The Stranger, at its core, is a philosophical novel. It exemplifies Camus’ brand of philosophy, known as absurdism. It counts itself among several nihilistic philosophies that assert that there is no inherent meaning in the world, and all the attempts to seek meaning are absurd. It is when a human being understands this core reality of life, he or she receives their salvation. It is difficult to embed any philosophy in an interesting tale, interesting enough that people would read the book and take away the philosophy. In this way, Camus is similar to Ayn Rand, who also attempted to embed the philosophy of Objectivism in her books. He is equally talented but much more understated writer. Their philosophies are poles apart, but they use similar strategies to get them across to their reader and followers.
The Stranger is a tale of someone who is absolutely unaffected by most emotional incidents that life throws at him, incidents that would normally upset ordinary people. Death of a grandmother, proposal by a girlfriend or facing death. It is a designed persona, or else, who can imagine someone who faces death not only with indifference, but with glee? Camus seems to be questioning the binary that pervades the common belief – you either have good reasons for your behavior, or you are insane. He seems to be saying through his protagonist’s behavior that you are not obliged to provide reasons for your behavior to anybody. In fact, the reasons provided by people are not actual reasons – they are only the pathetic facade that one puts on the inherent vacuum of existence, the absurd nature of things. It is designated meaning by people and it comes across as a logically layered description of reality, or people’s behaviors and actions – but is absurd when you peek closely into it.
The plot and narrative style is mundane. There is no melodrama and even the most melodramatic scenes are described nonchalantly, as if the protagonist – and since the protagonist narrates the story in first person, the author is looking at things nonchalantly. Things like death of close ones, murder, love, friendship and law. Things that most people hold close to their heart. It is as if Camus is laughing at people who take the meaning of things seriously – the meaning that lies at the fabric of the society itself. It does not go to as much of an extreme as Sartre’s “Hell is other people”, but treats community and society as inherently vacuous and redundant.
The supporting characters are diverse and interesting, and though they are looked at from the perspective of the protagonist, they surprise you at times. Raymond comes across as unlikable but very interesting. Marie lacks depth but probably Camus intended her to.
The protagonists internal monologues are not only designed to give a glimpse into Camus’s philosophy but are also used as literary devices that give a little ambiguity to the character. They refuse to tell you a lot about the protagonist while giving huge amount of information about his thoughts.
Overall, it is a great read for someone who believes in nihilistic line of thought. I find the whole exercise unconvincing, hence I give it 4/5. Worth a read definitely, even if you do not care about Camus’ philosophy. It is a must read for the sake of completion of the canon of great books of 20th century.