It’s a common instinct to guard against those we don’t know–and rightly so. In The Stranger, a 20th century classic written by the French philosopher and writer Albert Camus, a jarring view of the world is told through the main character Mersault. The first sentence, “Maman died today.” entails indifference…it is a hole in the wall to a dark and sensitive mind.
The Stranger: A Glance At Philosophy
Brief in pages, simple in writing style, The Stranger is not an easy read. Like any fictional work, it comes with its own characters, plot, and ending. The ending though is not so predictable. The likely most challenging component in successfully deciphering The Stranger is contending with the existentialism that is characteristically–Mersault.
Yes, Mersault dons the image of what it could feel like to be a stranger, estranged by society, but more mysteriously, by circumstance. He deals with physical and mental challenges, although he never puts himself on a journey. This leads to an inevitable mental clash with himself, the brazen but necessary art of turning inward.
He engages in a love affair less than a week after burying his mother. At his mother’s funeral nearly everyone found it questionable that he had no words to share. In prison, his way of finding peace–hard rationality and trusting memories–makes for a delicate surprise.
Mersault is inevitably tasked to reflect on his mother’s death, his love affair, his encounters with Salamano and his dog, and the bloody brawl with the Arabs, one of which he killed. When he is brought to solitary asylum and of the knowledge that he will suffer the blade of the guillotine, introspection becomes a prime instrument for Mersault, the final fuel before the story ends.
The book is divided into two sections. The first is written in terse style–a throwback to Ernest Hemingway who wrote The Old Man and the Sea. The second half of the book is where Camus writes more “openly”, Mersault being more expressive.
Like any work of art, this book is open to interpretation. I encourage any reader serious in reading this story to consider where they stand in the world. The Stranger is told with a mild sense of humor. It invites chuckles, stirs self-criticism, and rings the bells on the value of empathy.