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The Outsider by Albert Camus
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The Outsider (original 1942; edition 2000)

by Albert Camus

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22,09823859 (3.98)1 / 335
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Title:The Outsider
Authors:Albert Camus
Info:Gardners Books (2000), Paperback
Collections:Your library, Favorites, Read in 2013
Rating:*****
Tags:literature, france, read, reread, 20th, algeria, pre-2008, translation, twice, 2013, extreme wonderfulness

Work details

The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)

1001 (70) 1001 books (70) 20th century (328) 20th century literature (58) absurdism (122) Algeria (266) Camus (263) classic (362) classics (329) crime (84) death (69) existential (64) existentialism (1,119) fiction (2,525) France (270) French (914) French fiction (109) French literature (661) literature (596) murder (175) Nobel Prize (87) novel (496) own (99) philosophy (684) read (333) Roman (104) to-read (235) translated (63) translation (137) unread (76)
  1. 240
    The Trial by Franz Kafka (chrisharpe, DLSmithies)
    DLSmithies: Two protagonists on trial without really understanding what they're being accused of - it's just a question of degree.
  2. 171
    Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (chrisharpe, DLSmithies, edelpao)
    DLSmithies: A compare-and-contrast exercise - Raskolnikov is all nervous energy and hypertension, whereas Meursault is detatched, calm, and won't pretend to feel remorse. Two masterpieces.
  3. 82
    No Exit and Three Other Plays by Jean-Paul Sartre (TAir, Hollerama)
    Hollerama: I read both works in French class. Though Albert Camus denied being an existentialist, both L'Étranger (The Stranger) and Huis Clos (No Exit) have some common themes and are among some of the most important 20th century French works of literature.
  4. 93
    Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre (roby72)
  5. 73
    A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (SanctiSpiritus)
  6. 51
    Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (hiddenpunk)
  7. 30
    The Man Who Watched Trains Go By by Georges Simenon (thorold)
    thorold: Respectable bourgeois discovers absurdity of life and commits motiveless crime.
  8. 41
    Whatever by Michel Houellebecq (sanddancer)
  9. 30
    Barabbas by Pär Lagerkvist (Troddel)
  10. 11
    The Fall by Albert Camus (chrisharpe)
  11. 11
    The Family of Pascual Duarte by Camilo Jose Cela (thatguyzero)
  12. 00
    The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrère (bertilak)
  13. 01
    Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz (Bitter_Grace)
  14. 14
    The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Peter Handke (lewbs)
  15. 58
    The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (SanctiSpiritus)
  16. 05
    Just Revenge : A Novel by Alan M. Dershowitz (LCBrooks)
    LCBrooks: Complementary works that create a powerful foundation for a philosophical debate on revenge.
  17. 717
    The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (Sylak)
    Sylak: Similar in feel and with the same sense of futility throughout.
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English (213)  French (7)  Spanish (6)  Finnish (2)  Italian (2)  Portuguese (2)  Dutch (2)  Danish (1)  Swedish (1)  Norwegian (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (238)
Showing 1-5 of 213 (next | show all)
Well written by a gifted writer but not his best although touted as it. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
Albert Camus' first novel (orig.pub.1942 in France; first American translation pub.1946) beguiles most readers even as it bewilders them. The questions, What's wrong with Mersault? Why does he kill the Arab? Why does he shoot the man four more times? Why doesn't he say he is sorry or express some bit of remorse, if only to save himself from the guillotine? seem to evade satisfactory answers. Mersault's motives seem as much a mystery to him as to the reader, to say nothing of the prosecution lawyer who denounces him and the judge who condemns him. Indeed, to most readers, Camus' absurdist antihero seems distinctly motiveless; given his characteristic response to any emotional appeal--variations on "I said I did but that it didn't matter"--one might fairly decide that to ask about Mersault's motives is to ask an impertinent question. Perhaps a more useful question is, "How does a young man in good health, with a decent job and at least a small circle of friends, come to believe that everything he or anyone else feels, says, thinks, or does is meaningless?"

