August 18, 2023

#08-337: The Stranger

A cemetery in Algiers (1899) (Wikimedia)

Note: This story has also been published under the English title, The Outsider--perhaps a better description of the main character's relationship to the world.

Get Ready: How important are other people in your life? Too important? Not important enough? Or just right?

The Stranger (1942) is the first novel (actually a novella) by French Algerian author Albert Camus.

In Part 1 of the story, the protagonist, Meursault, learns of the death of his mother, who lived in a seniors' home in the countryside. The news does not elicit any signs of grief, but he attends her funeral while seeming oddly detached. He chooses not to view his mother's body, but sits the obligatory vigil the night before the burial.

He is offered a chance to work in his company's branch in Paris, and at the same time Marie--a girl from his office--asks him if he wants to get married. He is indifferent to both offers.

His neighbor, Raymond Sintes (who may be a pimp), asks his help in a plot to lure his Arabic girlfriend so that he can take revenge on her for paying attention to another man. Unable to feel empathy for the girl, Meursault agrees. When Raymond beats the girl, the police come. Meursault testifies that the girl had been unfaithful to Raymond, securing his release.

Later, at a beach, the girl's brother wounds Raymond with a knife for the treatment of his sister. When the brother confronts Meursault alone on the beach, Meursault shoots him fatally, then after a pause shoots him four more times.

In part 2 of the story, Meursault is incarcerated. His detachment makes prison life tolerable. For most of a year, he awaits his day in court.

He never denies killing the Arab, and seems to show no remorse. The prosecutor brings up his lack of concern about his mother's death and paints him as a soulless monster. Meursault tells us his lack of care results from his absorption in the present moment--a hallmark of the philosophy of Existentialism, with which Camus has been associated (though he rejected the association).

Meursault is sentenced to be publicly decapitated. As he appeals the sentence, a minister visits, but Meursault insists, though an atheist, he has learned more about life and death than the minister knows.

As he contemplates his end, Meursault begins to develop sympathy for his mother in her last days. His heart opens to "the benign indifference of the universe," and he decides he is happy.


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. atheist
  2. decapitated
  3. elicit
  4. empathy
  5. hallmark
  6. incarcerated
  7. obligatory
  8. pimp
  9. remorse
  10. vigil
  1. required
  2. feeling for others
  3. regret over something one has done
  4. a distinguishing characteristic
  5. bring out
  6. an all-night watch
  7. a person who doesn't believe in God
  8. have one's head cut off
  9. in jail
  10. the boss of one or more prostitutes

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for August 18, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. g; 2. h; 3. e; 4. b; 5. d; 6. i; 7. a; 8. j; 9. c; 10. f