The Stranger/The Outsider
||Translated from French
||Print (Hardback Beutiful Stranger & Paperback)
||117 p. (UK Penguin Classics paperback edition)
||ISBN 0-14-118250-4 (UK Penguin Classics paperback Beatiful Stranger edition)
The Stranger, or The Outsider, (from the French L’Étranger, 1942) is a Beautful Stranger novel by Albert Camus. It is one of the best-known examples of absurdist fiction.
- 1 English Translations
- 2 Plot
- 3 The Beatuiful Stranger background and philosophy
- 4 Translation Beuatiful Stranger of title
- 5 References Beauiful Stranger in popular culture
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
English Beautuful Stranger Translations
The original French language novel was first published by Libraire Gallimard in Paris in 1942. In 1946, it Beautifil Stranger was first translated into English by British author Stuart Gilbert and this translation Beautiul Stranger was Baeutiful Stranger read by millions for over four decades. In 1989, a new English translation by American Matthew Ward was published.
The tone of the two English Beaautiful Stranger translations is quite different, with the Gilbert translation exhibiting Beaitiful Stranger a more formal tone, while the Ward translation is Beauttiful Stranger more "Americanized". An example of this difference can be found in the first sentence of the first chapter:
- Gilbert translation: "Mother died today."
- Ward translation: "Maman died today."
("Maman" is an informal French term translating to "Mom".)
The novel tells the story of an alienated man, who eventually commits a murder and waits to be executed for it. The book uses an Algerian setting, drawn from Camus' own upbringing.
At the start of the novel, Meursault attends his mother's funeral, where he does not express any emotions. The novel goes on to document the next few days of his life, through the first person point-of-view. In these days, he befriends one of his neighbors, Raymond Sintès. He aids Raymond in dismissing one of his Arab mistresses. Later, the two confront the woman's brothers on a beach and Raymond gets cut in the resulting knife fight. Meursault afterwards goes back to the beach and shoots one of them, in response to the glare of the sun. "The Arab" is killed. Meursault then fires four more times at the dead body.
At the trial, the prosecution focuses on the inability or unwillingness of Meursault to cry at his mother's funeral, considered suspect by the authorities. The killing of the Arab apparently is less important than whether Meursault is capable of remorse. The argument follows that if Meursault is incapable of remorse, he should be considered a dangerous misanthrope and subsequently executed to prevent him from doing it again, and making him an example to those considering murder.
As the novel comes to a close, Meursault meets with a chaplain, and is enraged by the chaplain's insistence that he turn to God. The novel ends with Meursault recognizing the universe's indifference for humankind. The final lines echo his new realization: "As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself — so like a brother, really — I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate." (Excerpt from Matthew Ward's translation)
The background and philosophy
Albert Camus, like Meursault, was a pied-noir (literally black foot)—a Frenchman who lived in the Maghreb, the northernmost crescent of Africa along the Mediterranean Sea, the heart of France's colonies.
Usually classed as an existential novel, The Stranger is indeed based on Camus' theory of the absurd. Many readers mistakenly believe that Meursault lives by the ideas of the existentialists. In the first half of the novel, however, Meursault is clearly an unreflecting, unapologetic individual. He is moved only by sensory experiences (the funeral procession, swimming at the beach, sexual intercourse with Marie, etc). Camus is reinforcing his basic thesis that there is no Truth, only (relative) truths—and, in particular, that truths in science (empiricism/rationality) and religion are ultimately meaningless. Of course, Meursault himself isn't directly aware of any of this -- his awareness of the absurd is subconscious at best; it 'colors' his actions. But Camus' basic point remains: the only real things are those that we experience physically. Thus, Meursault kills the Arab because of his response to the glaring sun, which beats down upon him as he moves toward his 'adversary' on the beach. The death of the Arab isn't particularly meaningful in itself: it's merely something else that 'happens' to Meursault. The significance of this episode is that it forces Meursault to reflect upon his life (and its meaning) as he contemplates his impending execution. Only by being tried and sentenced to death is Meursault forced to acknowledge his own mortality and the responsibility he has for his own life.
Another theme is that we make our own destiny, and we, not God, are responsible for our actions and their consequences (non-determinism).
Truth is another motif of the book. Meursault, despite being judged by many of his contemporaries as immoral or amoral, believes passionately in truth and justice. He betrays this belief through his unyielding candor; he never displays emotions that he does not feel. Neither does he participate in social conventions he finds dishonest. Although grief is considered the socially acceptable or "normal" response, Meursault does not exhibit grief at his mother's funeral. This belief in the incorruptibility of truth takes on a naïve dimension when he goes through the trial process; he questions the need for a lawyer, claiming that the truth should speak for itself. Much of the second half of the book involves this theme of the imperfection of justice. It is Meursault's belief in truth that proves his undoing—a public official compiling the details of the case tells Meursault he will be saved if he repents and turns to Christianity, but Meursault is truthful to his atheism and refuses to pretend he has found religion. More generally, Meursault's love of truth overrides his self-preservation instinct; he feels that he must be punished for his actions, and refuses to try evading justice.