The easy (and unhelpfully reductive) answer is that this fellow is a sociopath. As well as such a diagnosis might seem to account for Mersault's peculiar, evidently cold-blooded detachment from the cares and feelings of other people, it does not explain how he comes to hold very much the same attitude toward himself. Sociopaths, modern psychiatry tells us, are colossal narcissists: self-loving beyond the verge of delusion, solipsistic to the point of self-imprisonment. Mersault, conversely, seems to love himself neither more nor less than he likes or is indifferent to anyone else. Except in the novel's final pages, in which the chaplain's insistence on God's redemptive forgiveness inspires Mersault's rage--and precipitates his awareness that "Nothing, nothing mattered, and I knew why"--his opinions are mostly neutral, his emotions generally flat. He seems to find pleasure in certain activities--sex; swimming--and enjoys food and drink, at times even craving indulgence. And yet, each experience is merely of the moment: here now, done once, gone forever. It might be repeated, it might not. Would he like to have sex again with Marie? Well, he guesses he would--probably he would, very much. But it doesn't matter. Mersault is a man always performing a psychic shrug: people are what they are; I don't care and neither should you; the world is what it is; thinking and talking about it will never change it; I am a man like any other; my thoughts and feelings are neither more nor less important, significant, or interesting to me than anyone else's. Needless to say, these sentiments are foreign to our ideas of a sociopath.

If we exclude an explanation of character based on organic deviancy, deformity, or impairment, we must conclude that Mersault's thoroughgoing estrangement from everything we might call human caring--excepting fear of death, which he seems to have--is a chosen attitude. That is, he has decided--either knowingly, in a moment of conscious choice, or uncannily, through occasional accretions of evolving awareness--that this emotional posture of not-caring, together with a belief that everything "doesn't matter," is the only possible stance to take in opposition to mortal existence, which itself is inherently meaningless because it is finite. No one can live forever, so everything a person feels, believes, etc., becomes lost, finished, canceled-out when he dies. Any person's love, hate, and so forth has only limited--Mersault might say, "momentary"--meaning, at best; and such ephemeral significance is nothing to get excited about, take "seriously" (whatever that might mean), or, what is most important to Mersault's predicament, use as a basis for judging any other person's actions, utterances, feelings, or lack of same. And so it is that he is able to think, standing in the dock and listening to the accusations made against him, "I had never been able to truly feel remorse for anything. My mind was always on what was coming next, today or tomorrow."

Mersault's failure to articulate the rationale for his existential detachment, especially in court when his life is at stake, seems a consequence of inability rather than defiance. He knows what he believes but not why he believes it. He has evolved toward detachment rather than having chosen it. Of course, to arrive at a psychic place of not-caring--to become a stranger--and accept it as one's permanent situation must entail assent. At some point, Mersault must have said to himself, perhaps on a level without words, "This attitude is the only one possible. I accept it." Or perhaps explicit assent is superfluous; if detachment is the only possible response to mortal existence in an indifferent universe, to assent or object changes nothing, for no other choice exists. To attempt to invent or imagine one's way out of the absurdist dilemma might provide a lifetime's worth of diversion and a some temporary psychic comfort, yet these efforts, likewise merely temporal, are foredoomed to failure. To believe them redemptive or a way toward salvation is to demonstrate bad faith.

Read along these lines, Mersault's subdued emotional affect, absent grief at Mother's death, haphazard act of murder, and other behavioral oddities conventionally regarded as bizarre are symptoms of soul-sickness rather than mental illness. Camus would not have cited the soul as the locus of Mersault's affliction. He likely would have attributed his problem to Mersault's entire existential being: his brave awareness that the world is as indifferent as he is and everyone is condemned. Sartre, if he deigned to comment on Mersault's condition, probably called it nausea.

