The Stranger (Camus novel)
Cover of the first edition
L’Étranger (The Outsider [UK], or The Stranger [US]) is a 1942 novel by French author Albert Camus. Its theme and outlook are often cited as examples of Camus's philosophy of the absurd and existentialism, though Camus personally rejected the latter label.
The title character is Meursault, an indifferent French Algerian described as "a citizen of France domiciled in North Africa, a man of the Mediterranean, an homme du midi yet one who hardly partakes of the traditional Mediterranean culture". He attends his mother's funeral. A few days later, he kills an Arab man in French Algiers, who was involved in a conflict with a friend. Meursault is tried and sentenced to death. The story is divided into two parts, presenting Meursault's first-person narrative view before and after the murder, respectively.
In January 1955, Camus wrote:
I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: "In our society any man who does not weep at his mother's funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death." I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.
The Stranger's first edition consisted of 4,400 copies and was not an immediate best-seller. But the novel was well received, partly because of Jean-Paul Sartre's article "Explication de L'Etranger", on the eve of publication of the novel, and a mistake from the Propaganda-Staffel.[further explanation needed]
Translated four times into English, and also into numerous other languages, the novel has long been considered a classic of 20th-century literature. Le Monde ranks it as number one on its 100 Books of the Century.
Meursault learns of the death of his mother, who has been living in a retirement home. At her funeral, he expresses none of the expected emotions of grief. When asked if he wishes to view the body he declines and, instead, smokes and drinks coffee in front of the coffin. Rather than expressing his feelings, he comments to the reader only about the aged attendees at the funeral.
Meursault later encounters Marie, a former employee of his firm. The two become re-acquainted, go swimming, watch a comedy film, and begin to have a sexual relationship a day after his mother's funeral. In the next few days, Meursault helps his friend and neighbor, Raymond Sintès, take revenge on a Moorish girlfriend suspected of infidelity. For Raymond, Meursault agrees to write a letter to his girlfriend, with the sole purpose of inviting her over so that Raymond can have sex with her but spit in her face at the last minute as emotional revenge. Meursault sees no reason not to help him, and it pleases Raymond. He does not express concern that Raymond's girlfriend is going to be emotionally hurt, as he believes Raymond's story that she has been unfaithful. While listening to Raymond, he is both somewhat drunk and characteristically unfazed by any feelings of empathy. In general, he considers other people either interesting or annoying, or feels nothing for them at all.
The letter works: the girlfriend returns on a Sunday morning, but the situation escalates when she slaps Raymond after he tries to kick her out, and he beats her. Raymond asks Meursault to testify in court that the girlfriend has been unfaithful. Meursault agrees and the two go out to a café. On their return they encounter Salamano, his curmudgeonly old neighbour who has lost his abused and disease-riddled dog, who is maintaining his usual spiteful and uncaring attitude for the dog. Later that evening and the next, Salamano goes to Meursault for comfort - he explains that he had adopted the dog shortly after his wife's death as a companion. Salamano mentions that the neighbours 'said nasty things' about him after sending his mother to a retirement home. Meursault is surprised to learn about the negative impression of his actions. Later, he is taken to court where Meursault, who witnessed the event while returning to his apartment with Marie, testifies that she had been unfaithful, and Raymond is let off with a warning. After this, the girlfriend's brother and several Arab friends begin trailing Raymond. Raymond invites Meursault and Marie to a friend's beach house for the weekend. There they encounter the spurned girlfriend's brother and an Arab friend; these two confront Raymond and wound him with a knife during an altercation. Later, Meursault walks back along the beach alone, now armed with a revolver which he took from Raymond to prevent him from acting rashly. Meursault encounters the brother of Raymond's Arab girlfriend. Disoriented and on the edge of heatstroke, Meursault shoots when the Arab flashes his knife at him. It is a fatal shot, but Meursault shoots the man four more times after a pause. He does not divulge to the reader any specific reason for his crime or what he feels, other than being bothered by the heat and intensely bright sunlight.
