Comparing Albert Camus' The Stranger (The Outsider) and Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea
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Lack of Order in Albert Camus' The Stranger (The Outsider) and Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea
Nausea, by Jean-Paul Sartre, and The Stranger, by Albert Camus, refuse to impose order on their events by not using psychology, hierarchies, coherent narratives, or cause and effect. Nausea refuses to order its events by not inscribing them with psychology or a cause for existence, and it contrasts itself with a text by Balzac that explains its events. Nausea resists the traditional strategy of including the past to predict a character's future. It instead focuses on the succession of presents, which troubles social constructions such as "stories" and "adventure." The Stranger resists traditional categories of order by not dividing Meursault's body and soul, or body and mind. It denies the order of cause and effect by providing no motive for the murder of the Arab, and resists a reductive reading of itself as a case history of a "monster." The novel contrasts its refusal to interpret with the coherent narrative that the prosecutors create. The Stranger and Nausea explore similar strategies as they interrogate ways to view the world without a system of interpretative illusions.
Nausea refuses to assign order to its events by choosing not to justify them with psychology or cause. Roquentin finds himself unable to pick up a piece of paper, for no apparent physical reason. However, he refuses to psychoanalyze the event. He writes that he will not traffic in "secrets or soul states," or to "play with the inner life" (9). When he cannot pick up the paper, he decides that no explanation is necessary: he simply decides "I was unable" (10). By not assigning psychology, Roquentin allows the event to have a gratuitous existence. Similarly, ...
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...contrasts itself with an inner text that uses interpretation to assign order to the events of the world. Nausea contrasts its denial of cause and psychology with the section from Eugenie Grandet, and The Stranger contrasts its refusal to assign a cause to the murder with the prosecutor's coherent narrative. They both incorporate gratuitous events, and refuse to supply an interpretation for them. Roquentin refuses to explain why he is unable to pick up the piece of paper in Nausea, and Meursault finds no means, or necessity, to interpret his murder of the Arab in The Stranger. Both novels explore ways to view the world without reducing it into a comforting but illusory system of order.
Camus, Albert. The Stranger, trans. Mathew Ward. New York: Random House, Inc., 1988.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Nausea. Trans. Lloyd Alexander. NY: New Directions, 1964.