By Dean Goranites
The Tonawanda News
Having an existential crisis? You’re not alone. Try being Meursault, who in Albert Camus’ “The Stranger,” manages to find himself on death row faster than he understands what is going on around him.
The Stranger was originally published in French in 1942, and translated into English in 1946. It is featured in Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century, a widely acclaimed list of the best French literature of the 1900s, and has been taught in a large number of high school and college classes since its release.
Following the first-person narrative of Meursault, the book is divided into two sections: The first chronicling the events prior to the murder Meursault “accidentally” commits, and the second detailing everything after.
Often deemed an existentialist novel, “The Stranger” looks deeply into the meaning and possibility of free will and it’s infinite consequences. It is often debated whether the book’s main character leans toward believing in free will more so than the average man — and this being the cause for his “odd” nature — or whether his behavior is a link to his lack of faith that anything he does has any meaning.
Either way, without really thinking about his actions — or maybe just uninterested in them — Meursault pulls the trigger of a gun he had only just received, killing a man who may or may not have been trying to murder him.
As the book unfolds, many interpret Meursault’s actions as those of a psychopath. Titled “The Stranger” due to the way Meursault feels about himself when thinking about society, links can be found between the way Meursault acts in certain situations and the way it has been documented that psychopaths would react under the same circumstances.
If this diagnosis is true, Camus here describes the every day life of such an individual in a way that we as readers can easily connect with. Never before this novel has such an accomplishment been pulled off; if in fact Meursault is a psychopath, he is one in which we can feel emotionally bonded with.
When Meursault doesn’t find a particular situation all too worthy of much emotion, we don’t find it deserves much either. This is, in fact, until the judge and jury determines such reactions do not coincide with those of a well-balanced, mentally healthy individual. At that time, we realize that we have been sympathizing, all along, with a man who under most other circumstances we would easily label a monster.
In the wake of the execution of Troy Davis and all the question marks that has surrounded it, it seems as though now is as good of a time as ever to read “The Stranger.” Camus is able to get into the mind, heart and soul of a solitary confinement inmate as he approaches his scheduled execution date like no other author has.
If you’re one to question the meaning of life from time to time, or one who enjoys contemplating the thoughts of time, the universe, and other “heavy” topics, “The Stranger” couldn’t be better fodder for your hungry mind.
Written by a man who was only 29 at the time, “The Stranger” tackles topics that men much older have trouble dealing with. Very wise for his age and heavily influenced by favorite American authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus delivers a book every man and woman with even the slightest inkling for a better knowledge of the human condition should read. This one comes marked as highly recommended. Sixty years later it’s as pertinent as ever and will stick with you for months, if not years after reading.
Dean Goranites publishes weekly video book reviews at www.unleashthis.tumblr.com, and can be reached through twitter @unleashingwords.