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Thinking Outside the Box

  • Jul 6, 2010

"Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure." are the opening lines of Camus's "the Stranger" or "The Outsider". Let me ask you something, is this the way you would react if your mother died? I didn't think so. 

Camus's 76 page novel is an easy read- namely, the language is simple, but thought-wise, it packs a lot. In a way, this is where Camus advertises for and against the idea "absurd" through the actions of his character Mersault. 

Mersault lives life. He simply goes to work, does what he is told, and life goes on. He is in no ways a puppet, or an automated machine. He has his own way of life, the point is that "all is same" for him. 

"Marie came that evening and asked me if I’d marry her. I said I didn’t mind; if she was keen on it, we’d get married."

Marriage is an important decision for us, but for him, it doesn't matter. What if he is married? 

The book is divided into two parts: The death of Mersault's mother and her funeral (in which he shows no emotion and that is why people are shocked), his meeting with Marie (his girlfriend), and his shooting the Arab. The second part is his trial.

It is during the trial you mainly see how much of a stranger he is. All the things society expects a "normal" person to do, he does not.  he lives life the way he chooses, not how he is supposed to. He does not seek meaning. He does not search God or fame or ambition. He is simply content with who he is.  

Perhaps an idea is that Mersault pays the price for being different. Its his unemotional attitude to his mothers funeral which eventually makes the jury vote against him. He is punished for not fitting the bill, not being a part of the system. I read this book and some similar ones in high school literature under the general theme "Alienation" - the self's process of getting distanced from his own existence- and this book fits. Mersault is executed because all attempts to "convert" him fails.  

 The book is also a key block of existential philosophy, for Mersault with his "absurd" philosophy knows the search for meaning is meaningless- and in the end, he finds it: the novel closes with these lines, for Mersault embraces his difference. 

 "For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration."
Stranger is a heavy book.  It's hard to get through it, but if you can, it's totally worth it. Give yourself a try. And keep in mind: if you can think like Mersault and realize how simple things are, get into his head and be him just for an instant, I hope the book will prove much more accessible. 

As an extra side, The Cure has written a song called "Killing an Arab" and it is about Mersault.  

Well, that's it for this. 

Take care,





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review by . July 04, 2010
Meursault is a clerk in Algiers, an intentionally non-descript young man with no particularly interesting traits, characteristics, skills or habits. Now considered to be mandatory reading for those interested in notions of existential or nihilist philosophy, Albert Camus' "The Outsider" or "L'Étranger" is the story of Meursault's life. Or perhaps it might be more precise to suggest that it is the tale of Meursault's indifference to and virtually complete …
review by . July 02, 2010
I should start out by saying that this book shouldn't be read by someone who wants something to read casually before going to bed. This is a work of literature and really makes you think hard about some of the things that are a big part of all of our lives.       This is the kind of book that you will either love, or you will hate. It introduces you to a character named Meursault whose careless attitude towards everything in the world will either anger you enough …
review by . August 05, 2010
Camus has a fairly bland style of writing similar to that of Hemingway, with relatively few metaphors or simile, but an abstract feel also.  This is not surprising when considering that Camus, like Hemingway, was a journalist.  I found The Stranger to be fairly slow at first and had difficulty getting into it, but it picked up for me as I progressed further into the plot.  I had initially thought that his Maman dying was the climax and that like Kafka, Camus started with the climax.  …
Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
Really changed the way I viewed the world. Existentialism for the win!
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
A primer on existential philosophy?
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Stranger explores "absurd", existansialism and what society is really about. When Mersault, who is a complete stranger to the society, shoots an Arab, the society realizes his alien character and terminates him. "Mother died today. Maybe yesterday. I don't know" are the classic opening lines.
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2010
An engrossing book with an unexpected twist in the MIDDLE of all places! Savage and beautiful.
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I have recently graduated from college with a Creative Writing degree and I miss the conversation about literature, so here I am.
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