The first novel of Albert Camus, published in 1942which subsequently launched his writing career.
The narrator is an emotionally detached young man, one M. Meursault (we never get his first name), a man who lives in French-colonized Algeria sometime between the two World Wars. The book opens with the news of his mother's death. He visits her nursing home, muses on the life she led there, then attends her funeral, most of which he finds quite boring. While he is reprimanded for not showing any grief, he doesn't really see the problem and soon asks out a nice girl he meets at the beach, who is a former co-worker. She becomes his girlfriend and the two happily spend time together as Meursault goes about his daily life, working in a nondescript office.
As the days go by, Meursault begins observing his neighbors. One of those neighbors, Raymond, enlists Meursault's help in getting revenge on his girlfriend, an Arab woman, who he thinks was cheating on him. As Meursault's friendship with Raymond progresses, the reader slowly comes to realize that Meursault's lack of grief at his mother's death wasn't an isolated incident. And some time later, when the brother of Raymond's girlfriend offends Meursault by getting the sun in his eye, things go off the deep end.
Throughout the novel, Meursault struggles to understand what everyone around him keeps being so upset about. Rather hilariously, it is not always Meursault's more reprehensible characteristics that people take offense at - his atheism, for example, is noted by the people around him as more offensive than his actions against an Arab. As Meursault ponders the meaninglessness of life, he is genuinely baffled when he begins to understand social concepts like grief, crime and punishment.
Provides examples of:
- Absurdism: An early specimen and one of the best known non-theatre examples.
- The Anti-Christ: The prosecutor nicknamed Meursault like this.
- The Anti-Nihilist: Meursault comes off as this. To him, life is meaningless since death is inevitable and nothing will remain, and so he thinks that nothing really matters whether it is ambition, goals, morals, friendship, love and ultimately even death itself, but he does not mind meaninglessness, and he takes joy in the moment. This also means that to him every life is equally valuable, even a dog's life. May be horrifying, depending on whether or not you follow Camus' philosophy.
- Meursault is also one of the rare examples of this trope that follow through with the nihilistic aspect of this philosophy. While Anti-Nihilists typically decide to ascribe their own meaning in the face of a meaningless universe, Meursault is actually pretty ok with this idea and just doesn't care. Indeed, despite believing that everything is meaningless and nothing matters,("I had lived my life one way and I could just as well have lived it another. I had done this and I hadn't done that. I hadn't done this thing but I had done another. And so? It was as if I had waited all this time for this moment and for the first light of this dawn to be vindicated. Nothing, nothing mattered") Meursault judges that nothing should be done about it, which is pretty much in total opposition with what the traditional existentialist stands for. Thus Meursault is still able to enjoy and love Life in spite of it being unjust, pointless and meaningless.Meursault: I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I'd been happy, and that I was happy still.
- Meursault is also one of the rare examples of this trope that follow through with the nihilistic aspect of this philosophy. While Anti-Nihilists typically decide to ascribe their own meaning in the face of a meaningless universe, Meursault is actually pretty ok with this idea and just doesn't care. Indeed, despite believing that everything is meaningless and nothing matters,("I had lived my life one way and I could just as well have lived it another. I had done this and I hadn't done that. I hadn't done this thing but I had done another. And so? It was as if I had waited all this time for this moment and for the first light of this dawn to be vindicated. Nothing, nothing mattered") Meursault judges that nothing should be done about it, which is pretty much in total opposition with what the traditional existentialist stands for. Thus Meursault is still able to enjoy and love Life in spite of it being unjust, pointless and meaningless.
- Artistic License History: As more than one critic has noted, this book takes place in French-colonial Algeria before independence, and the main character, an ethnically French colonist (in the phraseology of the period, a piednoir) murders an Arab man that he doesn't know and has no reason to kill — and yet he is arrested and tried for murder and found guilty, and sentenced to death. In real-life colonial Algeria, he probably wouldn't have been arrested, and even if he had been, he almost certainly wouldn't have been found guilty. Of course, in the story it's clear he would probably have been let off if he hadn't admitted being an atheist. That convinces the authorities he's a monster, and it's this he really gets condemned for.
