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The Stranger (novel)

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The Stranger/The Outsider  
Author Albert Camus
Cover artist Jack Walser
Country France
Language Translated from French
Genre(s) Philosophical novel, crime fiction
Publisher Libraire Gallimard
Publication date 1943, French 1942
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 117 p. (UK Penguin Classics paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-14-118250-4 (UK Penguin Classics paperback)
OCLC Number 59433071

The Stranger or The Outsider, (L’Étranger) is a novel by Albert Camus, published in 1942. Camus' first novel, it is perhaps his best-known work, and a key text of twentieth-century philosophy. Its theme and outlook are often cited as examples of existentialism, though Camus did not consider himself an existentialist; in fact, its content explores various different philosophical schools of thought, including (most prominently and specifically) absurdism, as well as atheism, determinism, nihilism, and stoicism.

The title character is Meursault, a French man (characterised by being largely emotionally detached, innately passive, and anomic) who seemingly irrationally kills an Arab man whom he recognizes in French Algiers. The story is divided into Parts One and Two: Meursault's first-person narrative view before and after the murder.


Part One begins with Meursault being notified of his mother's death. He attends her funeral, yet expresses none of the emotions which are expected in such a circumstance. At her wake, when asked if he wishes to view the body, he declines, and, instead, smokes a cigarette and drinks coffee with milk before the unseen body. Rather than expressing his own feelings (either secretly to the reader or openly to the others characters) he only comments to the reader about the others at the funeral. He later encounters, by chance, Marie, a former employee of his firm, and the two become re-acquainted and begin to have a sexual relationship. In the next few days, he helps his friend and neighbor, Raymond Sintès, take revenge on a Moorish girlfriend suspected of infidelity. For Raymond, Meursault agrees to write a break-up letter, because, he claims, there is no reason not to help him. Meursault simply cannot see any reason not to if it pleases Raymond. One must understand that Meursault lives completely in the present. As an existentialist, he has no reason to regret what he does because it is done; regret is redundant. In this state of mind, Meursault is also living fully in the present: he feels joy and anger and frustration like every other human; he has a soul. The difference is that his feelings are sensual, they are experienced and explained through his senses: feeling the heat of the sun, etc. Mersault's chronicle is bereft of emotions and empathy. This is not necessarily to say that he lacks these; however, they are conspicuously absent from the narrative.

The events are narrated by the main character, Meursault, a clerk in what seems to be an export-import firm located in Algiers. We are given no positive information about his age; he is a young man, and like most of Camus’ heroes, he is probably around thirty. In Part I, the events are narrated day by day, as if Meursault were keeping a journal. The shooting takes place on the eighteenth day, a Sunday. Part Two covers a period a little over eleven months, and the whole period is narrated retrospectively. No time preferences are given in Part III: the narrator talks of his meditations and one of the event, his interview with the chaplain. This is a personal chronicle… Meursault is writing a chronicle of death (Viggiani 866).[1]

Subsequently, on a beach, they encounter the spurned girlfriend's brother and an Arab friend; these two confront Raymond and wound him with a knife during a fist fight. Later, walking back along the beach alone and now armed with a pistol he took from Raymond so that Raymond would not do anything rash, Meursault encounters the Arab and fires at him. Despite killing the Arab man with the first gun shot, he shoots the cadaver four more times. He does not divulge to the reader any specific reason for his crime or emotions he experiences at the time.

Part Two begins with Meursault incarcerated, explaining his arrest, time in prison, and upcoming trial.

At the trial, Meursault's quietness and passivity is seen as demonstrative of his seeming lack of remorse or guilt by the prosecuting attorney, and so the attorney concentrates more upon Meursault's inability or unwillingness to cry at his mother's funeral than on the actual murder. Meursault explains to the reader that he simply was never really able to feel any remorse or personal emotions for any of his actions in life. The dramatic prosecutor theatrically denounces Meursault to the point that he claims Mersault must be a soulless monster, incapable of remorse and that he thus deserves only to die for his crime. Although Meursault's attorney defends him and later tells Mersault that he expects the sentence to be light, Meursault is alarmed when the judge informs him of the final decision: that he will be decapitated publicly.

