“When I was first imprisoned, the worst thing was that I kept thinking like a free man. For instance, I’d suddenly want to be on a beach and to be able to walk down to the sea.”
“I was assailed by memories of a life which was no longer mine, but in which I’d found my simplest and most lasting pleasures: the smells of summer, the part of town that I loved, the sky on certain evenings, Marie’s dresses and the way she laughed”
L’Étranger is a novel originally written in French and published in 1942. L’Étranger in English can be translated as both Stranger and Outsider but I prefer the latter as it describes the protagonist Mersault much better.
This novel is about the story of a man who is imprisoned and sentenced to death less for the murder he committed and more for not subscribing to the accepted social norms of not grieving on his mother’s death, not regretting the murder he committed, not believing in God etc. The novel is so similar to the “Invitation to a Beheading”; the only differences are that the latter begins with the death sentence whereas this one describes the events of his life culminating into his death sentence. Also the latter is narrated in a dreamlike sequence in a fictional town and society whereas this one isn’t. But both protagonists are Outsiders and are persecuted for their dogged adherence to honest truth and their refusal to mold themselves as per the tenets of society but ironically they are the ones who know how to appreciate the true joys of the world- freedom, summer, summer rays etc. The ones held in high social esteem- like the chaplain in this novel are living dead. The Chaplain expects him to seek God since his end his near but he says he would rather spend his limited time elsewhere. As Meursalt describes the Chaplain, “He couldn’t even be sure he was alive because he was living like a dead man.”
The only explanation for killing the Arab Meursault offers is “because of the sun.” The lawyers and magistrate expect him to expect remorse at his action but he is candid enough to admit “there is not so much regret, as there is irritation.”
On his mother’s grief, he says, “I probably loved mother quite a lot but that didn’t mean a thing. To a certain extent all normal people sometimes wished their loved ones were dead.”
The simple matter-of-fact language Camus has used in the novel helps bring out the simplicity of Mersault and his stark unadulterated truth, which each one of knows is true but most would never admit it, perhaps not even to ourselves. He speaks the truth even in the face of death when he knows a simple lie like his belief in God could reduce his sentence. Thus there is perhaps a Mersault in all of us but has been killed at the hands of society.
Towards the end, his lawyer interjects, and rightly so but to no avail,
“But after all, is he being accused of burying his mother or of killing a man.”
- The Meursault in all of us (byduskinnia.wordpress.com)
- Albert Camus and the ventriloquists (darrananderson.com)
- Thinking About Books and Dead Writers, Issue One: A brief essay on the work of Albert Camus (Part 1) (adventuresinamericanwriting.wordpress.com)
- Five Books that Changed my (Writing) Life: From Guest Blogger Berndt Sellheim (booktopia.com.au)