Silent Whispers

Chasing Illusionary Butterflies!

The Stranger – Book 27 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on October 10, 2018

He expects nothing from life or people, and cultivates nothing. Neither hopeful nor cynical, just flowing with the feeling of sameness all through day and night. Morality is not subjected to control and order but autonomy and liberty. One act is the same as another in the long run. There is neither hope nor a dint of cynicism. One act is the same as another in the long run. There is no sign of aspiration or quest. No materialistic ambitions. An anti-hero in the mould of Kafka’s Jospeh. Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to introduce you to Meursault- protagonist of existentialist drama called “The Stranger”. As indifferent as piercing rays of summer sun and motionless waves of sea, Meursault represents urban disintegration and a by-product of routinized work.

Though published in 1942 by famous French author Albert Camus, Meursault could very well be representing modern day apathy prevalent in our generation. The character feels so indifferent, unable to tune himself to how society expects him to behave and express certain emotions during the moments of tragedy. It feels so relatable when you find him moving on from humdrum of day to day dreadful existence. Call it existential crisis or merely a product of his circumstances, that’s how he is. Can’t float on the surface of ecstasy and can’t wail in the depths of despair with any iota of supposedly natural expressions. Throughout the story you get the distinct impression that he does not conform.  He does not follow the norms set out by society about how we should be. He is merely a soul without any moral compass. He is not a bad person; he is just unable to subscribe to moral code set out by society. I mean, how do you judge a person who does not weep at his mother’s funeral? An anti-social criminal who does not play the worldly games and hence eternally condemned? Or he is just plain ‘different’? That’s the crux of the book.

camusI had fallen in love with Albert Camus when I had read his “The Fall”. His short, crisp writing style with dollops of penetrating sentences was an instant connect. Born in Algeria, this writer who was also a philosopher, author, and journalist, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. “The Stranger” is one of the most widely read French novels of the twentieth century. Originally written in French, it has been translated in many languages. The Stranger is an apt title as Meursault is a perfect stranger in every sense, whether he being a foreigner in Algeria, an outsider to society, and of course a bit of a stranger to those around him. If I dare a bit more, I will say, he is also a stranger to himself. Consider the opening of the book– “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.”   You getting the drift?

The Stranger unfolds through Mersault’s perspective, and is divided into two main parts—before he committed the most senseless crime, and how society perceives him after his arrest. Throughout the book, he has a matter-of-fact tone. Whether you find him apathetic or sympathetic depends on your nature and inclination. His description about his mother’s death is in some way weird and at the same time revealing of how Mersault’s brain was wired. Check his emotions- “It occurred to me that anyway one more Sunday was over, that Maman was buried now, that I was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed.” First part of the book is about his day to day affairs and not for a moment you will find traces of passion or any strong emotions. When he commits the senseless murder, he had no motive except for intolerable heat.

Mersault’s trial feels like a circus; a complete farce uncovering the methods of society layer by layer. Everyone expects him to feel remorse for his crime but there is none. His atheist mindset does not help his cause as well. Merasault is not happy about the fact that his guilt is being established without his participation. Readers get a feeling that he is not exactly being punished for murder but for his behaviour after his mother’s death. Pronounced guilty in a hasty verdict, Mersault‘s trial was against the protagonist’s character more than it was about his crime. The novel concludes with a scintillating monologue when Merasault launches an impassioned tirade after a chaplain attempts to salvage his soul. To him, nothing mattered and he believed everyone was privileged to live and be carried by the tides of fate, and all of us are equally condemned to face an end—whatever that end may be. With that outburst he actually takes command of his fate, relegating death to merely a result of the choices he’s made. And these choices did not matter to him. It was simply the way his life unfolded.

To wind up, “The Stranger” shakes you and your existing notions about life, death, freedom and choices. Even though he is condemned to death, he still feels that he is free. And if you think you are more free than others because you don’t give a two hoot about societal norms and notions of convention, then do we have any right to consider you limited or condemned? Living on your own terms is worth more than what the world views as rational behaviour. Mersault also made me think about concept of remorse. Not having any interest in introspection or religion or worship or regrets is actually fascinating. Do these really matter in the end when death is certain? May be these notions are too bleak but I find them worth considering. After all it’s all about desire to be free. To be free is humane. Cold and detached it may sound but then you have got every right to live your life the way you deem fit. Go for it if you are interested in philosophy, existentialism and absurdist literature.

Happy Reading folk. Cheers.


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