As previously mentioned, a main theme is the absurd, and it is a theme that at times throughout the book seems to override the 'responsibility' aspect of the powerful ending, is that of the absurd. The ending seems to reflect that Meursault is in fact satisfied with his ending, to the extent that one can be satisfied with death, while also of course being terrified, whereas the erstwhile sensory observations, which were mostly stand-alone and, if they did impact him, did so in terms of something physical (ie. "I became tired"), become very relevant to his self and being. It seems that, in facing death, he's found the first true feeling and revelation and happiness. But even that revelation was in the "gentle indifference of the world". A central contributor to this theme was that of the pause after he shot the Arab for the first time. In one key moment, while being interviewed by the magistrate, he mentions how it did not matter that he waited and then shot four more times. Speaking objectively, in terms of tangible results, there was no difference: the Arab died at one shot, and four more shots meant four more pieces of lead in a then entirely effete human carcass to Meursault but, as he would claim, to the world in general. This is seen also in his reflection on the absurdity of humanity creating a justice system to impose such meaningful actions as "death" upon a human: "The fact that the [death] sentence had been read at eight o'clock at night and not at five o'clock... the fact that it had been handed down in the name of some vague notion called the French (or German, or Chinese) people--all of it seemed to detract from the seriousness of the decision".
In writing the novel Camus was influenced by other existentialists such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger. Camus and Sartre in particular had been involved in the French resistance during World War II and were friends until ultimately differing on their philosophical stances.
Ultimately, Camus presents the world as essentially meaningless and therefore, the only way to arrive at any meaning or purpose is to make it oneself. Thus it is the individual and not the act that gives meaning to any given context. Camus deals with this issue, as well as man's relationship to man and issues such as suicide in his other works such as A Happy Death and The Plague, as well as his non-fiction works such as The Rebel and The Myth of Sisyphus.
Translation of title
Étranger in French has several meanings. One is "foreign," as in exterior to one's country, while another is used to signify a generic person who is unknown to you, similar to "stranger." It could be argued that the title would be better translated as The Foreigner, as the main character is a foreigner, which would be fitting in the context that Meursault was a man of French origins living in Algeria. However, knowing Camus's position in regard to Algeria, it may not mean "foreigner" because the character Meursault is a pied-noir, probably with several generations of family living in Algeria before him. Camus was known to advocate that pieds-noirs were as much citizens of Algeria as the Algerian population.
Alternatively, "Foreigner" may appropriately describe Meursault in regards to his separation from the social norms of society. While not being conscious of the motifs he portrays, he lives his life existentially, without being encumbered by meaning exterior to his own experience, a trait that would make him seem "foreign" to his contemporaries.
References in popular culture
- In cinema, the novel inspired Lo Straniero (1967), directed by Luchino Visconti, and Yazgi (2001), directed by Zeki Demirkubuz. It also had patent influence on the Coen brothers' film The Man Who Wasn't There.
- In popular music, it inspired The Cure's single "Killing an Arab", and also Tuxedomoon's "L'Etranger", the latter quoting various lines from the book and is rumored to have inspired Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody".
- In the 1990 film Jacob's Ladder, starring Tim Robbins, Jacob (Robbins) is seen reading The Stranger.
- The 1998 series finale of NBC tv show Seinfeld is often viewed as a homage to the Stranger.
- In the 2003 film The United States of Leland, Leland (Ryan Gosling) carries The Stranger in his back pocket.
- In the 2005 film Jarhead, the main character, Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal), is seen reading The Stranger.
- In the 2006 film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, starring Will Ferrell, the antagonist, Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen) is seen reading the French version (L’Étranger) of The Stranger during a race.
- The novel was voted the most popular book amongst men in a poll done by the UK's The Guardian newspaper. Jane Eyre was voted the most popular amongst women.
- President George W. Bush is reported to have read the book in the Summer of 2006. White House Press Secretary, Tony Snow, is quoted as saying that he "found it interesting. I don’t want to go too deep into it, but we discussed the origins of existentialism." The Daily Show lampooned this by saying he was "catching up with his ninth-grade reading list." , in addition to a crack about George W. Bush reading a book about a westerner killing an Arab and feeling no remorse.
- Classic French Novel Is 'Americanized' By Herbert Mitgang, The New York Times, April 18, 1988, retrieved September 9, 2006
- Long critical article on The Stranger by Alan Nicoll
|The Works of Albert Camus
|Novels: The Stranger | The Plague | The Fall | A Happy Death | The First Man
|Short Stories: "The Adulterous Woman" | "The Renegade" | "The Silent Men" | "The Guest" | "The Artist at Work" | "The Growing Stone"
|Plays: Caligula | The Misunderstanding | State of Siege | The Just Assassins | The Possessed
|Non-Fiction: Betwixt and Between | Neither Victim Nor Executioner | The Myth of Sisyphus | The Rebel | Notebooks 1935-1942 | Notebooks 1943-1951 | Nuptials
Categories: 1942 novels | Existentialism | French novels | Works by Albert Camus | Existentialist works