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Writer's Reviews - The Stranger: Albert Camus

Cover book of The Stranger (1942) by Albert Camus

The Stranger (1942)

Albert Camus

The work in brief

The Stranger tells the first-person story of Meursault and is set in Algeria, at that time under French rule. Meursault is a modest office clerk, apathetic and detached, who leads an existence in total disinterest with respect to the society in which he lives and also to his emotions. The novel is divided into two parts and begins with the death of his mother, to which Meursault reacts without particular involvement.

From here will begin a series of events that will radically change his life. Raymond Sintès, a friend of his, involves him in some shady affairs until Meursault becomes involved in a dispute with a group of Arabs. For no apparent reason Meursault shoots one of them to death during a walk on the beach, moved more by impetus than by real intentions.

After the murder Meursault is arrested and tried, and here it is revealed how much his emotional indifference and lack of repentance for the murder make him an outsider in the eyes of society. In the second part of the novel Meursault is in prison and begins to reflect on his life and the choices he has made. He accepts his estrangement from society and, at the final trial, refuses to recant his beliefs, despite being given the chance to do so to save his own life. At this point the death sentence is inevitable, Meursault accepts the sentence and prepares impassively for execution, without fear or remorse.


What you can learn from reading this work:

  1. When the novel becomes thought: the philosophy of the absurd

  2. The protagonist as anti-hero

  3. Existentialism


Alberto Camus, as well as a writer, was a philosopher and great thinker of the twentieth century, and it is also in this light that The Stranger should be placed and interpreted. The novel, in fact, places at the center what is called the philosophy of the absurd, which comes close to Nietzsche's nihilism, according to which all existence is meaningless, human beings are dominated by indifference and live without any morality.

These elements emerge precisely in the figure of the protagonist: Meursault lives without really reflecting on the meaning of his actions or emotions, with absolute detachment (an element that emerges immediately in the almost total indifference to the death of his mother, but also with respect to the murder and its condemnation). She appears as impassive to social conventions, not acting or judging according to a traditional, shared value system or morality. He kills a man for no apparent reason, but does not seem to feel remorse or guilt.

The world around him also reflexively appears indifferent to Meursault's actions: it is as if nature continues to take its course regardless of what he does. This detachment of the world around the protagonist becomes in turn the absence of an inherent order or meaning in any existence. The concept of absurdity, then, manifests itself in the novel in many ways, but mainly in its protagonist.

Camus has characterized Meursault by creating a complex and controversial character, at times almost repelling. The reader struggles to feel empathy in him but this has made him exceedingly unique in literature. We are therefore faced with an anti-hero who does not act for a purpose or moved by strong ideals precisely because he is indifferent to everything, but this does not make him any less interesting or engaging. This example can be useful in the construction of characters outside the traditional schemes as well.

The Stranger, moreover, is regarded as one of the masterpieces of existentialist literature because it explores the human condition, the concept of individual freedom but also the lack of meaning in life. Existentialism, in fact, emphasizes individual freedom in making one's own personal choices and this is what Meursault does: the decisions he makes are in line with his indifferent nature and not influenced by social expectations or common moral norms. This freedom to act according to one's own will is a key theme of existentialist literature, as is the profound critique of social conventions, justice and common morality.

In the novel, Meursault's death sentence seems senseless and based on social grounds rather than on objective moral criteria: this represents the existentialist view that moral norms, but also the system of justice, often lack a solid basis and are influenced more by convention and common thought. The Stranger, therefore, also appears as a critique of society itself because it questions the values and expectations imposed by the community.

Camus' work therefore takes on an importance beyond the classical narrative scheme of any novel because it places at the center an idea and a thought that become a supporting structure and manifest what is the vision of the great writer and philosopher. This demonstrates the extent to which it is also possible to convey in narrative form one's own beliefs with respect to man and society, thus leading the reader to further reflection as well. Alberto Camus has rendered all this through simple prose, an essential style, but no less poetic and evocative.



The Stranger is now considered by almost all critics to be one of the most important and significant novels in literature of all time - Le Monde ranks it first on its list of the 100 best books written in the 20th century - and the hype and success upon its first publication gave Camus immediate notoriety.

This is because, as we have seen, the novel also carries a philosophical framework that is fully in the existentialist current and has profoundly influenced literature and thought, even in later eras and in different social contexts. In particular, the figure of the protagonist Meursault and his deep characterization have been the subject of analysis and debates that are still moving today.

Its great relevance has been an inspiration for other literary works, such as in film and theater, showing how much the influence of Camus and his work is still present in contemporary culture. In Italy, the novel was first brought to the big screen in 1967 in the film version directed by Luchino Visconti featuring Marcello Mastroianni as Mersault.


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