I first read this book 50 years ago. The book, published in 1942, was Camus’s first novel. Jean-Paul Sartre’s initial review of the book helped it, but it was not an immediate success.
I have gone back and reread this book several times over the years and always I find that the mood of the book seems stark. The book suggests the human inability to find any meaning in life.
In collage we were asked to read this book while we studied Sartre. Camus was labeled as an “absurdist” which suggested that human beings exist in a purposeless, chaotic universe. Sartre was considered an existentialist which emphasizes the existence of the individual as a free and responsible agent, determining their own development through acts of the will.
When we studied Camus we were asked whether he wasn’t really an existentialist? Camus never did agree that he was an existentialist and didn’t like being labeled that way. He presented the book, “the Stranger”, to show an individual who was free from outside influence, emotionless, who didn’t play the game, and whose existence seemed to be purposeless.
Meursault lived in a rooming house in Algiers. His mother died, and he was called away for the funeral. At the funeral he showed no emotion and the next day when returning home, he and his girlfriend Marie went to a comedy movie. He had a neighbor, Raymond. They went out walking and Raymond’s enemies, who were Arabs, came after him to hurt him. Meursault tried to protect Raymond and when it looked like it would happen again he gets Raymond to give him a gun that he had and planned to carry. That threatening incident passes but later when Meursault is out walking alone one of the Arabs confronts him. He still has the gun in his pocket and in self-defense he shoots and kills the Arab.
After months of imprisonment the trial leads to the death sentence. The sentence is obvious to not be for the crime, but for his detachment and indifference to his mother's death.
In January 1955, Camus wrote: “I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: 'In our society any man who does not weep at his mother's funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death. I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”
The well-crafted story, in my opinion, does not leave you convinced that the world is without meaning. There is much of interest in the characters whose lives were important to them. It is worth going back and reading again or just reading it if you have not done so.