The Stranger

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The stranger



The Stranger
In The Stranger, Albert Camus portrays Meursault, the book's narrator and main character, as aloof, detached, and unemotional. He does not think much about events or their consequences, nor does he express much feeling in relationships or during emotional times. He displays an impassiveness throughout the book in his reactions to the people and events described in the book. After his mother's death he sheds no tears; seems to show no emotions. He displays limited feelings for his girlfriend, Marie Cardona, and shows no remorse at all for killing an Arab. His reactions to life and to people distances him from his emotions, positive or negative, and from intimate relationships with others, thus he is called by the book's title, "the stranger". While this behavior can be seen as a negative trait, there is a young woman who seems to want to have a relationship with Meursault and a neighbor who wants friendship. He seems content to be indifferent, possibly protected from pain by his indifference. Meursault rarely shows any feeling when in situations which would, for most people, elicit strong emotions. Throughout the vigil, watching over his mother's dead body, and at her funeral, he never cries. He is, further, depicted enjoying a cup of coffee with milk during the vigil, and having a smoke with a caretaker at the nursing home in which his mother died. The following day, after his mother's funeral, he goes to the beach and meets a former colleague named Marie Cardona. They swim, go to a movie, and then spend the night together. Later in their relationship, Marie asks Meursault if he wants to marry her. He responds that it doesn't matter to him, and if she wants to get married, he would agree. She then asks him if he loves her. To that question he responds that he probably doesn't, and explains that marriage really isn't such a serious thing and doesn't require love. This reaction is fairly typical of Meursault as portrayed in the book. He appears to be casual and indifferent about life events. Nothing seems to be very significant to him. Later on in the book, after he kills an Arab, not once does he show any remorse or guilt for what he did. Did he really feel nothing? Camus seems to indicate that Meursault is almost oblivious and totally unruffled and untouched by events and people around him. He is unwilling to lie, during his trial, about killing the Arab. His reluctance to get involved in defending himself results in a verdict of death by guillotine. Had Meursault been engaged in his defense, explaining his actions, he might have been set free. Meursault's unresponsive behavior, distant from any apparent emotions, is probably reinforced by the despair which he sees open and feeling individuals experience. He observes, for example, Raymond cheated on and hurt by a girlfriend, and sees his other neighbor, Salamano, very depressed when he loses a dear companion, his dog. Meursault's responses are very different, he doesn't get depressed at death nor does he get emotionally involved. He appears to be totally apathetic. Thus, he seems to feel no pain and is protected from life's disappointments. Sometimes a person like Meursault can be appealing to others because he is so non-judgmental and uncritical, probably a result of indifference rather than sympathetic feelings. His limited involvement might attract some people because an end result of his distance is a sort of acceptance of others, thus he is not a threat to their egos. Raymond Sintes, a neighbor who is a pimp, seems to feel comfortable with Meursault. Sintes does not have to justify himself because Meursault doesn't comment on how Sintes makes money or how he chooses to live his life. Even though Meursault shows no strong emotions or deep affection, Marie, his girlfriend, is still attracted and interested in him. She is aware of, possibly even fascinated by, his indifference.
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The Sun as a Symbol/Motif in Albert Camus's The Stranger
Camus' usage of the sun opposes its warmth and beauty in The Stranger. The sun is a symbol for feelings and emotions, which Monsieur Meursault cannot deal with. There is a sun motif present throughout the novel, which perniciously characterizes the usual fondness towards the sun. The sun is a distraction from Meursault's everyday life and he cannot handle it. The sun first presents a problem to Meursault at his mother's funeral procession. Even before the procession embarks, Meursault remarks of the sun, calling it "inhuman and oppressive." Meursault has shown no emotion towards his mother's death and he directs his bottled-up anxiety at the sun. To Meursault, the sun is an influence on all his senses, as he cannot hear what someone else says to him. He pours with sweat, symbolizing the flow of emotions. Meursault constantly thinks about the sun when one would expect him to be mourning his dead mother. He says, "I could feel the blood pounding in my temples," which is strong imagery. At the beach with Raymond, the sun provokes Meursault to commit a crime. He says, "(the sun) shattered into little pieces on the sand and water." While going to get a drink of water, the foreign Arab uses a knife to shine the sunlight in Meursault's face. Meursault knew that all he had to do was turn around and walk away. His emotions (again not shown externally and reserved) took over. Camus states, "All I could feel were the cymbals of sunlight crashing on my forehead and, instinctively, the dazzling spear flying up from the knife in front of me. The scorching blade slashed at my eyelashes and stabbed at my stinging eyes." This strong imagery forces Meursault to fire and kill the Arab with a revolver. What makes it worse, he fires four more times to make sure the sun is dissipated for good. In prison, Meursault changes his views on both the sun, and on his view of life, which are similar. Meursault was first introduced to the harsh sun at his mother's funeral. Then, the sun took him over and led him to murder another human being. But in jail, Meursault realizes that the sun (and life) is warm and friendly. He discovers that you assign meaning to your own life and that the sun does not need to cover his emotions anymore. In prison, Meursault adulates the sun. He says, "I moved closer to the window, and in the last light of day I gazed at my reflection one more time." The sun symbolized his emotions and inner-self, and he knows this. He would not have admired his own reflection earlier in the novel. Although most creative thinkers have used the sun as a positive being, Camus' existentialist approach sees the sun as a barrier to Meursault's emotions. It is not until Meursault can comprehend this and grasp that there is "gentle indifference to the world," that the sun motif is consummated.
