Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 442
The Outsider is a 1948 fictional, psychological novel written by Argentine writer, painter, and physicist Ernesto Sábato. It is the author’s first novel, and tells the story of a man named Juan Pablo Castel, a lonely and troubled painter who becomes obsessed with a young woman named María Iribarne. After The Outsider, Sábato wrote two more novels: the critically acclaimed On Heroes and Tombs (1961) and The Angel of Darkness (1974).
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One day, María goes to one of Castel’s exhibitions. Unlike the other visitors, however, she notices a painting named "Maternidad" ("Maternity") and she is immediately drawn to it. The painting is of a lone female figure who is looking at the sea through a tiny window. Castel feels that the young woman is the only one who can understand the true meaning of the painting and by continuation, understand him. Thus, he becomes determined to get to know her, as he thinks of her as his soulmate. They meet several times, and Castel’s obsession grows to the point where he accuses her of being a prostitute cheating on him and her husband – a blind man Allende. He then goes to her house, tells her that she is the one responsible for his loneliness and kills her.
The novel’s original title was The Tunnel (Spanish: El túnel), which is symbolic of Castel’s mental state. He appears to suffer from anxiety, desperation, loneliness, and even madness and paranoia, and he isolates himself from the society in which he lives in. Despite his complicated psychological condition, Castel is the one who narrates the story. This is a very interesting element of the novel, as we soon realize that his original straightforward narration is actually quite unreliable. His unhealthy obsession begins to border on insanity, and puts an enormous risk on his life and the life of the people who are in some way connected to him, such as his lover María. At one point, he says:
What a stupid illusion that had been! ...that the whole story of the passageways was my own ridiculous invention and that after all there was only one tunnel, dark and solitary: mine, the tunnel in which I had spent my childhood, my youth, my entire life.
Soon after its publication, the novel was branded an existentialist classic, receiving great reviews and gaining the approval of Sábato’s fellow authors and colleagues, such as Thomas Mann and Albert Camus. In fact, because of its psychological and borderline absurd themes, the similarity of the titles, and the same amount of pages, The Outsider is often compared to Camus’ masterpiece The Stranger.