Monday, April 30, 2012

The Dark Wind from My Future: A Review of The Stranger by Albert Camus

Ever get that blurred vision during a hazy, warm summer's day, when the air is thick with humidity then all you can see is the clear sky with no trace of clouds, and the road is a strip of hot air forming a translucent mirage, and for some strange reason, the sun keeps on getting in your eye and you just can't think straight?

That's what I felt when I read The Stranger by Albert Camus. Even during at night when fluorescent lights are lit up for everything they're worth, my eyes still squint from overexposure from a scorching sun and mirage from the asphalt roads; the same way when the bright noonday sun slashes from between the rustling leaves of tall trees.

I've heard of Albert Camus before, as he is big in the Philosopher's circles and his works have so far branched out into the Literary pools that one can't help but at least hear of his name. The one thing that I am always curious about is Philosophy, but I can never keep up with this or that school of thought. Now, with The Stranger, I am introduced to Absurdism (and a bit of Nihilism and Stoicism) and Existentialism right at the end. But before we go past it, I should tell you how positively absurd and passive the narrative of the story was.The novel is as dry and ordinary at the start as it is jarring and almost vicious at the end.

It is a tale of a simple man, Meursault, who receives a succinct telegram informing him that his mother passed away " Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure." He left his apartment and work to visit the nursing home where she spent her twilight years. He has no other relative to do the visit with, and when he goes to the home, he displays a rather boorish kind of passivity to his mother's casket and the whole funeral proceedings. He would rather talk about the oppressive heat, the nightmarish figures of the people around the casket, a strange weeping sound that he can't pinpoint, the winding road of the funeral procession, and how one man in the procession can't keep up with the walking. He tells of the strangest things to be thinking about when your own mum is going six feet under in some matter of moments. It is... absurd, really.

What the reader can get from this is that he doesn't care to get one last look at his own' mother's face, has no emotional response akin to sadness nor melancholy the very day his mother is going to be buried. "It occurred to me that anyway one more Sunday was over, that Maman was buried now, that I was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed." Then he goes to work the day after that, back to his apartments and back to his crummy neighborhood where an old man continues to shout verbal abuse to his dog, a dock worker wanting to exact revenge on a lover.

It all seems idyllic, to be sure, but everything feels unsettling and unremorseful. The radical thought process of this narrator is detached from what would normally be the reaction to some dire situation. But I guess that is what Existentialism stands for, "man exists and in that existence man defines himself and the world in his own subjectivity, and wanders between choice, freedom, and existential angst." source. That in the quest for definition of the world, he recognizes that there may be things that exceed rationalization, that there is nothingness somewhere, and in life there are chances that one applies to break free from the "iron cage" of reason and live as he chooses to define.

Going back to the novel, Meursault finds himself with some good company along the way, with a lady that caught her fancy with him. Both Meursault and his lady were invited to his friend's private rest house near the sea. Good times were had, almost quite the moment when I felt Meursault was at his most gentle, or at the very least, content. But there is a surge of tension when Meursault and his company ran across a group of Arab men who Mersault's friend has some previous issue with. There was a clash but they were able to get away somehow, and tried to get some rest from the strange event that transpired.

But what happened to Meursault then was even stranger. He got up to walk, and with a seemingly involuntary move, he takes his friends gun, goes to the very place where they met the Arabs, and kills one without the slightest premeditation. We discover that the reason why he shot the Arab man was because of the glare of the sun.

What transpired after is a whirlwind of legal proceedings. Meursault is taken to court, charged with first degree murder. This is where the beginning clicked, as the trial proceeded he is prosecuted as a cold murderer, prosecutors design him to have the same aloofness and dysfunctional blank face displayed when he murdered a man in comparison to how he was during his mother's funeral. His defense panel only offered this counter: he did not have the proper mental faculties at the moment of murder. The results of the trial declared he is to be put to death by guillotine.
Here comes the scariest part of any book I've read.

It is not because Meursault proves to be the cold-blooded murderer he is, as actually he is as human as all of us are. He just is not ruled by emotions, and rather is content with the "man of a few words" persona everyone views of him. He is visited by a priest, who assures him that even though Meursault has refused to visit his chaplain, he is still under the loving care of god. In return, he scoffs at the priest, ridiculed his faith, and gave extremely violent words against the existence of God and the futility of belief; In the end there is a glimmer of repentance, if only due to the "inescapable" dark wind that blows from past to present and to the dark future.


I felt my eyes go wild reading the last conversation Meursault had with the priest. I imagined almost the devil breathing down and spitting fire. His words were pungent acid burning a hole on a holy garment. Jarring to the core. I would not recommend this to just anyone, but I would to someone with an open mind.

My readings have been heavy lately, but I'm not complaining. I have been so stimulated that leisure books or beach books I am throwing away like day-old candy wrappers in my pockets. Searching for my next fix; books like these are crack to me. I am now thick in the final chapters of 1Q84 by Murakami and The Crazed by Ha Jin. These books are not at the same level as The Stranger, but they have the punch to the brain I love so much.

1 comment:

  1. This book has been on my To-Read list for ages but I've never been motivated to pick it up. I will definitely take it off my shelf now thanks to your review.