Although you won't find it in The Stranger, the antidote to absurdist detachment is conscience: not just fellow-feeling (also known as compassion--an all-around helpful sentiment) but mutual respect of our human dignity. We all know we are going to die. Unless we are Albert Einstein or Leonardo da Vinci or Abraham Lincoln, etc., we all know we will be forgotten (and how many of today's ill-educated Americans can speak more than one informative sentence about the identity of Leonardo?). It is not necessary to remind anyone of these grim truths. To do so is not merely impudent; it is cruel. So, too, is it gratuitously punishing to shape one's thoughts and govern one's emotions according to the certainty that it all doesn't matter, anyway, because in long run or short we all are dead matter in a universe incapable of caring, or even noticing, that we're gone. The point, rather, is that, for a time, we are all alive; and while we are alive, our actions, words, and thoughts have consequences; and the human beings most near and dear to us suffer the consequences we create every day, moment by moment. How do you want to treat the persons you love? Never mind that this love is not eternal because you must eventually die: how do you most prefer to express your love while you are alive? How would you like the persons you love to treat you? As a trivial life-form whose presence is as negligible as a May-fly's simply because you lack immorality? Or as a worthy, decent, human being capable of imagining immortality and every good thing in everlasting plenitude, yet condemned, through no fault of your own, to perish? The human predicament is certainly absurd, yet each human's response needn't be. Be mindful of the consequences, however transient these are. In your time, the time you are alive and share with those you love, what you do, say, and think, matters.

Mersault’s human crime is his failure to recognize this truth. In this sense, his conscience is guilty despite that fact that Mersault never feels it. It is difficult to argue that he deserves decapitation as punishment for his moral blindness, but it is not astonishing to discover that the presiding magistrate thinks so. To (de)value the temporal circumstances of one’s brief life in terms of the eternal indifference of the cosmos is to excuse every unkindness and turn a blind eye to every atrocity. It is to shrug one's shoulders at every tangible wrong--including the Nazi death camps, which Camus, a brave man who fought with the French Resistance, cannot possibly intend. His composition of The Stranger preceded the worst of the Holocaust, possibly preceded his knowledge that any such catastrophe was unfolding. For articulations of his mature thinking, we must refer to his post-War writings.

~JL ( )
  bookie53 | Jun 9, 2014 |
This is my second outing with Camus and, as with The Plague, The Outsider hasn’t disappointed. My Camus journey will certainly continue. Camus has a minimal and uncomplicated style of writing which is certainly refreshing. He manages to produce simple sentences with a simple use of words which nonetheless convey so much meaning and atmosphere. I find his work extremely accessible and direct. He is not a man to waste words and compose sentences which end up being a paragraph long. You know, the ones where you need oxygen to complete them. The ones where you need the Oxford English Dictionary at hand before discovering the sentence really didn’t mean a thing although it sounded good as you were reaching for the Oxygen once again *and breathe* Or maybe that’s just me. To each ones own.

"Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: “Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.” That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday. (p.13)"

The Outsider is a simple story with the main protagonist, Meursault, narrating a short time in his life. Here we see him tell of his life, working, sitting by his window watching the world go by, the funeral of his mother, finding a girlfriend, making love and finally going through a personal tragedy which would have most people climbing the walls with fear. Meursault presents this with all the excitement and emotion of a rock. It’s all the same to him. He is matter of fact, descriptive and emotionless. He gives no reasons for his actions and offers no feelings or insight. That is left up to the reader to assume. Things are as they are. In ‘normal’ mainstream society, he could be described as detached, emotionless and apathetic. They’d probably call him a sociopath these days.

Early in the story, Meursault tells us about the time when his girlfriend broached the subject of marriage. He provides a typical response to her request, one of indifference, which runs throughout the book.

"Marie came that evening and asked me if I’d marry her. I said I didn’t mind; If she was keen on it, we’d get married. Then she asked me again if I loved her. I replied, much as before, that her question meant nothing or next to nothing – but I supposed I didn’t. “If that’s how you feel’ she said, “why marry me?” I explained that it had no importance really but, if it would give her pleasure, we could get married right away."(p.48)

Meursault’s indifferent acceptance to whatever comes his way is intentional. It is a wonderful portrayal of the ‘Absurdist’ philosophy which Camus held and which is presented brilliantly with the character of Meursault.

Reading books by Camus is an adventure where one can’t help but look at what lies behind the story in order to give it greater meaning. Without going into a full discourse on philosophy and Absurdism (of which I am sure I would fail), this school of thought describes the conflict between our need to find rational meaning to life where it is impossible to do so. It is in effect ‘absurd’ to think we can possibly know the meaning of life in a universe where there are so many unknowns. As a consequence, the answer to the fundamental question we always seek ‘why are we here?’ is impossible to discover. The Absurdist school of thought would say that there are three ways in which we react to and cope with this conflict. We either comment suicide and thus evade it or we take on religion or spirituality and thus deny the conflict exists by assuming a higher purpose or, finally, we accept this conflict and continue to live life with this knowledge.

