Camus’ L’étranger

On the plane to Orlando, I re-read, for the first time since I was fourteen years old, Albert Camus’ L’étranger. I remembered some passages from the novel so well I could have recited them (C’est alors que tout a vacillé etc.) My unease with the book as a teenager did not change, though, and in fact it grew worse. Meursault’s killing of the character referred to simply as “the Arab,” the complete absence of any dialogue from the three Arab men who confront Raymond and Meursault on the beach, the fact that the only Arab character who says anything is Raymond’s abused and oppressed girlfriend, the absence of the Arab man’s family or any Arab witnesses at the trial: these are not coincidences, naturally, but clear narrative choices Camus made. One might argue that Meursault’s fight with the chaplain and his realization at the end are an assertion of the Self in the face of an indifferent universe and a moralizing society, but I think that assertion about the absurdity of life comes by way of victimizing the Other. Camus gives us a vision of the world that leaves nothing to compassion, emotion, or humanity.