Meursault is now incarcerated, and explains his arrest, time in prison, and upcoming trial. His general detachment makes living in prison tolerable, especially after he gets used to the idea of being restricted and unable to have sex with Marie. He passes the time sleeping, or mentally listing the objects he owned in his apartment. At the trial, the prosecuting attorney portrays Meursault's quietness and passivity as demonstrating guilt and a lack of remorse. The prosecutor tells the jury more about Meursault's inability or unwillingness to cry at his mother's funeral and the murder. He pushes Meursault to tell the truth, but the man resists. Later, on his own, Meursault tells the reader that he simply was never able to feel any remorse or personal emotions for any of his actions in life. The dramatic prosecutor denounces Meursault, claiming that he must be a soulless monster, incapable of remorse, and thus deserves to die for his crime. Although Meursault's attorney defends him and later tells Meursault that he expects the sentence to be light, Meursault is alarmed when the judge informs him of the final decision: that he will be publicly guillotined.
In prison, Meursault awaits the results of his appeal. While waiting to learn his fate, either his successful appeal or execution of his death sentence, Meursault meets with a chaplain, but rejects his proffered opportunity of turning to God. Meursault says that God is a waste of his time. Although the chaplain persists in trying to lead Meursault from his atheism (or, perhaps more precisely, his apatheism), Meursault finally accosts him in a rage. He has an outburst about his frustrations and the absurdity of the human condition, and his personal anguish without respite at the meaninglessness of his freedom, existence and responsibility. He expresses anger about others, saying that they have no right to judge him for his actions or for who he is, that no one has the right to judge another. It is hinted that the priest believed Meursault’s appeal would be granted, but it is unclear if he is still of this opinion after the ordeal. Meursault however has grasped the universe's indifference towards humankind, and prepares for his execution. At night in his cell, he finds a final happiness in his indifference towards the world and the lack of meaning he sees in everyone and everything. His final assertion is that a large, hateful crowd at his execution will end his loneliness and bring everything to a consummate end.
Meursault (pronounced [møʁ.so]) is a French Algerian who learns of his mother's death by telegram. Meursault's indifference to his mother's death demonstrates some emotional detachment from his environment. Other instances are shown. Meursault is also a truthful person, speaking his mind without regard for others. He is estranged from society due to his indifference.
Meursault’s mother was sent to an old people's home three years prior to her death, as noted in the opening lines of the novel. As Meursault nears the time for his execution, he feels a kinship with his mother, thinking she, too, embraced a meaningless universe.
Raymond Sintès is a neighbour of Meursault who beats his Arab mistress. Her brother and friends try to take revenge. He brings Meursault into the conflict, and the latter kills the brother. Raymond and Meursault seem to develop a bond, and he testifies for Meursault during his trial.
Marie Cardona was a typist in the same workplace as Meursault. A day after he attends his mother's funeral, she meets him at a public beach, and they begin a relationship. Marie, like Meursault, enjoys sex. She represents the enjoyable life Meursault wants, and he misses her while in jail.
Masson is the owner of the beach house where Raymond takes Marie and Meursault. Masson is a carefree person who likes to live his life and be happy.
Salamano is an old man who routinely walks his dog. He abuses it but is still attached to it. When he loses his dog, he is distressed and asks Meursault for advice.
The Arabs include Raymond's mistress, her brother and assumed friends. None of the Arabs in The Stranger are named, reflecting the distance between the French colonists and native people.
The Arab (the brother of the mistress of Raymond) is a man shot and killed by Meursault on a beach in Algiers.
In his 1956 analysis of the novel, Carl Viggiani wrote:
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.
Victor Brombert has analysed L'Etranger and Sartre's "Explication de L'Etranger" in the philosophical context of the Absurd. Louis Hudon has dismissed characterisation of L'Etranger as an existentialist novel in his 1960 analysis. The 1963 study by Ignace Feuerlicht begins with an examination of the themes of alienation, in the sense of Meursault being a 'stranger' in his society. In his 1970 analysis, Leo Bersani commented that L'Etranger is "mediocre" in its attempt to be a "'profound' novel", but describes the novel as an "impressive if flawed exercise in a kind of writing promoted by the New Novelists of the 1950s". Paul P. Somers Jr has compared Camus' L'Etranger and Sartre's Nausea, in light of Sartre's essay on Camus' novel. Sergei Hackel has explored parallels between L'Etranger and Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.
