Why do Arabs not have names in The Stranger?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is one of the more troubling aspects of this famous novel. Although Camus himself said that colonialism was not the issue in this book, and it is widely recognised to be more about existentialism and absurdism than anything else, there are a number of reminders in this novel that the action is set in a colonial country where whites had control over the indigenous population. This is something that is very difficult to ignore in the novel, and the fact that none of the Arabs are given names subtley reinforces the inequality of power and the presentation of Arabs as somehow being less than whites.

If we examine this further, even the nurse at the nursing home has no other characteristic apart from an abcess that causes her to wear bandaging on her face. This, and the fact that she is an Arab, defines her. Another Arab woman that we meet in the novel is Raymond's girlfriend, who is beaten by him. Mersault comments on her name though we are never told what it is:

...when he told me the woman's name I realised it was Moorish.

Mersault does not express any horror at Raymond's desire to cut her nose off to show that she is a prostitute. Again and again, Arabs are presented as existing in a world where they are "less" than whites, and the fact that they do not receive names subtly reinforces this pervasive theme, as they are not truly identified as being human in the novel.


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