In The Stranger by Camus, how is Meursault a stranger to himself, to society, and to his environment?

Expert Answers info

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write5,918 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and Business

The French title of Camus' work, called The Stranger in most English translations, is L'Étranger. This has been variously translated as The Estranged One, The Outsider, and The Foreigner. These translations do have opposing nuances of meaning. The Stranger suggests social isolation. The Foreigner suggests cultural difference. The Outsider suggests the personal behavior of an idiosyncratic person who acts in such a way as to be set apart from others. The Estranged One suggests one who has had a natural relationship severed.

You can see that each option holds a different light to the main thematic element of the story. My personal preference is for The Outsider as it relates to a person's behavior and its results, which is what the novel is most about: How Meursault acts in an absurd world and the consequences of his actions, this in a world where even the Sun behaves absurdly while at one time being helpful and at another time being destructive.

With this said so as to give a deeper perspective into Meursault as a character and Camus as a novelist, we'll examine Meursault as a stranger. It is difficult to argue that he is a stranger to himself since he is so keenly aware of every sensation he has and so bitingly honest and direct about his desires and intentions and emotional feelings:

he asked me a last question: Did I regret what I had done?
After thinking a bit, I said that what I felt was less regret than a kind of vexation—I couldn’t find a better word for it.

Yet, it may be said he is a stranger to himself if one takes the position that morality and emotional empathy are innate qualities (something author William Golding contests). In this light, he is a stranger to himself because he is isolated from his social obligations...

(The entire section contains 636 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

check Approved by eNotes Editorial