Terry Otten has studied in detail the relationship between Meursault and his mother. Gerald Morreale examines Meursault's killing of the Arab and the question of whether Meursault's action is an act of murder. Ernest Simon has examined the nature of Meursault's trial in L'Etranger, with respect to earlier analysis by Richard Weisberg and Richard A. Posner. René Girard has critiqued the relative nature of 'indifference' in the character of Meursault in relation to his surrounding society.
Kamel Daoud has written a novel The Meursault Investigation (2013/2014), first published in Algeria in 2013, and then republished in France to critical acclaim. This postcolonialist response to The Stranger counters Camus' version, elements from the perspective of the brother of the unnamed Arab victim (naming him and presenting him as a real person who was mourned) and other protagonists. Daoud explores their subsequent lives following the withdrawal of French authorities and most pied-noirs from Algeria after the conclusion of the Algerian War of Independence in 1962.
Publication history and English translations
On 27 May 1941, Camus was informed about the changes suggested by André Malraux after he had read the manuscript and took his remarks into account. For instance, Malraux thought the minimalist syntactic structure was too repetitive. Some scenes and passages (the murder, the conversation with the chaplain) should also be revised. The manuscript was then read by editors Jean Paulhan and Raymond Queneau. Gerhard Heller, a German editor, translator and lieutenant in the Wehrmacht working for the Censorship Bureau offered to help. The book was eventually published in June 1942 – 4,400 copies of it were printed.
- 1942, L'Étranger (French), Paris: Gallimard
- 1946, The Outsider (translated by Stuart Gilbert), London: Hamish Hamilton
- 1946, The Stranger (translated by Stuart Gilbert), New York: Alfred A. Knopf
- 1982, The Outsider (translated by Joseph Laredo), London: Hamish Hamilton, ISBN 978-0-141-18250-6
- 1989, The Stranger (translated by Matthew Ward), New York: Vintage, ISBN 978-0-679-72020-1
- 2012, The Outsider (translated by Sandra Smith), London: Penguin, ISBN 978-0-141-38958-5
Éditions Gallimard first published the original French-language novel in 1942. A British author, Stuart Gilbert, first translated L’Étranger into English in 1946; for more than thirty years his version was the standard English translation. Gilbert's choice of title, The Stranger, was changed by Hamish Hamilton to The Outsider, because they considered it "more striking and appropriate" and because Maria Kuncewiczowa's Polish novel Cudzoziemka had recently been published in London as The Stranger. In the United States, Knopf had already typeset the manuscript using Gilbert's original title when informed of the name change and so disregarded it; the British-American difference in titles has persisted in subsequent editions.
In 1982, the British publisher Hamish Hamilton, which had issued Gilbert's translation, published a translation by Joseph Laredo, also as The Outsider. Penguin Books bought this version in 1983 for a paperback edition.
In 1988, Vintage published a version in the United States with a translation by American Matthew Ward under the standard American title of The Stranger. Camus was influenced by American literary style, and Ward's translation expresses American usage.
A critical difference among these translations is the expression of emotion in the sentence towards the close of the novel: "I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe" in Gilbert's translation, versus Laredo's "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"). The Penguin Classics 2000 reprint of Laredo's translation has "gentle" changed to "benign".
The ending lines differ as well: Gilbert translates "on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration", which contrasts with Laredo's translation of "greet me with cries of hatred." This passage describes a scene that would serve as a foil to the prior "indifference of the world". In French, the phrase is "cris de haine". Ward translates this as "with cries of hate". Gilbert juxtaposes "execration" with "execution".
"Aujourd'hui, Maman est morte" is the opening sentence of the novel. English translations have rendered the first sentence as 'Mother died today', 'Maman died today', or a variant thereof. In 2012 Ryan Bloom argued that it should be translated as 'Today, Maman died.' He believes this better expresses the character of Meursault, as developed in the novel, as someone who 'lives for the moment', 'does not consciously dwell on the past', and 'does not worry about the future'.
