Chapters 1 and 2 of The Stranger by Albert Camus

Spoilers may or may not be included. These thoughts are entirely of my own brain and have not been supported with literary criticism of any kind. 

I actually got somewhere in reading today. Chapter 1 was just sort of there for me; however, this makes sense. When a tragic event occurs, there are a number of stereotypical methods individuals utilize to cope. One of the most stereotypical is numbness, which includes a blockage of emotional response. You really don’t feel anything.

Meursault relates that upon reaching the village, “..everything seemed to happen so fast, so deliberately, so naturally that I don’t remember any of it anymore” (Camus 17). However, he then goes on to recall several images or insignificant events, such as the tears covering Perez’s face or the dirt being poured over Maman’s casket. In my experience, this seems to go along with the idea of numbness and distance from reality.

There was also a hint of existentialism in the chapter. “She said, ‘If you go slowly, you risk getting sunstroke. But if you go too fast, you work up a sweat and then catch a chill inside the church.’ She was right. There was no way out” (Camus 17).

This is applicable to many lose-lose situations. One way or the other, you suffer, lose, or fail. In this way, the laws of nature are already defined and no matter what action is taken there will be a negative outcome. Though there is the illusion of free choice, in this case, in the speed of walking, and there are two results of either sunstroke or chills, the conclusion is predetermined.

Now, onward to Chapter 2!

This was a fairly better chapter for me at least. I can sympathize with Meursault’s  aversion to Sundays; I don’t enjoy them either, and a lot of times I get in my morose moods on Sundays, and these moods can follow me into the week. One can recognize Meursaults passive nature when he understands his boss’s distaste for giving Meursault Thursday and Friday off, therefore giving him a four day break.

To deal with Maman’s death, Meursault transitions from numbness and disassociation to  distraction, represented by his one night stand with Marie. He then passes a depressing Sunday afternoon home alone, people watching.

I regarded this as more evidence of existentialism. The impression given was that this type of behavior, from families taking walks to teenagers going to the movies and flirting, is all typical.  The scene in the streets is just another representation of the flow of nature and an individual’s position watching from the sidelines. Meursault cannot change the stream of people, or lack thereof, just as he cannot change the events occurring in his own life, including Maman’s death.

” …I wandered around the apartment. It was just the right size when Maman was here. Now it’s too big for me, and I’ve had to move the dining room table into my bedroom. I live in just one room now….I’ve let the rest go” (Camus 21).

I believe this shows that Meursault does feel some sadness from the death of Maman, or how he wasn’t close to her.  For me, this quote insinuates that the world is big and empty when one is alone, and obviously Meursault feels lonely. He seems to be that type of person who really just rolls with everything; goes to work, sleeps, goes to work, has a cigarette, sleeps, goes to work, sleeps with a girl, etc.

I really liked the second chapter’s conclusion.

“It occurred to me that anyway one more Sunday was over, that Maman was buried now, that I was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed” (Camus 24).

Meursault returns to his passivity to deal with Maman’s death. He was isolated from her before because he never really visited her; nothing has really changed. Besides, what could he do about it? He’s just rolling with the stream of life.

Really, an excellent, excellent way to end the chapter.

 

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