The Stranger Analysis
by Albert Camus

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The Stranger Analysis

  • Meursault's first-person perspective provides minimal access to his inner thoughts and feelings. Meursault himself doesn't seem to have that access, which gives his narrative voice a stilted, matter-of-fact quality.
  • Camus set The Stranger in Algeria in the 1940s, when the country was still under French colonial rule. Both the domestic abuse Raymond perpetrates and the murder Meursault commits are racially charged because their victims are both Arabs.
  • During the vigil, Meursault gets the "ridiculous feeling that [the other mourners] were there to judge me." This foreshadows the trial in Part II, during which Meursault is criticized for his behavior at the vigil.

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Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Psychological self-examinations are common in French first-person narratives, but Camus’s The Stranger gave the technique of psychological depth a new twist at the time it was published. Instead of allowing the protagonist to detail a static psychology for the reader, the action and behavior were given to the reader to decipher. Camus did this because he felt that “psychology is action, not thinking about oneself.” The protagonist, along with a failure to explain everything to the reader, refuses to justify himself to other characters. He tells only what he is thinking and perceiving, he does not interrupt with commentary. By narrating the story this way, through the most indifferent person, the reader is also drawn into Meursault’s perspective. The audience feels the absurdity of the events. However, other characters, who do not even have the benefit of hearing the whole of Meursault’s story as the book’s readers do, prefer their ideas of him. They are only too ready to make their judgments at the trial. Moreover, they readily condemn him to death as a heartless killer without regret.

Structure and Language
Camus’s narration was immediately recognized as extremely innovative. His language, while recognized as similar to the American “Hemingway style,” was seen as so appropriate to the task as to be hardly borrowed. The style that Camus uses is one of direct speech that does not allow much description. He chose that style because it backed up his narrative technique. The reader is focused on the characters’ reactions and behavior as they are related through Meursault.

Camus also divided the story at the murder. Part one opens with the death of Maman and ends with the murder of the Arab. In part two of the novel, Meursault is in prison and at the end is awaiting his execution. The division reinforces the importance of Meursault in the universe of the story. Normality is jarred throughout the first part until it dissolves into chaos because of the murder. The second half shows the force of law entering to reestablish meaning and therefore bring back order through the death of Meursault. The structure and the language, then, are technically at one with the greater theme of absurdity.

Environment is a very important element to Meursault. He reports the heat of rooms, the way that the sun affects him, and all the other conditions of the habitat he lives in. The story itself is set around the city of Algiers and the beach. It is always daytime and the sun is always out. Curiously, in the universe of The Stranger there is no night, no darkness outside of mental obscurity. Things happen overnight, but no plot action occurs in the dark. The only moment when darkness does threaten is at the start of the vigil, but the caretaker dispels the darkness with the electric light. Other things that happen overnight include private encounters with Marie (we assume) and the verdict, which is read at eight o’clock at night. However, the novel’s events occur during the day, long days that are hardly differentiated from each other. Such facts of time emphasize the absurdity of Meursault; everything is meaningless except for the current state of the body in the environment.

This technique is used to indicate a happening before it...

(The entire section is 3,109 words.)