It has been hot here in the Pacific Northwest. Many of us, natives especially, have found ourselves taken by the heat. Thanks to the the 0-3 mph winds, the 90 degree days stagnate. Those of us who can get to the beach these days do head to the cool boarders of the shore. It is respite after all.
Naturally, a book is a choice companion for such occasions. We took Albert Camus’ classic The Stranger. Perhaps we tempted the uncanny by reading this story at the beach. Meursault, the story’s main character, seems to haunt beaches. Granted, we are no where near Algeria, where The Stranger is set, but a level of appreciation is reached and a mood of the text is grounded in such an environment. The setting is Meursault’s setting. The beach is where the main character’s turning point and subsequent downfall, takes place.
Why the beach? The Stranger has a way of making the reader ask this question and more, particularly of Meursault. Why Meursault? Why do you do such things? Why do you respond the way you do? What is going on in your head, your era, your world? One cannot help but prod this character. The reader searches for meaning in all of his seemingly futile actions. Thankfully, Camus does not tease; the reader will not put in the work of the text only to be bitterly left without a courteous conclusion. Potential spoiler alert ahead, Meursault speaks, eventually.
Meursault’s apparent indifference during moments that are the soul of importance to human life is puzzling. For clues to this character’s motivations to be rationally unmotivated, one cannot help but examine the times Albert Camus penned The Stranger. Could anyone articulate rationality in the midst of another war, one on the heels of the devastating first global conflict? Perhaps it has nothing to do with the mid or post-war psyche at all, and perhaps one of the more widely known examples of existentialist fiction is not concerned about one’s choices, however; The Stranger is a shallow tale without questioning choice.
Meursault is disarmingly aloof, at first, and then to a fault. He is downright detached, but he keeps going, he keeps experiencing. The Stranger is leading somewhere and the reader is talked through the rabbit hole by an individual who seems completely absent, and yet, he talks to you. He wants you to know something. He talks and we listened to one of the more enigmatic representations of human beings in literature.
Read The Stranger? What did Meursault say?