In prison, whilst awaiting the execution of his death sentence by the guillotine, Meursault meets with a chaplain, but rejects his proffered opportunity of turning to God, explaining that God is a waste of his time. Although the chaplain persists in attempting to lead Meursault from his atheism, Meursault finally attacks him in a rage, nearly injuring him. Meursault ultimately grasps the universe's indifference towards humankind (coming to terms with his execution):
As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself — so like a brother, really — I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hatred.[2]


Like Meursault, Albert Camus was a Pied-Noir (black foot) — a Frenchman born in the Maghreb, the northernmost crescent of Mediterranean Africa then the heart of France's African colonies.[3] Literarily classed as an existential novel, The Stranger exposits his theory of the absurd. In the story's first half, Meursault is an unperceptive man, existing only via sensory experience (the funeral procession, swimming in the sea, having sex with his girlfriend, et cetera): the only absolute truth being death, with many relative truths — and, in particular, the truths of religion and science (empiricism, rationality, et cetera) are, ultimately, meaningless.

On the surface, L’Etranger gives the appearance of being an extremely simple though carefully planned and written book. In reality, it is a dense and rich creation, full of undiscovered meanings and formal qualities. It would take a book at least the length of the novel to make a complete analysis of meaning and form and the correspondences of meaning and form, in L’Etranger.
—Viggiani 586[1]

Meursault is unaware of the absurdity of human existence, yet it colours his actions, the only real and true things are his physical experiences, thus, he kills the Arab man as 'his response to the sun's physical effects upon him', as he moves toward his adversary on the brightly overlit beach. In itself, his killing of the Arab man is meaningless — merely another occurrence that happens to Meursault. The episode's significance is in his forced introspection about his life — and its meaning — while contemplating his impending death by formal execution; only in formal trial and death does he acknowledge his mortality and responsibility for his own life.

The story's second half examines the arbitrariness of Justice: the public official compiling the details of the murder case tells him repentance and turning to Christianity will save him, but Meursault refuses to pretend he has found religion; emotional honesty overrides self-preservation, and he accepts the idea of punishment as a consequence of his actions as part of the status quo.

It should be noted that the actual death of the Arab as a human being with a family is seemingly irrelevant, as Camus tells us little to nothing about the victim beyond the fact that he is dead. Indeed, Meursault is never even asked to confront, reflect or comment upon the victim as anything other than as a consequence of his actions and the cause of his current predicament. The humanity of the victim and inhumanity of murdering another human being is seemingly besides the point.

Thematically, the Absurd overrides Responsibility; in fact, despite his physical terror, Meursault is satisfied with his death; his discrete sensory perceptions only physically affect him, and thus are relevant to his self and his being, i.e. in facing death, he finds revelation and happiness in the gentle indifference of the world. Central to that happiness is his pausing after the first, fatal gunshot when killing the Arab man. Interviewed by the magistrate, he mentions it did not matter that he paused and then shot four more times; Meursault is objective, there was no resultant, tangible difference: the Arab man died of one gunshot, and four more gunshots did not render him 'more dead'. The absurdity is in society's creating a justice system to give meaning to his action via capital punishment: The fact that the death sentence had been read at eight o'clock at night and not at five o'clock . . . the fact that it had been handed down in the name of some vague notion called the French (or German, or Chinese) people — all of it seemed to detract from the seriousness of the decision.

To wit, Camus and Sartre, in particular, were of the French resistance against the Nazis; their friendship ultimately differing only in philosophic stance. Albert Camus presents the world as meaningless, therefore, its meaning is rendered by oneself; it is the individual person who gives meaning to a circumstance. Camus deals with this matter and Man's relationship with Man via considerations of suicide in the novels A Happy Death and The Plague and in non-fiction works such as The Rebel and The Myth of Sisyphus.

