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This guide contains resources related to the study of 'The Outsider', also referred to as 'The Stranger', written by Albert Camus.

Image retrieved from Goodreads, 2017.

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About the Book

Alternate titles: “L’Étranger”, “The Outsider”

The Stranger, enigmatic first novel by Albert Camus, published in French as L’Étranger in 1942. It was published in England as The Outsider.

The title character of The Stranger is Meursault, who is sentenced to death ostensibly for shooting a man whom he had never met but perhaps more so, it is suggested, for his inability to dissemble, to experience conventional modes of feeling, or to conform to society’s requirements. Meursault appears listless, emotionally detached from his heretofore uneventful life; his anomie is caught in the novel’s famous opening lines: “Mother died today, or maybe it was yesterday.” The shooting, which occurs midway through the novel, is an experience that opens Meursault to gradual self-awareness.

The Stranger 2017. Britannica School. 

Historical Context

While in wartime Paris, Camus developed his philosophy of the absurd. A major component of this philosophy was Camus’s assertion that life has no rational or redeeming meaning. The experience of World War II led many other intellectuals to similar conclusions. Faced with the horrors of Hitler’s Nazi regime and the unprecedented slaughter of the War, many could no longer accept that human existence had any purpose or discernible meaning. Existence seemed simply, to use Camus’s term, absurd.

The Stranger, Camus’s first novel, is both a brilliantly crafted story and an illustration of Camus’s absurdist world view. Published in 1942, the novel tells the story of an emotionally detached, amoral young man named Meursault. He does not cry at his mother’s funeral, does not believe in God, and kills a man he barely knows without any discernible motive. For his crime, Meursault is deemed a threat to society and sentenced to death. When he comes to accept the “gentle indifference of the world,” he finds peace with himself and with the society that persecutes him.

SparkNotes, 2017.

Existentialism

Overall, existentialism is the search for the meaning of life; what is it to exist as a unique person? Existentialists believe that the meaning of life is sought through individual choices, free will, and personal freedom. Neither scientific thinking—including psychology—nor moral thinking can fully explain what it is to be human. Existentialists unite under several common themes:

  • Absurdity—Existentialists believe that life is absurd and has no meaning. Existentialists, therefore, seek meaning in an absurd world, trying to define their place and the reason they are here. Once an existentialist realizes that the world is an absurd place, this causes anxiety. An existentialist does not believe in the explanations offered by religion, science, or society about the reasons for human existence.
  • Alienation—Existentialists feel as if they have no place in the world; they feel like strangers in their own lives. Many existentialists feel a sense of depression because they realize that no one can help make sense of their existence; it is completely an individual quest.
  • Responsibility—Existentialists believe that it is a person's sole responsibility to find the meaning in his or her own life, to make choices about his or her life, and to accept responsibility for the decisions he or she makes in trying to find meaning.
  • Authenticity and individuality—A person must live as an individual and become his or her authentic self. Existentialists believe that reason, science, and religion deny individuality by forming guidelines and rules for living. A person may make the decision to live morally, however, thus successfully being one's self rather than fulfilling a role imposed by society.
  • Engagement—To find authenticity and true individuality, existentialists believe that an individual must be engaged in life; a person must exist and be part of the world around him or her.
  • Death—Existentialists believe death adds to the absurdity of life. A person spends his or her life trying to understand life's meaning and his or her place in the world, when in the end, the meaning does not matter because death is inevitable. This belief adds to the conviction that life is absurd.

"Existentialism." Gale Student Resources in Context, Gale, 2012. Research in Context

About the Author

Albert Camus, (born November 7, 1913, Mondovi, Algeria—died January 4, 1960, near Sens, France), French novelist, essayist, and playwright, best known for such novels as L’Étranger (1942; The Stranger), La Peste (1947; The Plague), and La Chute (1956; The Fall) and for his work in leftist causes. He received the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Albert Camus 2017. Britannica School. 

Camus, Albert [Image]. Encyclopædia Britannica. 

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