In The Stranger (The Outsider), Albert Camus anticipates an active reader that will react to his text. He wants the reader to form a changing, dynamic opinion of Meursault. The reader can create a consciousness for Meursault from the facts that Meursault reports. By using vague and ambiguous language, Camus stimulates the reader to explore all possibilities of meaning. Camus also intends to shock the reader into rereading passages. Through discussion of narrative structure, the opening lines, the role of pity, resentment toward Meursault’s judges, and the relationship between murder and innocence, I will prove that Camus’ purpose is to bring the reader to introspect on their own relationship with society.
Through narrative structure, Camus invites the reader to create and become the consciousness of Meursault. Utah Sate University Professor David Anderson notices that “Meursault takes the stance of simply reporting these impressions, without attempting to create a coherent story from them.” Indeed, in Part One, what Meursault reports are exclusively facts. Micheline Tisson-Braun comments that Meursault “registers facts, but not their meanings; ... is purely instantaneous; he lacks the principle of unity and continuity that characterizes man” (49). Through generalization, the reader links the details of Meursault’s life. The reader thereby creates their own meaning for Meursault’s actions. Meursault, without a memory or an imagination, refuses to spend time connecting events and contemplating essences. The reader does this for Meursault. Thus, the reader creates a consciousness for Meursault that is uniquely the reader’s. It exactly represents Meursau...
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...der to experience the trial in the place of Meursault. Perhaps Camus wrote all of Part One to set up the reader in a situation where they must reassess their relationship with society. Whatever the reader’s emotional response, Camus places the reader in position to experience the trial, l’absurde. Through anticipation of a responsive reader, Camus communicates the essence of l’absurde.
Camus, Albert. L’étranger. France: Éditions Gallimond, 1942.
Camus, Albert. The Stranger, trans. Mathew Ward. New York: Random House, Inc., 1988.
Girard, René. “Camus’ Stranger Retried.” “to double business bound” Essays on Literature, Mimesis, and Anthropology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U P, 1978.
Tisson-Braun, Micheline. “Silence and the Desert: The Flickering Vision.” Critical Essays on Albert Camus, ed. Bettina L. Knapp. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1988.
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