The world seems absurd because we are part of nature and yet able to take a step back from nature and rationalize our place in the world. We become aware of what we call the Absurd when we cannot reconcile the two experiences: what we instinctively feel to be true and what we rationally believe to be true. (Simon Lea,The Camus Society)

Meursault accepts everything which happens and comes his way. He attributes no meaning to his actions and offers no explanations. It’s an extreme example which creates this motive less, detached, emotionless character. He isn’t particularly realistic or likeable nor does he invite empathy from the reader. However, he does generate interest and intrigue and that, I believe, is one of the points being made. As humans we always want to find rationality and answers where there may be none. Where we don’t have the full information and facts we make judgements, stereotypes and ideologies to make sense of our world in order to ease the conflict the Absurd brings. With the creation of Meursault, Camus has provoked us to try to provide our own analysis to his actions and words with the very little information we have.

"If I try to seize this self of which I feel sure, if I try to define and to summarize it, it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers. I can sketch one by one all the aspects it is able to assume, all those likewise that have been attributed to it, this upbringing, this origin, this ardor or these silences, this nobility or this vileness. But aspects cannot be added up." (An Absurd Reasoning, Camus)

The Outsider is a quick read (at 120 pages) which nonetheless packs a punch. I find it encourages an interesting discourse and further reading. Yet again, I am astounded at how Camus is able to write about what could be complex theories in such an accessible and simple way. More Camus will be coming my way….. ( )
1 vote lilywren | May 17, 2014 |
I'm grateful that I read [The Wretched of the Earth] before this. Colonialism as a whole is a rather predictable monster, but the specifics of just how far the conquering hoard goes in each particular case and country needs to be reviewed for suspension of disbelief purposes. Kneejerk incredulity and/or sentiment at the horrors of reality rejuvenates itself far too quickly for my tastes.

It is perfectly possible to loathe one's mother. We as a species are capable of such immense levels of arbitrary hatred, the stockpile of instantaneous dislikes upon first meetings a popular occurrence in public entertainment and private commiserations. Why should there not be a chance of the one who birthed you being the sort you could never like, admire, or love? There's the imprinting factor, true, but that is a thing of the senses, subject to the binding of self-inflicted control like anything else. A cold turkey of the hormonal heart.

I was attached to Existentialism for a time, but the passing of the moment and all the subsequent rebuttal upon rebuttal upon countless rebuttal has made me give up on the declaration of the maxim within that particular field. Debates make for paltry engagements when I have little experience and less interest in all those other name-dropping convolutions of ubiquitous dead white men, so I will stick with what I know. Besides, Camus himself didn't like the existentialist label, although I will keep the tag as a reminiscing shortcut to the proper mood.

What is the difference between someone without sight and someone without empathy? Both are missing a common interchange between themselves and the world, interchanges that allow others with a full set to receive a certain range of stimulation both voluntary and otherwise, exchanges of receptors and neuronal firings on the lighter side of pleasure and the danker side of pain. The lack of said interchange reduces a world accordingly, but more importantly modifies the perceptions of the individuals of said world. While a blind person as consequence of their missing sense may wreak as much havoc as one without empathy, it is the latter persona that we fear, for with them we have no god of remorse to call down from on high in the realm of justice. For the blind we have pity, for the unfeeling we have the deepest fear.

It is intriguing to note that the popular "sacrifice one sense and all the others are honed to the extreme" trope holds true here, for Meursault is nothing if not a sensualist. His thoughts compose themselves around observations both tactile and otherwise, seizing upon the systems of the humans around him only when they are efficient or forward thinking enough to impress him. A consequence of a lifetime rid of human distraction, leaving the mind open to pressure, temperature, the physics of ensuring oneself a spot in the world with a minimum of fuss and comfortable levels of manipulation? It is a consequence of this line of thought that I wonder at the lauding of networking and the mob hysteria reaction to psychopathy. Really, who are you fooling? Yourself seems the only answer appropriate.

As I usually do when I want to get rid of someone whose conversation bores me, I pretended to agree.