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The Stranger defines Camus for most Americans. The novel is simple, with none of the diversions common in popular literature. The main character is not a hero, has no "true" love affair, and the pursuit of money and power never enters into the story. The Stranger is an honest atheist, willing to accept his life as it happens. Analysis of the novel should begin by recognizing the story's basic structure. There are three deaths which mark the beginning, middle, and end of the story. First, Meursault's mother dies. This death occurs before the narration starts, but marks the start of Meursault's downfall. In the middle of the tale we have the death of an Arab. The defining events in The Stranger are set in motion by Meursault's murder of the Arab. One day, walking toward a cool stream, Meursault is blocked by an Arab. It seems the Arab draws a knife, as Meursault sees a flash of light from the blade. Meursault then kills the Arab, believing this to be an act of self-defense. At the end of the novel, Meursault is executed. Meursault is an anti-hero, at best. His only redeeming quality is his honesty, no matter how absurd. Meursault does not believe in G-d, but he cannot lie. This inability to falsify empathy condemns him in the eyes of others. While Meursault is executed for killing an Arab, he is hated for not expressing deep emotion when his mother dies. Meursault has faith in nothing except that which he experiences and senses. He is not a philosopher, a theologist, or a thinker. Meursault exists as he is, not trying to be anything more than himself. Why do people recognize Meursault as a plausible character? After two World Wars and other sufferings, many people came to (or tried to) live life much as Meursault. They lost the will to do more than exist. there was no hope, no desire. The only goal for many people was survival. Even then, the survival seemed empty. We learn just how empty Meursault's existence is through his relationships. He is not close to his mother; we learn he does not cry at her funeral. He does not seem close to his mistress, Marie Cardona. Of his lover, Meursault states, "To me she was only Marie." There is no passion in Meursault's words. Readers should note an Arab is killed. Arabs were traditionally the targets of racism in Algiers. In Algiers, the more French one was the more important the individual. This might explain why it was more upsetting to the court that Meursault was not respectful of their societal norms... killing an Arab was a minor offense. In L'étranger, Albert Camus anticipates an active reader that will react to his text. He wants the reader to form a changing, dynamic opinion of Meursault. The reader can create a consciousness for Meursault from the facts that Meursault reports. By using vague and ambiguous language, Camus stimulates the reader to explore all possibilities of meaning. Camus also intends to shock the reader into rereading passages. Through discussion of narrative structure, the opening lines, the role of pity, resentment toward Meursault's judges, and the relationship between murder and innocence, I will prove that Camus' purpose is to bring the reader to introspect on their own relationship with society. Through narrative structure, Camus invites the reader to create and become the consciousness of Meursault. Utah Sate University Professor David Anderson notices that "Meursault takes the stance of simply reporting these impressions, without attempting to create a coherent story from them." Indeed, in Part One, what Meursault reports are exclusively facts. Micheline Tisson-Braun comments that Meursault "registers facts, but not their meanings; ... is purely instantaneous; he lacks the principle of unity and continuity that characterizes man" (49). Through generalization, the reader links the details of Meursault's life. The reader thereby creates their own meaning for Meursault's actions. Meursault, without a memory or an imagination, refuses to spend time connecting events and contemplating essences. The reader does this for Meursault. Thus, the reader creates a consciousness for Meursault that is uniquely the reader's. It exactly represents Meursault's effect on the reader. When the court forces Meursault to confront his past and use his memory and when in his jail cell when he has nothing to do but imagine, Meursault develops an independent consciousness. The reader is intentionally left to compare Meursault's impression on themselves with the consciousness that Camus creates. Camus uses this other, reader-created Meursault as a bridge and a tool to put the reader in Meursault's shoes. On trial, the reader compares the mental reaction of Camus' Meursault with their consciousness for Meursault. Already the reader sympathizes with Meursault (ostensibly because we create his consciousness and it is inherently similar to the reader's), but in the court, Camus has the reader to place themselves on trial. The reader introspects on whether they are guilty of indifference to society. Camus has the reader create a consciousness for Meursault so that Camus can inspire introspection in the reader. Camus anticipates the reader will re-read his startling opening. By the opening lines, he sets a tone and standard that the reader should continually reassess their attitude toward Meursault. Aujord'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas. J'ai reçu un télégramme de l'asile: Cela ne veut rien dire. C'était peut-être hier (L'Etranger 9). At first, Camus shocks the reader into believing that Meursault does not care about the death of his mother. Camus' intention, however, is to compel the reader to create a dynamic approach to Meursault. The reader must have an open mind and constantly be willing to change their view of Meursault for Camus' later surprises to have the desired effect. As the reader reconsiders their initial negative response to Meursault, they find his humanity. Camus shifts the reader's reaction to Meursault from negative to neutral. This sets the stage for the reader to begin to identify or pity Meursault. Demosntrating his humanity, Meursault refers to his mother affectionately as "maman." Camus also carefully words Meursault's observations. "Maman est morte." Camus is intentionally vague and ambiguous. Meursault states a fact the reader must interpret. On one hand, the sentence could be interpreted as "maman is dead." A reader who has taken the opinion that Meursault's indifference is the result of an incredible state of shock could take this interpretation. The reader could also read that "maman was dead." This would show that Meursault is indifferent to the physicality of her death because he has already dealt with it mentally. By interpreting Camus in the Passé Composé, the reader acknowledges that maman's death is a completed action. Camus asks the reader to decide if Meursault lives completely in the present and if he reports events exactly as he sees them. Meursault's reporting builds a trust with the reader. By encouraging the reader to reread the opening,

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