The Novel The Stranger By Albert Camus English Literature Essay

2416 words (10 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 English Literature Reference this


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The Stranger by Albert Camus takes place in the 1940s in French-Algeria. During these times, World War II is going on, and a great part of Algeria is considered territory of the French, who began their colonization of Algeria in 1830. At this time, Algiers, the capital city of Algeria is used as the headquarters for the Allied forces in North Africa. World War II lasted from 1939 to 1945, and The Stranger, was published in the year of 1942. The Stranger, reflected much of the French-Algerian Society during the times of the 1940s. It reflected a great amount of racism that existed against the non-French citizens that lived in Algeria. It also showed that during this time in society; character, played a great role in people's life, and the law system. The Stranger also arises the ideas of Existentialism, and Absurdism that begin to arise, during these harsh times of war. The Stranger, reflects how the Algerian culture, manifested much racism, importance of social norm, and the fact that during the times of World War II, a great percentage of the society in Algeria acquired a pessimistic mood on life. This leading for many to believe, such as Camus, that life was meaningless and absurd.

In June 1830, the French army begins the invasion of Algiers. (8) As Europeans begin to enter, they had an attempt to colonize Algeria. They begin their colonization with religion. Christianity came along with the colonization of Algeria. During these years the population of Algeria was around four million inhabitants, and about three million were Muslims. (5) Here is where the conflicts of religion clash and where the dispute of religions start. In 1839, Abd-el-Kader, a Muslim commander of the city of Mascara, Algeria, proclaimed a holy war against the Europeans, and their religion of Christianity. This holy war lasted up until the year of 1835, where Abd-el-Kader finally surrenders. (3) As the outbreaks ceased, more Europeans begin to enter Algeria and by 1880, the European population is more then 350,000 inhabitants. (5) Although the numbers rise for Europeans inhabitants, they also do for Muslims. During the years from 1830 to mid-20th century, the Muslim population increases from three million to nine million. (5)

As more Europeans begin to enter Algeria, they quickly retain to economical, and political power. Then one sees the government in Algeria begins to form itself, the European way; French citizens are now fully privileged citizens in Algeria, while the Muslim Algerians do not have the equal status as the French did , and were not considered citizens, causing much tension between these two groups (5) . As more economical struggle began, because of the war, there came to be a decrease in agricultural work, which was basically what all Arabs worked in during these times. To which it brought many Arabs came into the cities searching for jobs, and offering their labor at a cheap cost. (5) We then see much of the middle class in French-Algeria, grievously affected. Then this is why it comes to believe why Arabs became such a major target for major racism in French-Algeria. One sees an example of this in The Stranger. Meursault, the main character of the story, becomes befriended by his neighbor Raymond Sintes. Raymond, becomes portrayed as an aggressive man with a quick temper. Raymond is considered to be a man that lives of women. "The word around the neighborhood is that he lives of women" (4). Meaning that he solicits customers for a prostitute.

We get to know more about Raymond, when he invites Meursault over, and Raymond declares himself, Meursault's pal, leading him to open up about his current mistress, who is an Arab women. During these times Arabs, were not given any of the high paying jobs, and were forced to become farmers, one of the lowest paying jobs in Algeria. (5) Arabs were at the bottom of the food chain, in both society and economy, and many lived in poverty. (5) With this as a fact, one could draw to conclusions, and see that Arab women who lived in extreme poverty could turn to prostitution as means of financial aid. Raymond then goes to Meursault for advice on what to do, because he has discovered his mistress has cheated on him. Raymond decides that he needs to teach his mistress a lesson, and decides to have sexual intercourse with her then at the end, spit in her face and throw her out. Raymond then proceeds to do this, and ends up badly beating up this girl. A policeman shows up, and just sends the girl home, and tells Raymond he will be summoned to the police station.

Raymond then proceeds to tell Meursault to act as a witness, and declare that Raymond beat this girl because she was cheating on him. When Meursault does this, Raymond just gets off with a warning. "He'd gotten off with a warning. They didn't check my statement." (4) Here the reader can infer that Raymond just got off with a warning because he was a french citizen, and the girl was not, and he had a good enough explanation to why he beat her, therefore according to the law system it manifested as justified cause. Later on in the story we get the the part when Meursault kills an Arab. At first no one becomes intrigued by his case, making it appear as it was a normal crime, to go aound killing Arabs. "The first time, at the police station, nobody seemed very intrested in my case." (4) Again the reader must gather knowledge of the events happening in the story that reveal this racism against Arabs.

During this time in society, character played a great part in the law system. We see an example of this in The Stranger when Meursault kills an Arab. Meursault then becomes put into trial, but during the whole trial it revolves around his insensibility towards his mother's death. The prosecutor for his trial just accuses him for the things he did, and the emotions he had towards his mothers death, and in no time even attempting to mention the real reason of his trial, which was his murder of an Arab man. "The prosecutor then rose and, very gravely and with what struck me as real emotion in his voice, his finger pointing at me, said slowly and distinctly, 'Gentlemen of the jury, the day after his mother's death, this man was out swimming, starting up a dubious liaison, and going to the movies, a comedy, for laughs. I have nothing further to day.'"(4). Here again racism comes and displays itslef as the jury of the court, who have really no interest in the killing of an Arab man, but instead are all focused in this man's personal life, and are quite intrigued by his immoral character that lacks the common Christianity belief, and emotions that they believe is what a "right" man in their society should display.

