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Outsider And No One Writes Colonel Reviews English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1696 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Both, ‘The Outsider’ by Albert Camus and ‘No One Writes to the Colonel’ by G.G.Marquez are novels full of subtle symbolism and certain absurdist elements. I will be examining these in the context of the two novels, since I believe that these stylistic details add immense value to the texts by essentially enlivening them. The central character of ‘The Outsider’ is Meursault, while the central character of ‘No One Writes to the Colonel’ is ‘the Colonel.’

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At the onset, this essay will acquaint you with the setting of the two novels, which is critical to further the investigation. The Outsider is set in Algiers, which is the present capital of People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria (a state with a large Arab community). However, when this novel was originally published in 1942, Algiers was under French colonial rule, and was considered part of France. [1] On the other hand, Marquez has set his Novel in Colombia during 1948 to the late 1960s, a period called ‘la violencia’ that saw a civil war between liberals and conservatives. [2] A close look at this novel’s locale indicates that it is set in a town which is under dictatorial ‘Martial law.’

Interestingly, both these novels begin with deaths, which are symbolic of the forebodings of turbulent times. In ‘the Outsider’, Meursault’s mother dies in an old-age home. In ‘No One Writes to the Colonel’, the Colonel’s town experiences a natural death for the ‘first’ time in several months. Such a start was for the readers to symbolically understand the tyrannical political atmosphere in the Colonel’s town. The Colonel, a retired military-officer is waiting for his pension to arrive for 19 long years. His hopes of getting the pension-letter are crushed every Friday- ‘It was supposed to come today for sure,’ the Colonel said. The postmaster shrugged. ‘The only thing that comes for sure is death, Colonel.’ [3] 

I believe that ‘Friday’ is used symbolically, as it would only be apt that the day on which this world lost one of its greatest spiritual leaders in Jesus, the Colonel deplorably loses his hopes of a pension – week after week. For Meursault, his name itself is symbolic of his fate. In French, Meursault means ‘sea and sun’. They meet at the beach, where Meursault commits the disastrous act of killing an Arab.

Camus has delineated Meursault as a symbol of truthfulness. He is a man who agrees to die for truth but doesn’t lie. When Meursault’s mother dies, he shows indifference at her funeral and refuses to see her body. According to him, it doesn’t really matter if one sees a dead-woman or not. Furthermore, he enjoys himself at a beach with Marie the next day, goes to watch a comic movie and sleeps with her at night. Why? As far as Meursault is concerned, Sundays are meant for relaxation and enjoyment – not for going to the Church. He is a man who refuses to lie, refuses to go to a brothel, refuses to pretend, and also refuses to believe in god. Meursault has his own principles, which are different from those of the general public. He is thus an ‘Outsider’ in the morally constricted French Christian society.

Likewise, Marquez has used latent symbolism in his novel. ‘October’ is a case in point. The Colonel says: ‘The trouble is that in October I feel as if I had animals in my gut.’ [4] ‘October’ symbolises the handicapped and painful life that the Colonel’s family is leading. Analogously, the sun is a strong symbol used by Camus in ‘the Outsider.’ Meursault is averse to the uncomforting Algiers heat. The sun can be interpreted as a symbol of the society around Meursault, as it is the sun that seals his fate. He is too tired because of the heat on his mother’s funeral- ‘The glare from the sun was unbearable.’ [5] Moreover, it is the sun that is the main catalyst in Meursault’s murderous act on the Arab. Blinded by the sun on the beach, Meursault instinctively pulls the trigger of his gun, an act which kills the Arab- A shaft of light shot upward from the steel, and I felt as if a long, thin blade transfixed my forehead. [6] Every nerve in my body was a steel spring, and my grip closed on the revolver. [7] ‘October’ and ‘the Sun’ are thus very similarly used by both novelists, in the sense that both of them act as ‘negative’ elements causing discomfort to the protagonists of the respective novels.

It is remarkable that the man whom ‘Meursault’ killed was an Arab. As mentioned before, the French enjoyed colonial powers in Algiers, where Arabs were targets of racism. I believe that by choosing an Arab as a victim of Meursault’s bullets, Camus wanted to question the so called ‘Moral’ society, which actually was very much colonial and racist in its ideological premises. One might think of ‘The Outsider’ as a subtle indictment of the society by Camus.

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Moving back to ‘No One Writes to the Colonel,’ the rooster is a very important symbol. The Colonel’s son was killed for distributing clandestine literature at cock fights during the ‘la violencia.’ The rooster is a fighter, the best one in the district. He is thus a symbol of Augustine’s legacy. Moreover, he is a symbol of hope, hope for a better tomorrow for not only the Colonel, but Colombia as a whole. Marquez has also personified the rooster, giving an impression that he understands the Colonel’s feelings-The rooster was very much alive next to the empty can. When he saw the Colonel, he emitted an almost human, guttural monologue and tossed his head back. He gave him a smile of complicity: ‘Life is tough pal.’ [8] Thus, one might say that the rooster made a great companion for the Colonel, perhaps better than his wife- The colonel acknowledged that forty years of shared living, of shared hunger, of shared suffering, had not been enough for him to come to know his wife. He felt that something had also grown old in their love. [9] The rooster can thus be interpreted as a symbol of unselfish companionship.

If we look at stylistic elements, one that adds immense value to ‘the Outsider’ besides symbolism is the first-person narrative style in which Camus has written this novel. He creates a different point of view altogether, that of an absurd world. It is because of this that we have, according to me, one of the best opening lines in world literature today- Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday, I don’t know. I had a telegram from the Home: MOTHER PASSED AWAY. FUNERAL TOMORROW. YOURS SINCERELY.’ That doesn’t mean anything. It may have been yesterday. [10] It is this line that introduces us to the absurdity in Meursault’s world. It is quite bizarre that a man has no feelings towards his mother’s death. Likewise, love is next to nothing for Meursault. He is ready to marry Marie- a lady he doesn’t love. Many a men put on a facade to love their fiancée for the sake of a stable relationship, but Meursault is an exception. This is another illustration reinforcing Meursault’s honesty, howsoever absurd it might seem.

In my opinion, Marquez’s novel also has absurdist elements. It is quite absurd that the Colonel, his wife, and many others are dependent on the rooster. In the case of the Colonel’s family, they are helplessly reliant on the rooster to win in the upcoming cockfighting season. The end of this novel is also quite open-ended. We don’t know what happens next. Does the rooster win? Does the Colonel sell it off or does the Colonel’s battle against poverty and monotony of the shattering Fridays continue? It is quite absurd to end a wonderful story like this without a defining end. But that is what is Absurdism- a philosophy stating that the efforts of humanity to find meaning in the universe ultimately fail (and hence are absurd), because no such meaning exists. [11] 

To conclude, I would like to restate that both of these novels can be interpreted in eclectic ways. What I believe is that Camus questions the society and its rules through his absurd and existential work, trying to prove to his readers that a man cannot be labelled as a callous monster just for not crying at his mother’s funeral or killing a man under extenuating circumstances. Marquez, on the other hand, throws some light into the Colonel’s helpless life. He effectively uses symbolism to outline specific details, and also gives an absurd touch to his novel in the process.


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