- See the entry under Kangaroo Court; it appears that the particular court that tries Meursault is more belligerent than normal, and appears to be doing whatever it can to find him guilty.
- Author Avatar: Camus has incorporated some aspects of his life into his character. The story Meursault tells about his father vomitting after witnessing an execution really happened, to Camus' father.
- Beige Prose: The narrator's tendency to give equal weight to everything - from his mother's death to how he feels about someone at any point in time - leads to this. This was intentional; Camus was intentionally imitating the "manly" American writers who wrote like this, particularly Ernest Hemingway.
- Cannot Tell a Lie: Interestingly averted. Word of God claimed that it never occurs to Meursault to say anything but the truth, but in fact Meursault lies at least twice, each time with unpleasant consequences. He writes the letter for Raymond that will persuade Raymond's girlfriend to return, knowing that Raymond only wants her back so he can beat her up; later he lies to the police, backing up Raymond's claim that he didn't hit the girl.
- Cessation of Existence: What Meursault believes happens after death.
- Character Witness: Meursault and Raymond for each other.
- Chekhov's Gun: Literal, with a side of irony. Meursault takes Raymond's pistol away from him so that Raymond won't shoot the Arab.
- Chewbacca Defense: Mersault is convicted not so much for shooting an Arab as for not loving his mother enough and being an atheist.
- Cut-and-Paste Translation: Matthew Ward's English translation (currently the most popular one in America) spends a good deal of its introduction bashing Stuart Gilbert's (which before his was the only one available in America.) In the original French, and in Ward's version, the narrator begins as a Terse Talker in the vein of an Ernest Hemingway protagonist, then becomes oddly lyrical after going to jail. Gilbert essentially turns him British, and incidentally rewrites some of his odder comments to sound more conventional.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: The guard that Meursault befriends in prison mentions that other prisoners, who miss women like him, find way to "relieve" themselves.
- Empty Shell: Averted. Meursault may appear to be this, simply because of the Beige Prose (see above), but a closer reading reveals that he does have emotions.
- Establishing Character Moment: The first two sentences of the book, quoted at the top of the page.
- Extreme Doormat: Meursault initially seems to be an Empty Shell, but given his violent outburst at the priest in the end, it's more likely that he's one of these with a small remaining core of selfhood. He apparently used to have ambitions and dreams, but he abandoned them all as meaningless. Since he thinks nothing really matters, he does pretty much anything people ask him to.
- Face Death with Dignity: Eventually, Meursault comes to terms with his execution:It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I'd been happy, and that I was happy still. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.
- Foil: Meursault and just about everyone else.
- Heat Wave: There is a recurrent heat wave in Algiers and the generally hot climate there has an effect on Meursault's mind.
- The Hedonist: Subverted. At first it seems like Meursault only lives for the pleasures of the senses, but the things he enjoys are quite simple: hot chocolate, cigarettes, sex with his girlfriend (he refuses to go to the brothel when Raymond proposes it), walk. Once in prison and deprives of all of his pleasures, it doesn't stop him from being happy.
- The Hero Dies: Though his death is never depicted, he knows in the end that it's coming soon.
- Hollywood Atheist: The law officials' attitude towards Meursault changes when they find out he's an atheist, and they try to portray him as a violent monster afterward. The prosecutor even said Meursault was worse than the parricide who will be tried after.
- Incriminating Indifference: The prosecution's argument against Meursault is, essentially, "He didn't cry at his mother's funeral, therefore he's psychotic, therefore he deserves to die." It doesn't help that Meursault admits his guilt from the get-go.
- It's Always Sunny at Funerals
- Jerkass: Raymond beats his girlfriend up and has a neighbor write a threatening letter to her, gets in a fight with the girl's brother, and when the neighbor and friend he got into this mess kills him, leaves him for dead. Salamano literally kicks his dog, among other abuses. And the case can be made either way for Meursault.
