‘One of those books that marks a reader’s life indelibly.’
– William Boyd.
‘Mother died today.
Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.’
A long time ago, Camus summed up ‘The Outsider’ in a sentence which is extremely paradoxical:
‘In our society, any man who doesn’t cry at his mother’s funeral is liable to be condemned to death.’
Meursault is a clerk in Algiers and he will not lie. Unmoved by his mother’s death, he refuses to satisfy the feelings of others by pretending grief and therein lies the problem. Not playing the game the way everyone expects him to, we see him returning to his simple, bachelor existence in sun-bleached Algiers the very next day. He engages in a casual sexual relationship with a former acquaintance that he encountered that day. It is only when he is caught up in a violent murder and charged for one, that things take a turn for the worse. For the society is baffled. Why would this seemingly law-abiding bachelor do such a thing? And why does he show no remorse even when it could save his life? His refusal to satisfy the feelings of others only increases his guilt in the eyes of the law. Soon Meursault discovers that he is being tried not simply for his crime, but for his lack of emotion – a reaction that condemns him for being an outsider. For Meursault, this is an insult to his reason and a betrayal of his hopes, whereas for Camus, it encapsulates the absurdity of life.
The fact that Meursault never lies brings out another one: that he refuses to hide his feelings which causes the society to immediately feel threatened. According to Camus, Meursault was “not a reject, but a poor and naked man, in love with a sun which leaves no shadows.” In that sense, he is an outsider to the society in which he lives, wandering on the fringe, solitary and sensual.
The character of Meursault, has a lot of gravity to it in spite of his unsympathetic and indifferent attitude about other’s lives. The only thing which you will probably want to know in the novel is what happens to Meursault at the end. But that is never discussed, as it is more important to note that “every man on this Earth was under the sentence of death”.
Translated from the French by Joseph Laredo, this is a book that points out the idiocy on human judgements. On thought and questioning that even dabbles in the field of existentialist philosophy. Using short sentences, Camus has the advantage of crisp language that is surprisingly fresh even today. He knows what sentences to place where and therein lies a major advantage for him. Somehow, it all fits in, all the facets. I have to say ‘The Outsider’ was well, interesting to a certain extent, though for my tastes, it counts as a rather bleak and joyless experience. Sure, there were parts that made for an interesting read, especially how the court scenes were reminiscent of the ones in Jeffery Archer’s ‘A Prisoner of Birth’. Maybe, I am a bit thick when it comes to thinking of matters philosophical. Give it a shot though. Find out whether it fits the bill of a must-read classic or not.
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