Free Study Guide: The Stranger by Albert Camus - Free BookNotes|
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THE STRANGER: FREE STUDY GUIDE / BOOK SUMMARY
The major theme of the novel is the absurdity of life, as evidenced
by the life and death of Mersault. He works as a shipping clerk performing
monotonous and mundane tasks, which he does not like. He tries to fill
his weekends with activity, but often finds himself walking around his
apartment, smoking, and staring out into his neighborhood. When he does
form a relationship with Marie, it has no meaning to him. He tells her
that he can never love her, for love is too vague of an emotion; he will,
however, marry her if she insists. His relationship with Raymond is equally
absurd. Even though he knows his neighbor is a violent pimp, he allows
himself to become involved in his problems, for he feels it makes no difference.
In the end, he winds up killing the brother of Raymondís Arab girlfriend,
even though he did not really intend to murder him. Since he shows no
remorse or emotion over the murder of the Arab, the death of his mother,
or anything else in life, the jury decides that Mersault is unfit to live
and convicts him to death by the guillotine. His absurd existence comes
to an absurd end.
The pain of being strange or alienated is the minor theme of the novel,
as indicated by the total. Mersault knows that he is ostracized for being
different. The neighbors criticize him for his treatment of his mother,
and even Marie says she has fallen in love with him because he is odd.
The knowledge that he is different makes Mersault feel even more alienated,
which renders him unable to forge real human relationships. It is clear
that he suffers from his sense of isolation and lack of emotion.
The mood of the entire book is bleak, dark, and absurd. Written as an
existential novel, The Stranger questions the reality of God, the
lack of meaning and purpose in life, and the absurdity of everyday existence.
Albert Camus was born on November 7, 1913, at Mondovi in Algiers. His father, Lucien Camus, was killed in 1914 during World War I. His mother, who was deaf, sullen, and poor, struggled to raise her two young sons. As a result, Camusí childhood was not a happy one. Once he started school, Camus spent as much time away from home as possible, playing athletics, studying, and working part-time. After graduating from high school, he entered the University of Algiers to study philosophy. In 1930, while a student at the university, Camus contracted tuberculosis, a disease from which he would suffer from time to time throughout his life.
Because of finances, Camus (like Mersault, the protagonist of The Stranger) was forced to discontinue his studies and go to work. Between 1930 and 1935, he held various jobs as a police clerk, a salesman, and a meteorologist. During this period, he also married and divorced. In addition, he joined and then left the Communist party. In 1935, he founded the Workersí Theater, which performed plays in Algiers for the working class. Then in 1936, he finally completed his degree, graduating from the University of Algiers.
Before the Workersí Theater closed in 1939, Camus had begun to devote himself to his literary career, writing book reviews and essays for periodicals. His first book was a collection of essays entitled Betwixt and Between; the essays deal with manís isolation in the world and the finality and absurdity of death. Camus also became an outspoken critic of the French governmental control of Algeria, which made him unpopular with the French leadership. As a result, he had trouble finding a job in Algiers and went to live in Paris in 1940. He went to work as a journalist for the Paris-Soir, but his career was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. As a result, he returned to live in North Africa, remarried, and worked as a teacher in a private school. He also continued to write. In 1942, he published The Stranger, his first novel. In the same year, he also published "The Myth of Sisyphus," his most famous essay. He also returned to France to commit himself to the Resistance Movement and edited a newspaper called Combat.
In 1944 and 1945, his plays, Le Malentendu (The Misunderstood) and Caligula were presented and considered significant productions in the Theater of the Absurd. In 1945, he toured the United States as a lecturer. Another novel, The Plague, was published in 1947 and became an immediate success with both the critics and the public. In 1949, Camus toured South America. Upon his return, he became gravely ill and went into isolation. After his recovery, he published a collection of essays entitled The Rebel (1951). Another novel, The Fall, appeared in 1956. In 1957, he published a collection of short stories, called The Exile and the Kingdom.
In 1957, at the age of 44, Camus received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Two years later, in January of 1960, he was killed in an automobile accident.
Despite his early death, he had made significant contributions as a novelist,
playwright, moralist, and political theorist. Today he is remembered for
his existential ideas and his concern over the alienation of man in an
The Stranger, published in 1942, captures the feeling of manís
alienation in a cold, cruel world. After enduring the hardships of World
War I, many European writers lost hope and began to ask philosophical
questions about life. The existential writers, like Jean-Paul Sartre,
Jean Genet, Samuel Beckett, and Albert Camus, became to question manís
very existence. Since they did not believe in God or an afterlife, they
viewed life as largely meaningless, hopeless, and absurd. They judged
that most of life was dull and monotonous and that nothing that man did
on earth made a difference. These existential ideas are clearly developed
in the character of Mersault.
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