond invites Meursault and Marie to his friend Masson’s beach house for the weekend. It seems innocent enough at first; however, Raymond later confesses his fear of being followed by the Arab brother of the girl he beat. The weekend arrives, Meursault feeling unusually out of sorts, and they get on the bus to take them to the beach house. Before they can board, Raymond suddenly appears nervous and points out the group of Arab men (including the girl’s brother) watching them from across the street. They leave hastily and arrive at Masson’s for a relaxing day away from all the trouble. But it seems as if trouble is determined to find them, in the form of two Arabs following them to the beach to pick a fight with Raymond. With Meursault standing a ways away, Raymond and Masson both get into it with the two men, and Raymond ends up with gashes across his mouth and arm. He is immediately patched up, but decides he isn’t quite finished with them just yet. He and Meursault go looking for them, though when they do stumble across them, Raymond loses his edge, handing over his gun to Meursault, and they turn back to the house. However, with the hot summer sun looming overhead, Meursault begins to feel its affects. He remembers the stream near where they had seen the Arabs, and he returns to the beach for a third time, his sole intention finding water to drink. But when he returns, there is only one man still there, positioned so Meursault would have to go through him to reach the water. Meursault tries to get by him, but the Arab pulls a knife, and in a moment plagued with sharp pains in his head, Meursault shoots him five times with Raymond’s gun. After being questioned several times by the magistrate, Meursault is sent to jail until he can sit trial the following year. Eleven months pass, and soon Meursault is brought into Algiers to stand trial. The prosecutor rips apart witness after witness, and Meursault becomes very aware of how callous his actions were perceived by other people. He feels incredibly isolated after this realization, wondering if he had ever been truly loved as he had thought all these years. The prosecutor gives a very convincing closing statement, claiming he set the precedent for another murder- a case of parricide- and should be held equally responsible for both. When his lawyer speaks next, he unknowingly convicts his own client with his words. Condemned by the testimonies of his friends and the prosecution, Meursault is sentenced to death by decapitation in a public place. He spends the remainder of the book in jail, mulling over what the future brings for him. It is only after a priest visits him, his words provoking Meursault into a rage, that Meursault realizes how happy he had been. That it no longer mattered whether he should have done this or that. He had chosen his own path, and it didn’t pay to dwell on what he should have done.
The novel takes place on the brink of the Algerian Independence, perhaps in the 1920’s or 1930’s. The country in Northern Africa was controlled by France at this time, until their independence in 1962. The tension between the Europeans, and the Arabs is ever present at the time, which is made apparent during their independence in the sixties, when thousands of Europeans, or Pieds-Noir, were expelled from the country.
The Outsider is told through Meursault’s eyes, and it quickly becomes obvious to the reader that he lives purely within the physical sensations of life. The descriptions of his surroundings are bountiful, but he spends very little time describing people.
Throughout the novel, Camus shows that Meursault is not socially incapable, but he prefers keeping to himself over spending time with others. Throughout the novel he demonstrates a lack of emotion, but the one things about him that makes it easy for others to ostracize him, is his brutal honesty. He comments on how he does not feel remorse for the murder of the Arab, or even the passing of his mother, something a normal person (such as the reader) couldn’t understand, and he realizes too late it is his lack of emotion that convicts him in the end. He also does not pay much attention to people who he deems as unimportant, names purposely left out because Meursault simply didn’t care to remember them. In all, I found the book rather bare of emotion, something that never fails to draw me into a good read, and though it was a well-written book, I don’t feel it’s worth a second read.
Book Reviewed by Olivia T
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