- Kangaroo Court: It's a fact that Meursault killed a man, so the court proceedings are meant to prove whether or not it was premeditated. Since there's no evidence to suggest it, the trial relies entirely on character witnesses, most of whom are actually supportive of Meursault. However, the prosecutor relies entirely on circumstantial testimony, insane leaps in logic, and outright theatrics to "prove" the act was premeditated. And it works. As Meursault himself notes, he's completely removed from his own trial.
- Last-Name Basis: Meursault.
- Light Is Not Good: Meursault mentions the sun being particularly bright on the day of his mother's funeral, and when he shoots the Arab. Light and heat is a recurring motif throughout the book, for example: when waiting for the bus, the wake, the burial, and the aforementioned beach. Meursault thinks of all of those examples negatively. Whether this means something is up to your interpretation.
- Loners Are Freaks: Meursault doesn't think friendship is a very important thing and so, doesn't bother to develop them, even if he hang out with a colleague, it's only to past time, and he usually spent most of it by himself.
- Martyr Without a Cause: Camus described Meursault as a kind of martyr that "is ready to die for the truth". However, truth is understood as an absolute truth here, but Meursault's death was more about speaking his mind truly, thus it is safe to say he would be ready to die for anything that involves the truth. Camus even says of Meursault that he "is the only Christ we deserve".
- Not So Stoic: After spending the story completely calm and indifferent to absolutely everything, Meursault SNAPS at the priest at the book's end.
- Named by the Adaptation: The first name of Meursault is Arthur in the 1967 movie.
- Off with His Head!: The death sentence was then carried out with the guillotine and until 1939, it was in public.
- Purple Prose: Invoked in the prosecutor's angry tirades against Meursault. Especially egregious when he is expounding upon the perceived emptiness of Meursault's soul.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Raymond and Meursault.
- The Sociopath: How the court interprets Meursault's stoic demeanour, especially after they find out he's atheist and didn't especially care for his mother. On one hand he fits most of the criteria: he doesn't feel grief, doesn't understand things like love, is in a state of constant boredom and only appreciates immediate pleasures such as hot chocolate, smoking and sex. On the other hand however, he sees no point in lying and is bluntly honest (something a sociopath is mostly incapable of, often manipulating others for their own profit), isn't cruel or abusive towards the people around him, is capable of taking responsibility for his own mistakes and knows how insignificant he is (while sociopaths are shameless narcissists with a high sense of self worth). Plus, he killed the Arab not for amusement but because he doesn't see why he shouldn't do it (so he lacks a moral compass but doesn't actually derive pleasure or satisfaction from it). Some authors argue that he might be in a state of Anomie.
- The Stoic: Meursault, of course. He feels emotions, but not for the same reasons as most people, and he doesn't really show it.
- Too Dumb to Live: Meursault. Or rather, Too Neutral To Live. He does things, usually, because there's no reason not to do them; the few things he enjoys are immediate pleasures like smoking and sex.
- Uncatty Resemblance: Lampshaded with Salamano. He's acquired his dog's scabs and sores, and the dog has acquired his stooped, neck-straining look.
- Verbal Tic: Everything Masson says contains the phrase "and I'd even say."
- We All Die Someday: An important part of Meursault's philosophy, see The Anti-Nihilist above.
- "World of Cardboard" Speech: Ultimately, the World is a Cardboard, as Meursault states in the end:From the dark horizon of my future a sort of slow, persistent breeze had been blowing toward me, all my life long, from the years that were to come. And on its way that breeze had leveled out all the ideas that people tried to foist on me in the equally unreal years I then was living through. What difference could they make to me, the deaths of others, or a mother's love, or his God; or the way a man decides to live, the fate he thinks he chooses, since one and the same fate was bound to choose not only me but thousands of millions of privileged people who, like him, called themselves my brothers. Surely, surely he must see that? Every man alive was privileged; there was only one class of men, the privileged class. All alike would be condemned to die one day; his turn, too, would come like the others.