The Stranger by Albert Camus

When my book club discussed The Stranger by Albert Camus last month, we had a terrific discussion. Not because everyone loved the book, but because it provoked such a wide range of reactions.  Some couldn’t even say how they felt about this French classic, published in 1942. Instead they said that they “respected” the book, or they were “fascinated” by it.

I fall into the latter category. I was fascinated by this book and by the main character, a man named Meursault.  In Part One of the book, he is indifferent to pretty much everything and everybody in his life. Even at this mother’s funeral, his major consideration is the heat. He’s one of those people who “goes along to get along,” even agreeing to marry his girlfriend just because it means so much to her, and he doesn’t really care either way. Then he is sent to prison for killing a man—an act he commits for no discernible reason except that there was a gun in his pocket and the sun was so hot. In Part Two, Meursault struggles to come to terms with his new situation. He finally connects to the world around him, and discovers a new appreciation for it.

The Stranger is short and easy to read, deceptively simple. I have read this book three times and I still can’t say with any certainty just what the book is about.  Is it a critique of the French colonial justice system? Is it an allegory about French participation in the Holocaust? Is it an indictment of how the French treated the Arabs in Algeria? Is it a treatise against capital punishment? Is it a book about philosophy? Is it a general allegory about the inevitability of death? According to the members of my book club, it might be any of these. Read the book and take your pick!

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2 Responses to “The Stranger by Albert Camus”

  1. Jess Reid Says:

    The book is about the Absurd, and authenticity. Mersault refuses to lie – he refuses to pretend that he cares that much about his mother, that he cares that much about anything – and society vilifies him for it. He knows the world is Absurd and lacks meaning, but no one else seems to.

  2. marksackler Says:

    The best answer to “what is this book about” that I ever heard or read was this. It is a definition of the plight of modern man trying to find meaning in life without theism–and Camus offered solutions in later books like “The Plague” and “The Myth of Sisyphus.”

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