The word 'absurd' in relation to this continues to mislead my lines of inquiry. I shall have to read more Camus to expand my contextualization of the concept to a sufficient degree. Until then, I shall think of it in terms of 'human', and leave it at that. ( )
3 vote Korrick | May 11, 2014 |
Excelente obra, como toda la literatura de Camus ( )
  anyulled | Apr 2, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 213 (next | show all)
It is quite a trick to write of life & death, as Camus does, in terms of an almost total social and moral vacuum. He may get philosophical satisfaction from it. Most readers will call it philosophic doodling.
added by Shortride | editTime (May 20, 1946)
 
"The Stranger,” a novel of crime and punishment by Albert Camus, published today, should touch off in this country a renewed burst of discussion about the young French writers who are at the moment making more unusual literary news than the writers of any other country.
 

» Add other authors (47 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Camus, Albertprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bree, GermaineEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brenner, Hans GeorgTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cohen, Marc J.Designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gilbert, StuartTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goyert, GeorgTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hall, BarnabyPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Laredo, JamesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lynnes, Carlos, Jr.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitchell, SusanArt directorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morriën, AdriaanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stolpe, JanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Valente, José ÁngelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ward, MatthewTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zevi, AlbertoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Mother died today. (Stuart Gilbert translation)
Maman died today. (Matthew Ward translation)
Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas.
Quotations
And I, too, felt ready to start life all over again. It was if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I'd been happy, and that I was happy still.
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Since it was first published in English, in 1946, Albert Camus's first novel, THE STRANGER (l'étranger), has had a profound impact on millions of American readers. Through this story of an ordinary man who unwittingly gets drawn into a senseless murder on a sun-drenched Algerian beach, Camus explored what he termed "the nakedness of man faced with the absurd."

Now, in an illuminating new American translation, extraordinary for its exactitude and clarity, the original intent of THE STRANGER is made more immediate. This haunting novel has been given a new life for generations to come.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679720200, Paperback)

The Stranger is not merely one of the most widely read novels of the 20th century, but one of the books likely to outlive it. Written in 1946, Camus's compelling and troubling tale of a disaffected, apparently amoral young man has earned a durable popularity (and remains a staple of U.S. high school literature courses) in part because it reveals so vividly the anxieties of its time. Alienation, the fear of anonymity, spiritual doubt--all could have been given a purely modern inflection in the hands of a lesser talent than Camus, who won the Nobel Prize in 1957 and was noted for his existentialist aesthetic. The remarkable trick of The Stranger, however, is that it's not mired in period philosophy.

The plot is simple. A young Algerian, Meursault, afflicted with a sort of aimless inertia, becomes embroiled in the petty intrigues of a local pimp and, somewhat inexplicably, ends up killing a man. Once he's imprisoned and eventually brought to trial, his crime, it becomes apparent, is not so much the arguably defensible murder he has committed as it is his deficient character. The trial's proceedings are absurd, a parsing of incidental trivialities--that Meursault, for instance, seemed unmoved by his own mother's death and then attended a comic movie the evening after her funeral are two ostensibly damning facts--so that the eventual sentence the jury issues is both ridiculous and inevitable.

Meursault remains a cipher nearly to the story's end--dispassionate, clinical, disengaged from his own emotions. "She wanted to know if I loved her," he says of his girlfriend. "I answered the same way I had the last time, that it didn't mean anything but that I probably didn't." There's a latent ominousness in such observations, a sense that devotion is nothing more than self-delusion. It's undoubtedly true that Meursault exhibits an extreme of resignation; however, his confrontation with "the gentle indifference of the world" remains as compelling as it was when Camus first recounted it. --Ben Guterson

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:35 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

A young Algerian, Meursault, afflicted with a sort of aimless inertia, becomes embroiled in the petty intrigues of a local pimp and, somewhat inexplicably, ends up killing a man. Once he's imprisoned and eventually brought to trial, his crime, it becomes apparent, is not so much the arguably defensible murder he has committed as it is his deficient character. In the story of an ordinary man who unwittingly gets drawn into a senseless murder on a sun-drenched Algerian beach, Camus was exploring what he termed "the nakedness of man faced with the absurd". Now in a new American translation, the classic has been given new life for generations to come.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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