LitStaff Pick: Our Favorite Mad Characters

L’Etranger (The Stranger)
Albert CamusTheStranger_BookCover3

One book that drives me mad, on behalf of the madness of its central character, is Albert Camus’ L’Etranger (The Stranger). Meursault’s existential views are taken to such an extreme that the word “existentialist” no longer even applies (Camus asserted that it did not apply in the first place, and L’Etranger is often considered an absurdist novel rather than an existential one)–Meursault is a full blown sociopath. He does not possess what are considered normal human emotions, such as grief at his mother’s death, remorse at killing a man, or much feeling at all when faced with his own execution. He is not affected by the feelings of others, including both emotional and physical pain. He is utterly indifferent to others, both towards circumstances or events in their lives and towards their opinions of him.

And it truly is absurd, to the point that it is maddening. Meursault constantly makes the “wrong” choice, and you have to wonder how someone could be so misguided, so detached from his own life. At many points during the story, he could have made one small change and the outcome would have been entirely different. If only he would make the choice a “normal” person would make, everything would have been just fine.
But, of course, Meursault is not normal, nor was he intended to be. The beauty of absurdity is that it sheds a harsh light on our own lives, on the choices we make and our motivations for making them, but simultaneously makes us feel justified that we are somehow better than the character, that we know the right choice to make, the right thing to do. It is maddening to me because of the lack of human empathy, but that lack can only spring from madness.
-Elisha Dew

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