At a Glance
- Meursault is both the narrator and protagonist of The Stranger. From his first-person point of view, the reader sees what Meursault sees but has very little, if any, 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. He doesn't dwell on anything, preferring to think of everyone and everything as absurd.
- Camus set The Stranger in Algeria in the 1940s, at a time when the country was still under French colonial rule. Colonialism resulted in tensions between Algerian natives and French colonists, and these tensions were in turn fueled by racism. Both the domestic abuse Raymond perpetrates and the murder Meursault commits are racially charged because their victims are both Arabs.
- Camus uses foreshadowing in Part I of the novel, when Meursault sits vigil for his dead mother. 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 in Part I.
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...
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