What would be a basic critical analysis of Albert Camus' novel, The Stranger? Please comment on theme, narrative trajectory, literary devices, and other important aspects of the novel.   

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Albert Camus' novel, The Stranger (French: L’Étranger, sometimes also translated as The Outsider), first published in 1942 at the height of World War II, was considered one of the great works of the French Existentialist movement. 

The narrator of the novel, Mersault, is what is known as a French Algerian, or "pied-noir" (literally: "black foot"), a person of French origin who lived in Algeria. This brings into play one of the major themes of the novel, that of French colonialism in North Africa. The French tended to see the Arabs as inferior, and in return were resented for their economic and political domination, a resentment that led to Algeria's successful War of Independence (1954-1962). Raymond's seduction of a young Arab woman and Mersault's killing of one of her brothers exemplify the issues of colonialism in the novel and a sort of callous disregard of the Arabs as people.

A second element of Mersault's identity as a French Algerian is that he has no real cultural roots. The France of his mother is so alien to him that he feels nothing at his mother's death:

Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: “Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.” That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.

Being culturally French, however, Mersault has no real roots in Algeria. For Camus and the Existentialists, this would symbolize the true nature of the human condition in a secular world, in which life has no real meaning. This leads to Mersault existing in a strangely calm, almost Stoic, state, enabled by his detachment from the world in which he is only tenuously embedded. 

Just as life has no meaning in this world, neither does death, and Mersault is just as unmoved by his own impending execution as by the death of his mother and his murder of the Arab man.