I’ve read Matthew Ward’s translation of Albert Camus’s The Stranger more times than I can count, and the book never ceases to shock and upset me halfway through. It’s a good “upset,” though—the book is obviously not your typical plot-driven novel with a twist; it’s a deeply philosophical novel.
The first half of the book gives us Mersault, a man who seems to live only in the sensory pleasures of life and has an inability to care, intellectualize, or emote.
But the tone of the book changes suddenly: there is an unexpected event on a beach that leads to his shooting and killing a man.
It’s an irrational event.
He does so because the sun is in his eyes. It’s true.
If this sounds too simple to you, that’s fine, because it should. The novel is an illustration of Camus’s Philosophy of the Absurd. This is the “twist” that changes the entire course of Mersault’s life and the course of the novel. Camus wants us to read as the Court and all of the characters want Mersault to come up with more than the sun as a cause. They want to dig into his life and find reasons to condemn him as a bad person. The book is a study of human nature—namely people’s need to try to find rational explanations for irrational events.
Every time I read it, I can’t help but think of poor Michael Jackson. I remember when the media said he was accused of child molestation. Before any evidence was ever available, so many folks had accused him of being a child molester simply because he was weird.
The sudden turn of Michael Jackson’s life is like the sudden and shocking one for Mersault. And it was and is all caused by judgments made based upon non-existent connections.
Mersault keeps insisting it’s the sun, and it just makes me want to scream at him every single time he’s questioned: Just make some shit up! Let them hear what they want to hear. Maybe they’ll go easy on you!
Camus didn’t have that plan for him, though.