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The Stranger

By sidotinick May 31, 2012 764 Words
In The Stranger by Albert Camus is a novel with multiple themes. This is probably one of the most theme rich novels I have ever read and I only touched on a few of the key themes presented in the novel. The themes are mortality, isolation, nature, religion, women, passivity, and society’s social class. The Stranger opens with an announcement of death; Salamano’s old dog is in a state of decay; the protagonist murders, and is then sentenced to execution. The centrality of death, as a concept, is perhaps Camus’s way of forcing us to confront the continuum of varying attitudes on this universal, yet distinctly absurdist, theme. In The Stranger, death is inevitable and does not lead to an afterlife. The novel concludes with the revelation that death is what makes all men – indeed all living creatures – equal. Everyone has to die, therefore no one man is privileged over any other man (or living being). The Stranger focuses on one man’s isolation from society hence the title The Stranger, from friends, from his lover, from human emotion, and eventually from normal logic. This isolation is self-prescribed; the main character isn’t exiled by any means. He separates himself from everything. Of course, at first he doesn’t view this as a choice at all; isolation is simply the path of least resistance, the series of activities that requires the least activity and effort. By the end of the novel, the narrator realizes that he has the ability to choose; that if he wants, he can wish for a large crowd of people, he can desire to be less alone. Or he can stay as he is. But he is conscious of his own ability to decide.

The theme of nature also presents itself in the novel. The narrator’s actions is often dictated by the slightest changes in weather. Citing the scorching sun as the reason for murder, however, his unbelievable story is met with a trip to the guillotine. The Stranger investigates the extent to which man is affected by nature or may be said to be one with nature.

According to the absurdist, also known as the protagonist, religion is constructed by man in an attempt to create meaning to a senseless existence. Acceptance of religion, of the possibility of an afterlife, would mean that man effectively escapes death. This is a destructive belief, as only the realization and acceptance of impending death allows man to live to his fullest. The Stranger would condemn this, and at one point, the novel’s hero directly accuses a chaplain of "living like a dead man." Refuting the "no atheists on fox holes" claim, this character challenges the social construct of religion even before his own death, refusing to "waste any last minutes on God."

The hero of The Stranger displays a detachment not only from society, but also from women. He does not cry at his mother’s funeral. He does not sympathize with Raymond’s ex-girlfriend when she is brutally beaten. He does not love his own girlfriend, though he admittedly enjoys her company and is lustful towards her. Treatment of women is the main theme here, but other romantic and sexual relationships in the novel provide additional insights by way of contrast.

The Stranger explores the differences between friendship and companionship. The novel’s apathetic hero seems to draw no distinction between them but seems to approach what other characters think of as so called "friendship" with a detached and indifferent sense. He falls into friendships if being friends is easier than being strangers, but would rather remain strangers if that takes less effort than having a conversation. Friendship ends up being something that happens to the main character, rather than something he creates. Friendship is almost a theme that the protagonist is almost trying to avoid.

Passivity is an acceptable way of experiencing life and treating others in The Stranger. For the most part, the narrator is an observer of life and its events. He feels detached and alienated from his dead mother. He doesn’t love the woman who wishes to marry him. And, though he participates in life, he observes twice as much. Camus explores in The Stranger the thin line between indifference and acceptance; the novel features this character’s transformation from the former to the latter which is a positive transition, in Camus’s world.

Without these rich themes The Stranger would not be as interesting. Each theme affects each character; especially the man character, in many different ways. Camus is a master of incorporating so many themes into a relative short novel.

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