Friday, January 13, 2006

Reaction to Albert Camus, "The Stranger"

Just finished a fascinating book by the famous existentialist, Camus. Though many would label him differently.

I had cut and paste help on this summary.

The main theme of The Stranger is the absurdity of life. Mersault is a common, ordinary man who works in Algiers performing routine and monotonous tasks. Because he is a bachelor who lives by himself, he has few demands placed on his free time. He is accustomed to doing what he wants, when he wants. Amazingly, he has difficulty entertaining himself, and the weekends tend to drag on for him in boredom. It is clear Mersault has done nothing significant in his life, and he states several times in the book that he had never received much attention before his murder trial.

When the book opens, Mersault has just learned that has mother has passed away. He had previously sent her to live in Marengo at a government run Home for the Aged, for he felt he could not support her at his apartment and believed that she needed someone to look after her during the day, while he was at work. When he receives the news of her passing, he does not seem upset by her death. With no emotion, he arranges for time off from work, goes to borrow a tie and mourning band from a friend, and eats a casual lunch. Once he arrives in Marengo, he shows no emotion and refuses to view her body. At the funeral, he does not shed a tear and is more concerned about the heat than the loss of his mother. He is also anxious to get back home.

As the book continues, Mersault lives each day without much direction or purpose. He has a meaningless liaison with Marie. Consents to marry her without admitting love or desire. Gets mixed up with a pimp named Raymond who abuses one of his girls. In a senseless act, Mersault kills an Arab who had injured Raymond- shooting him 5 times!

The actions of Mersault are clearly absurd - from his casual affair with Marie on the day after his mother’s funeral, to his friendship with a violent pimp, to his needless murder of an Arab man whom he does not even know. The trial of Mersault, however, is even more absurd. During the pre-trial hearings, the magistrate badgers Mersault with questions about religion. When Mersault indicates that he does not believe in God, the magistrate waves a silver crucifix in his face and calls him the "antichrist." During the trial, the judge and the prosecuting attorney seem more interested in the fact that Mersault did not grieve at his mother’s funeral and made love to Marie on the day after the funeral than the fact that he has killed a man. Several witnesses are called to prove his callousness nature. Since Mersault is totally honest and terribly na├»ve, he cannot slant the truth in his direction. He states that he did not cry over his mother’s death because he has always expected old people to die. When he is questioned about why he fired four shots into a dead body, he can give no explanation, but admits that he has no remorse over killing an Arab who pulled a knife. Unfortunately, Mersault’s court appointed attorney is not very good and makes no attempt to free his client by saying he killed in self-defense. As a result, the jury is totally swayed against Mersault, this stranger who killed a stranger. They convict him of cold-blooded murder and sentence him to execution by guillotine. It is an absurd sentence for a man who truly does not view himself as a criminal.

After Mersault is sentenced, the absurdity continues. Mersault refuses on several occasions to see the chaplain. Eventually, the man bursts into his cell and tries to persuade Mersault to confess his guilt and beg for forgiveness. The truthful Mersault, of course, refuses. When the chaplain begins praying for him, Mersault screams and grabs him by the neck. Three jailers have to rescue the chaplain. After the chaplain’s visit, Mersault has a new sense of peace and calm. He accepts his death sentence as part of the absurdity of life.

The amazing thing about this book is that I am just like Mersault. Without my relationship to Christ, I find myself heartless and cold. One of his 'sins' is to sit back and never act- He just lets life happen- much like I tend to do,

The Lord has truly saved me- I feel love for my family, though my default mode is machine like numbness.

The book was chilling, because I see what I could have become.

I am waiting on a book called - "Camus and the Minister" which is reported to be an assertion that Camus gave his life to Christ. Will read it with interest. The cold defiance wears on you- It is either give in to God and meaning or face suicide.

Thank you Jesus, for breaking down my rebellion and overcoming my callousness.

Tears and meaning- I was saved- and it was... from myself.

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