In The Stranger by Albert Camus, what does Mersault really struggle against? For example, does Mersault want to understand why society acts a certain way? I'm having a little difficulty understanding this book.

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The Stranger is a novel open to many interpretations. The most superficial reading might suggest that this is a novel about an individual's struggle against a homogenizing society. A deeper reading leads to more troubling questions of self-knowledge and even the possibility of that self-knowledge might be a story we tell ourselves; nothing more.


One way to read this book, is to see Mersault as a figure struggling (and failing) to come to terms with his emotional life. He resists an internal dialogue and focuses on the external world, effectively eliminating the presence of sentiment.


This does not necessarily mean that the sentiment is not there. This may be his primary struggle – to subdue a real emotional life and deny its existence.


On the beach, Mersault is driven to commit a murder that he cannot adequately explain. We can only partially believe Mersault’s explanation that he killed a man because of the sun shining in his eyes. The act is an emotional one and is not conceivable without emotion. Either Mersault doesn’t understand his own motives or his motives are not understandable.

This may be another struggle – the problem of achieving an accurate narrative explanation of a person’s emotional life.

Is there a narrative, internal and emotional, which can fully explain this man’s actions? A fairly direct narrative line is suggested to Mersault: He was dealing with grief and so committed murder. The fact that strong sunlight was present at his mother’s funeral and again on the beach presents us with a compelling symbolic and emotional connection.

Yet, Mersault does not accept this narrative and this connection. He vehemently and repeatedly denies it, just as he denies all internal dialogue and emotional narrative.

Does Mersault resist the connection and all internal/emotional narrative because there is no possible complete explanation for one’s actions or because he is simply unwilling to recognize such a thing as being real?

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