‘The Outsider’ written by Albert Camus and translated by Joseph Laredo, is a novel that centers around a Frenchman named Meursault, who expresses no sadness at his mother’s death. Days after his mother’s death he murders a man on a whim for which he is tried in court. Meursault is tried not just for his crime but his lack of emotions, which makes him an outsider.
Meursault, the protagonist is peculiar as he attaches no value to human relationships and commits murder for no apparent reason. Sentiments like love, empathy, and concern are insignificant to him. The only time Meursault is close to being emotional is when he is imprisoned and he realizes the value of his freedom. During the initial days of his sentence he tries to devise plans that will enable him to escape from being guillotined. But right before the day of his execution, he accepts death in all its finality. He lives his life following his mother’s ideal that humanity can get used to anything, be it death or punishment. His indifferent reaction to his mother’s death is startling to the people around him, the same sort of people who would prefer deceit to truth. Meursault is not a likeable character, but then I don’t think the author intended the character to be a likeable one. Mersaults’ s defiant manner of sticking to the truth, his staunch atheism, his unwillingness to sugar-coat realities and his ability to accept his wrongs and not feel guilty about them makes him an outsider. He is an outcast as he doesn’t adhere to social norms. But it is these qualities that make him an unconventional tragic hero. Anybody who lives or behaves in a way contrary to the age-old way is shunned. To the world he is a cold-hearted murderer and according to the author himself he is just a person who doesn’t belong. A strange man who lives his life just to feel alive and nothing more. He lives through his life saying and doing things that feel right to him alone and not to the society.
Marie, the mistress of Mersault, is the only female character that has any importance in the novel, she is reduced to a pretty thing people can point at and admire. She is a woman who doesn’t seem to have any opinions of her own. Like Mersault she too is strange as she desires to marry a man who doesn’t love her but only considers her as an object to gratify his sexual desires.
Almost all the characters in the novel are idiosyncratic starting from Meursault to Salamano. Camus gives us a strange piece of fiction along the lines of absurdism which is a philosophy based on the belief that human existence is purposeless and chaotic. To Camus Meursault was a new-age Christ, a person who sacrifices himself for the truth, the kind of truth people try not to see or acknowledge.
The Outsider is as Camus states “the story of a man who, without any heroic pretensions agrees, to die for the truth.” This book left me confused but it also made me seriously ponder about the rigid, inflexible, and most often prejudiced decisions of the common public, and whether these decisions are really fair. This novel progresses like a dream, hazy but fast-paced and finally leaving you with mixed feelings.