The Stranger, Camus (1942)

I haven’t updated this blog with my readings lately. For what reason, I know not, because I have been reading a lot since my last post.

So we’ll start with the most recent. I just finished The Stranger. It reminded me a lot of Muriel Spark’s The Driver’s Seat, although Spark’s novel was published in 1970.  So I should say that now that I’ve read The Stranger, The Driver’s Seat reminds me of it!  I’ll get to that more in a bit.

I was impressed with the poesy of Matthew Ward’s translation of The Stranger. His introduction states that he maintained the integrity of Camus’ short sentences. This tactic speaks well against the curtness of Meursault’s character because he gets to the point and merely says what’s on his mind in the shortest way possible, because that’s natural. 

Meursault reminds me of Lise (or Lise reminds me of Meursault) from The Driver’s Seat because both are apathetic to the world around them, and seemingly detached from what the reader would perceive as the real world, or a more fitting perception of reality. I sometimes think that we all assume that everyone has the same basic sense of reality but it is the great authors who remind us that is not the case.

In Lise’s case, she is an automoton; she works in an office, keeps a meticulously sterile apartment, and seemingly has no “life.” She would not be classified as a loser, per se, but she is definitely not on the high end of the scale of those who relish life, or even pay attention to it, on a daily basis.  Meursault is the same, he seems to go through his life without ever stopping to smell the roses. His interactions with Marie, his girlfriend-fiance, are indicative of this. When she asks him to marry her, he says okay, but that if someone else was to ask him, he’d be just as likely to marry that girl too; he told her he didn’t love her but if she wanted to marry him, he would be fine with that.  His utter detachment from all emotions creates a major problem for him that he does not realize until he is in his cell for months.

The same for Lise: she is so detached from the world around her, from her own emotions and the emotions of others, that the reader has to wonder what is the point of even living. Well, that’s the point Spark is trying to make because Lise goes on a trip and her goal of this trip is to find someone to murder her. She finds someone to do it and the novel ends.

There are many literary characters that fit this m.o. of detachment and/or apathy toward life.  Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov from Crime & Punishment comes to mind, but he is an intellectual in a bind.  Meursault and Lise are not intellectuals at all. They are part of the uber-mundane class who never tried to learn anything because they were so un-preoccupied with life.

Is it sad, the predicament Meursault is in? Not really. As he says, it’s normal. You kill someone, you go to jail and get your head lobbed off.  So what is the point?  Besides all of the existential mumbo jumbo you read about this novel, what else is happening? Sure, it’s about the potential for the non-existence of God and all that, but somewhere in the novel someone says to Meursault (I think it was the Magistrate) that even if you don’t believe God exists, you still believe in God. For to believe he doesn’t exist is to at least have considered he did.  Therefore he does. 

I’m going to consider this novel as a reminder that life should be appreciated and savored. Meursault and Lise did not do either, and they lost out.

I would also like to mention that it is clear that characters like HBO’s Dexter Morgan, possess the same detachment and feigned emotion as Meursault does in this novel.  Part of Dexter’s training as a child was to feign emotions and to act normal. Meursault does the same thing, and his inner monologue gives him away throughout the novel.

By the end, Meursault has come to look forward to his moment of execution, and he hopes that the crowd of spectators will spew chants of hate at him for what he’s done.  I suppose it is because he lacks such emotion in his real life that he has come to at least appreciate the capacity for emotion in others. Ironically, the final scene is the only instance of emotion for Meursault (when he rages against the Chaplain), and that was an emotional outburst against an insistence that God exists. At least he feels strongly about something.