Camus, Albert

Review: ‘The Outsider’ by Albert Camus

*WARNING – spoilers*

Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.

The defining opening lines of this classic existentialist novella succinctly illustrates the state of Meursault’s mind. The mother is such an revered figure in our society that when a child does not know, or is so indifferent, towards their mother’s death, alarm bell rings in the reader’s mind that there is something odd about this man.

As the novella progresses, we see that Meursault is a unique man. He listens to his body and is highly attuned to its needs and wants. He feels like smoking so he’ll smoke. He wants to feel the fluidity of water so he’ll go for a swim. He feels like making love so he sleeps with a pretty girl who has been reacquainted with him the day after his mother’s funeral. There is no explanation for Meursault’s actions because there is none. He simply acts and is and there is nothing unauthentic about him. He rarely, if at all, thinks for the consequences and lives in the moment. This will be his downfall.

After a string of events, Mersault shoots dead an Arab on the beach. His defence is that the sun blinded and overpowered him. The magistrate is willing to accept Meursault’s reasoning except for the extra shots Meursault fired at the victim after it was apparent he was dead. Meursault cannot explain it.

The trial turns into somewhat of a farce as Meursault curiously examines the proceedings and watches the expressions of those present. Everybody has a front, an act. As the trial progresses, the court hears that Meursault did not properly demonstrate that he had mourned his mother but that he went swimming, saw a funny film and took a girl home. In the end, Meursault realises that he is on trial for not conforming to social norms and that he is on trial for not mourning his mother, firing the last shots into the dead victim and for his indifference towards the world. He realised the truth of the world, saw the world and society for what is was and saw that regardless of what he did, or how well he played the social game, everybody was eventually going to die and everything will disappear.

The Outsider is somewhat a desolate novella but it resonated with me. This was my first re-reading after working with it in Year 12 English and new things have struck me. Meursault will appear differently to every reader – some will view him as an unrepentant murderer, even mentally ill or somewhat heroic. I perceive him in the latter because it is incredibly brave for someone to refuse to conform. This is a terrific piece of work and writing, or my translation, is wonderful and fluid. The sentences are simple, short and staccato which helps ease readers into Meursault’s mind.