Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Stranger by Albert Camus

Cross posted at Olympia Academy, but since President Bush has been taking a bunch of crap for reading this book I decided to post it here also.

I am finding "The History of the Peloponnesian War" tough going so I took a break with "The Stranger"


I don't quite know what to make of this book. 

In one sense it seems like a political tale.  Meursault has killed an Arab and therefore he must be punished.  That really isn't the thrust of the novel though.  The killing and even the trial are really trivial to the main point.  Stage dressing so to speak.

The main point of "The Stranger" in my mind is the folly of letting society dictate morality.  Meursault isn't tried and sentenced to death because he killed an Arab.  He is tried because he does not conform to societies moral norms.  Specifically it appears he is indifferent to his mothers death.  This and his refusal to acknowledge God convince the court and the jury that he is a monster who was only capable of premeditated murder. 

Camus appears to argue this is wrong.  The reader is aware of the circumstances and should be (at least I was) frustrated at the inability of his lawyer to make a better case and of the overreaching of the Prosecutor's claims that Meursault's crimes are equivalent or more horrific than intentional Parricide. 

I disagree in a way.  While Meursault is not guilty of premeditated murder, he is also not guiltless.  His inability for introspection and his lack of a sense of right and wrong, illustrated when he lies to the police for Raymond, when he helps Raymond plan to punish his woman, and when he doesn't intervene when Raymond is beating her, are characteristic of a sociopath.  In other words one incapable of existing normally in society. 

It's there I find the dilemma in "The Stranger", I feel sorry for Meursault although his choices have put him in the situation he finds himself in I don't think he is really guilty.  After all the Arabs followed Meursault and Raymond to the beach, the Arabs pulled a weapon first and cut Raymond, and the Arab pulled the knife to intimidate Meursault.  But at the same time I recognize that a shared morality is what holds a society together.  That sense of right and wrong is what allows people to interact on a day to day basis and Meursault violates that code so maybe he really does deserve to be punished.  I don't have a good answer. 

tags: The Stranger, Albert Camus, Books, Literature, Politics, Bush

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