Adaptations and allusions
Film adaptations / allusions
- 2016 Episode of Big Mouth, Netflix
- The Meursault Investigation (2015) by Kamel Daoud is a novel created counter to Camus's version, from the perspective of a Arab man described as the brother of the murdered man. Referred to only as "The Arab" by Camus, in this novel he is said to have been named Musa, and was an actual man who existed and was mourned by his brother and mother. It was a New York Times Notable Book of 2015.
- "Killing an Arab", the 1979 debut single by the Cure, was described by Robert Smith as "a short poetic attempt at condensing my impression of the key moments in 'l’entranger' [sic] (The Outsider) by Albert Camus".
- "Noch koroche dnya", from the 1995 album of the same name by the Russian heavy metal band Aria, is based on Meursault's encounter with the chaplain in the final scene of the novel. It is narrated from Meursault's first-person perspective and includes (in Russian) the line, "The cries of hate will be my reward / Upon my death, I will not be alone".
- At the end of "Asa Phelps Is Dead", from the album Ghost Stories by The Lawrence Arms, the passage in which Meursault accepts his impending execution is read by Chris McCaughan. It parallels certain themes in the song's lyrics.
- Folk singer-songwriter Eric Andersen features a song called "The Stranger (Song of Revenge)" as one of four songs based on Camus' works on his 2014 EP The Shadow and Light of Albert Camus.
- From Cyril Connolly's introduction to the first English translation, by Stuart Gilbert (1946)
- Carroll, David. Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice. Columbia University Press. p. 27.
- McCarthy, Patrick (2004). The Stranger (Albert Camus). New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 12. ISBN 0-521-8321-01.
- The book's famous opening sentences—"Today, Maman died. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know."—give the reader an immediate appreciation of Meursault's emotional disjointedness. 
- Camus, Albert. The Stranger, trans. Matthew Ward, 1988.
- Viggiani, Carl A (December 1956). "Camus' L'Etranger". PMLA. 71 (5): 865–887. JSTOR 746766.
- Brombert, Victor (1948). "Camus and the Novel of the "Absurd"". Yale French Studies. 1: 119–123. JSTOR 2928869.
- Hudon, Louis (1960). "The Stranger and the Critics". Yale French Studies. 25: 59–64. JSTOR 2928902.
- Feuerlicht, Ignace (December 1963). "Camus's L'Etranger Reconsidered". PMLA. 78 (5): 606–621. JSTOR 460737.
- Bersani, Leo (Spring 1970). "The Stranger's Secrets". NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction. 3 (3): 212–224. JSTOR 1344914.
- Somers Jr, Paul P (April 1969). "Camus Si, Sartre No". The French Review. 42 (5): 693–700. JSTOR 1344914.
- Hackel, Sergei (Spring 1968). "Raskolnikov through the Looking-Glass: Dostoevsky and Camus's L'Etranger". Contemporary Literature. 9 (2): 189–209. JSTOR 1207491.
- Otten, Terry (Spring 1975). ""Mamam" in Camus' The Stranger". College Literature. 2 (2): 105–111. JSTOR 25111069.
- Morreale, Gerald (February 1967). "Meursault's Absurd Act". The French Review. 40 (4): 456–462. JSTOR 385377.
- Simon, Ernest (Spring–Summer 1991). "Palais de Justice and Poetic Justice in Albert Camus' The Stranger". Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature. 3 (1): 111–125. JSTOR 743503.
- Girard, René (December 1964). "Camus's Stranger Retried". PMLA. 79 (5): 519–533. JSTOR 461137.
- Camus, Albert, Malraux, André, Albert Camus, André Malraux, Correspondance 1941-1959, Paris, Gallimard, 2016, 152 p. (ISBN 978-2-07-014690-1), p.42
- Kaplan, Alice (14 October 2016). "L'Étranger – stranger than fiction". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 October 2016.
- Mitgang, Herbert (18 April 1988). "Classic French Novel is 'Americanized'". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 September 2006.
- Messud, Claire (2014). "A New 'L'Étranger'". The New York Review of Books. 61 (10). Retrieved 1 June 2014.
- Ryan Bloom (11 May 2012). "Lost in Translation: What the First Line of The Stranger Should Be". The New Yorker. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
- "janie" (October 1991). "inspirations". Cure News (11).
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