Dan Sandman

03: The Outsider by Albert Camus

In Books, Crime, Fiction on 16/01/2015 at 12:00 pm

The Outsider by Albert CamusAlbert Camus (1913 – 1960) was a French writer and philosopher of the ‘absurd’ nature of the human condition. He is best known for ‘Le Estrange’ (The Outsider), a short novel about a white Algerian who kills an Arab. In a clear style reminiscent of Raymond Carver, Camus carefully builds an argument against corporal punishment, and questions a legal system that can pass judgement based on personal opinion and religious belief. The reader is encouraged to see the killing from the perspective of the killer, and even to question the term ‘criminal’.

The narrator (‘the outsider’ whom the novel is named after) is called Meursault. He is sentenced to execution because he is judged as a bad character. At his mother’s funeral, Meursault does not cry; when he is asked to seek help from God, Meursault refuses to comply because he is an atheist. Before the Arab is killed, Meursault foolishly writes a letter for his friend Raymond that will later be used as evidence in court. As it turns out, Raymond is probably a pimp, and should not have been trusted so openly. And it is Meursault’s openness towards potentially violent characters, and his passive reaction when a volatile or emotional situation arises, that leads him into danger.

But is it wrong that he should be condemned to death because he did not grieve correctly? Because he does not show remorse after he has killed a man? Or turn to God? Camus argued that our lives are absurd, and I think his philosophy is valid. Very quickly, a small incident can escalate, turning normality into comedy or – in the case of ‘the outsider’ – tragedy. Camus placed his protagonist in an intense situation, applied the pressure, and, as a result, philosophical questions were raised.

A memorable and prescient character, whose individualism predicts a shift in twentieth century European culture.

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