During this time, we see that the religion of Christianity revolved around all the French, and was considered a major religion. An example in The Stranger, ehibiting the major importantce that Christianity had on the society was when Meursault, is questioned by the examining magistrate. The examining magistrate then asks Meursault if he belives in God and Meursault says no. Then we see how the examining magistrate reacts. " He said it was impossible; all men believed in God, even those who turned their backs on him. That was his belief, and if he were ever to doubt it, his life would be meaningless." (4) Here we see the much of the Algerian society, is greatly impacted by religion, especially Christianism, and anyone who did not share this belief was considered an outsider, or a stranger.

Therefore based on the fact of how the jury responded on the trial of Meursault's crime, the reader leads to infer that killing an Arab man is far less condemn then the crime of not showing proper social norm. Another example, in The Stranger, in which it displays the strive of society to have proper norm, is when one sees that Raymond gets just a warning for beating his Arab mistress. Not only does it display signs of racism put also of how it is alright for a man to beat you, if you deserved it. We can see that during this time of society in Algeria, men had the authority over women, and had the right to beat them, if they had a justifiable cause.

When one begins to analyze The Stranger by Albert Camus, one finds it reflecting much of the philosophies of Existentialism and Absurdism. When one begins to looks at Camus' life, one sees that this man lived in time, where it presented itself as a quite gruesome time. World War II, going on, and Algeria used as an Allied headquarters.(8) Major combat was going on in this area. Then when one gets a look at the 1930s-1940s, the Great depression enters the doors worldwide. Chaos enters worldwide, and it leads for one to believe that much of the society in Algeria began to acquire this pessimistic mood on life. That is when we see the philosophies start to develop, in order for society to try to get an understanding of life.

The rise of fascism, the horrors of WWII and the Holocaust inspired the philosophical concept of Existentialism and Absurdism by highlighting the insignificance of an individual's actions. These events illustrated how the purpose of an individual was to be utilized as a pawn in political schemes for the benefit of a high power; the individual themselves would therefore have no inherent or egoistic purpose in existing. World War II saw over 52,100,000 deaths by its conclusion. (1)

This book begins with "Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know." (4). Here the book starts out right away with feelings of insensibility. All throughout the book, Meursault displays a uncaring attitude towards everything that happens to him. Here Camus, throughout the main character, Meursault, displayes the philosophy of Absurdism. "Absurdism is the belief the condition or state in which humans exist in a meaningless, irrational universe wherein people's lives have no purpose or meaning." (1) Meursault is a man who throughout the book, really doesn't try to find meaning in anything he does.

One sees an example of Meursault, and his indifference towards society, when he is invited on the beach with Raymond, and they confront two Arabs, (one is the brother of Raymond's mistress). Meursault has a gun and it he realizes that he could shoot or not shoot and that it would come to the same thing (4). Here it demonstrates that the death of a person really has no affect on the whole universe, or life. The universe does not care of the deaths that occur, it does not cause it any change. "This view, of Absurdism is that humanity must live in a world that is and will forever be hostile or indifferent towards them. The universe will never truly care for humanity the way we seem to want it to" (1).

When one looks at Existentialism it also shares the idea , that the world is indifferent towards humanity. (6) Once Meursault kills the Arab, he does not regret it even though it means going to prison, and at the end being sentenced to execution. Existentialism acquires the belief that humans are responsible for their decisions. (6) Meursault, always displays actions that lead for the reader to become aware , that everything is meaninglessness to him. He does not display any signs of emotions at his mother's funeral, does not care about being friends with Raymond, and does not love his girlfriend, or even care about marrying her. He does not care he has killed a man, after he has done it. Then when Meaursault awaits in in prison for his execution, he finally meditates on something and it's his death.

Therefore, the reader then sees that, Meursault realizes the absurdist and Existentialism idea that the universe is indifferent to human affairs and that life lacks rational order and meaning.

Throughout the whole absurd life I'd lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in my future, across years that were still to come, and as it passed, this wind leveled whatever whatever was offered to me at the time, in years no more real then the one I was living. (4)

Meaursalt then says he finds the Universe as a brother to him. "Finding it so much like myself-so like a brother, really." (4) One then sees that Camus, uses Meursault to display the universe's indifference to human affairs, by Meursault's personal indifference to society. One sees that Camus, reaches out to the Algerian public, who are now living in these harsh times, through these philosophies, and trying to give the confused public, a meaning of life, and to show them how absurd and meaningless it really happens to be, according to these philosophies.

When one looks at Camus personal background history and how it influence his writing, we see Camus, as a young boy, growing up in poverty, and with a single mother as support. Although Camus lived in poverty, he was able to attend the University of Algiers, by scholarships. (2) Later on though he is forced to drop out due to his condition of tuberculosis. During his adolescent years he lived through the political struggles going on, and Adolf Hitler coming into power during this time, which then basically encouraged this pessimistic mood on life. During a point in his life Camus became a jounalist. "He reported on the unhappy state of the Muslims of the Kabylie region aroused the Algerian government to action and brought him public notice." (4) During the 1930s, the concepts of absurd and Existentialism, began to develop in French writing. (7) It was during this period of life, that much of the society basically just gave up, and their only struggle became to keep themselves alive.

Camus, through The Stranger, came to reveal the many aspects of the Algerian Culture. One comes to see how many French citizens targeted the Arab society, on racism, and considered the Arabs, inferior to themselves, even though the French were the ones, that came and invaded their country. Camus, also comes to reveal the government and their system on how they manifested justice. One also comes to see that how character played a grand part in the society of the 1940s in French-Algeria. The Stranger, also came to show the readers of the philosophies of Absurdism, and Existentialism. One comes to see that during these harsh times of war, much of the society in Algeria was no longer in strive for goals or passions, many committed their lives just for survival.

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