Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Stranger by Albert Camus



A book I taught for many years: bereft of a belief in God, Meursault learns that existence is its own value and meaning. In the face of the absurd fact that all of us must die, no one can afford just to exist.



A Few Excerpts from the book: 

“Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe. I don’t know…

“The prosecutor turned to the jury and declared. ‘The same man who the day after his mother died was indulging in the most shameful debauchery, killed a man for the most trivial of reasons and did so in order to settle an affair of unspeakable vice.’

“…The trial was adjourned. As I was leaving the courthouse on my way back to the van, I recognized for a brief moment the smell and color of summer evening… I could make out one by one, as if from the depths of my exhaustion, all the familiar sounds of a town I loved and of a certain time of day when I used to be happy. 

“The cries of the newspaper vendors in the already languid air, the last few birds in the square, the shouts of the sandwich sellers, the screech of the streetcars turning sharply through the upper town, and that hum in the sky before the night engulfs the port: all this mapped out for me a route I knew so well before going to prison and which I now traveled blind… as if familiar paths traced in summer skies could lead as easily to prison as to the sleep of the innocent…

“The chaplain looked at me with a kind of sadness… His presence was grating and oppressive. I was just about to tell him to go, to leave me alone, when all of a sudden, turning toward me, he burst out, ‘No, I refuse to believe you! I know that at one time or another you’ve wished for another life.’ I said of course I had, but it didn’t mean any more than wishing to be rich, to be able to swim faster, or to have a more nicely shaped mouth. It was all the same. But he stopped me and wanted to know how I pictured this other life. Then I shouted at him, ‘One where I could remember this life!’ and that’s when I told him I’d had enough…

“He seemed so certain about everything, didn’t he? And yet none of his certainties was worth one hair of a woman’s head. He wasn’t even sure he was alive, because he was living like a dead man… But I was sure about me, about everything, surer than he could ever be, sure of my life and sure of the death I had waiting for me. Yes, that was all I had. But at least I had as much of a hold on it as it had on me. 

“I had been right. I was still right. I was always right. I had lived my life one way, and I could just as well have lived it another. I had done this, and I hadn’t done that.  I hadn’t done this thing, but I had done another… Nothing, nothing mattered, and I knew why. So did he.

“Throughout the whole absurd life I’d lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in my future, across years that were still to come, and as it passed, this wind leveled whatever was offered to me at the time.

“What did other people’s deaths or a mother’s love matter to me; what did his God or the lives people choose or the fate they think they elect matter to me when we’re all elected by the same fate, me and billions of privileged people like him who also called themselves my brothers? Couldn’t he see, couldn’t he see that? Everybody was privileged. There were only privileged people. The others would all be condemned one day…

“All the shouting had me gasping for air… Sounds of the countryside were drifting in. Smells of night, earth, and salt air were cooling my temples… For the first time in a long time I thought about Maman. I felt as if I understood why at the end of her life she had taken a ‘finance,’ why she had played at beginning again… So close to death, Maman must have felt free then and ready to live it all again. 

“Nobody, nobody had the right to cry over her. And I felt ready to live it all again too. As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.

“Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only wished that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.”

(1946)

Camus, Albert. Trans. Matthew Ward. The Stranger. New York: Random House, 1988.





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