English translations from the French

The Libraire Gallimard first published the original French-language novel in 1942. British author Stuart Gilbert first translated L’Étranger to English in 1946; his work became established as the English translation for thirty-odd years. In 1982, the British publisher Hamish Hamilton published a second translation, by Joseph Laredo, that Penguin Books bought in 1983 and reprinted in the Penguin Classics line in 2000. In 1988, a third translation, by the American Matthew Ward, was published, by Random House Inc., in the Vintage International line of Vintage Books. Because Camus was influenced by the American literary style, the 1988 translation was Americanized.[4]

The three translations differ much in tone; Gilbert's translation is formal, notable in the initiating sentence of the first chapter. The French original is: "Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas. J'ai reçu un télégramme de l'asile: Mère décédée. Enterrement demain. Sentiments distingués. Cela ne veut rien dire. C'était peut-être hier"

  • Gilbert's 1946 translation is: "Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure. The telegram from the Home says: YOUR MOTHER PASSED AWAY. FUNERAL TOMORROW. DEEP SYMPATHY. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday."
  • Laredo's 1982 translation is: "Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know. I had a telegram from the home: 'Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely.' That doesn't mean anything. It may have been yesterday."
  • Ward's 1988 translation is: "Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know. I got a telegram from the home: Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours. That doesn't mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday." [Maman is informal French for the informal English Mum/Mam/Mom.][4]

The critical, literary difference of translation is in the accurate connotation of the original French emotion in the story's key sentence, i.e. "I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe" versus "I laid my heart open to the gentle indifference of the universe" (original French: la tendre indifférence du monde = literally, "the tender indifference of the world").

Translations of the title

In French, étranger can mean: foreign, unknown, extraneous, outsider, stranger, alien, unconnected, and irrelevant. Arguably, the title might be translated as The Foreigner, because Meursault, the anti-heroic protagonist is culturally foreign to Algeria; or as The Outsider, because Meursault feels alien to the Arab Muslim society in which he lives as a colonist, however it clearly is not just that he is an 'outsider' in this more literal sense but also of society as a whole. He does not understand the necessity to adhere to the stock gestures and emotions in everyday life, as is his downfall in the very end. As he is oblivious of the motifs he lives, he is unencumbered by any meaning exterior to his sensory experience, a character trait rendering him foreign to his contemporaries; thus, most English translations of the French title L’Étranger are rendered as The Stranger, and less frequently as The Outsider.

L’Étranger in popular culture

Template:In popular culture

Cinema: The Italian director Luchino Visconti adapted L’Étranger as Lo Straniero (1967); Turkish director Zeki Demirkubuz adapted the novel as Yazgı (Fate) (2001); The Coen Brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) is heavily influenced by the book; the Japanese film Who's Camus Anyway? refers to Albert Camus, The Stranger, and Meursault; Anthony Swofford played by Jake Gyllenhaal in the movie Jarhead carries around a copy of the book The Stranger by Albert Camus. Towards the beginning of Adrianne Lyne's film Jacob's Ladder, the protagonist Jacob Singer has a copy of The Stranger on his person. In Talladega Nights, the main antagonist—French driver Jaque Geriad—is reading the book while driving.

Comic books: Writer Steve Gerber cites Albert Camus, and especially The Stranger, as his principal influence, particularly upon Howard the Duck (1974-1978): Howard is Meursault with a sense of humor, an existentialist who screams and quacks as a hedge against sinking into utter despair.[5]

Popular music: The novel inspired songs by Blur, The Cure (Killing an Arab),[6][7] Aria, John Frusciante ("Head"), Iron Maiden with Hallowed by thy name, Tuxedomoon and "The Return".

Politics: In 2006, the U.S. press reported that U.S. President George W. Bush read The Stranger, while on vacation; he was derided for it, especially in The Daily Show.[8][9]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Viggiani, Carl A. Camus' L'Etranger. PMLA, Vol. 71, No. 5 Modern Language Association (December 1956), pp. 865-887.
  2. Camus, Albert. The Stranger, trans. Joseph Laredo, 1982.
  3. "Albert Camus". Encyclopedia Britannica. 2009. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Mitgang, Herbert (1988-04-18). "Classic French Novel Is 'Americanized'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2006-09-09. 
  5. Steve Gerber: An Absurd Journey, Darren Schroeder, Silver Bullet Comic Books interview.
  6. Larkin, Colin (1995). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Stockton Press. pp. 1017. ISBN 0851126626. 
  7. Strong, Charles Martin (2004). The Great Rock Discography: Complete Discographies Listing Every Track Recorded By More Than 1200 Artists. Canongate. pp. 369. ISBN 1841956155. 

External links

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