The Outsider, originally named The Stranger, by Albert Camus was written over seventy years ago and set in Algiers. Regardless of the time and place though, the emotions people usually feel and what they want are the same, particularly the need to feel a part of a community.
The Outsider is narrated by Meursault, who is one of the strangest characters I have come to know in a novel. His character is the embodiment of an outsider or a stranger in his community. Meursault appears to be a psychopath although the word ‘psychopath’ is never used in the book, possibly the word was not in use when The Outsider was written. Apart from desire for his girlfriend, Meursault showed very little humanity or real understanding of other character’s emotions, although he did express irritation and a desire to be noticed, or recognised as important.
Meursault announced his mother’s death in the first sentence of The Outsider. He showed no emotion before, during or after the funeral, only describing the events factually, although he explained that he understood the emotions others were feeling.
After the funeral, Meursault meets Marie, who he used to work with, and starts an affair.
Later, he assists a friend to write a letter designed to punish the friend’s former mistress. Here he shows himself to be indifferent and possibly unaware of the hurt this will cause the woman. He also appears indifferent to right and wrong, although he comments that he understands why the friend wants to punish his former mistress.
On a day at the beach with Marie and the friend, Meursault almost randomly kills a man who is a relative of the friend’s former mistress by shooting him five times. Meursault’s justification for the murder was that he was irritated by the burning sun.
Meursault spends the remainder of the book in prison, on trial and later as a man condemned to death. In court, the indifference he showed at his mother’s funeral does not help his case, although as he shot a man five times this probably made no difference to the outcome. While on trial, Meursault expressed irritation because he perceived himself as being unimportant to the proceedings, even though he recognised he was the central figure.
In prison, Meursault argued with the prison chaplain, refusing to accept God, religion or regret in any way for his actions, something the chaplain could not understand. The reader gets the feeling that if Meursault were to show some of the feelings that others expected from him, he would be redeemed in some way. By staying true to his beliefs, he remains an outsider.
The Outsider is a strange book. The characters are not likeable, the situation is nasty and their behaviours are worse. If there is a message here I didn’t get it, unless it is to avoid pyschpaths.