“Forget it, Meursault, it’s Algiers”

When reading the first 3 chapters of The Stranger, I had a nagging sensation of familiarity. I had never read this book before, nor any of Camus’s work, but there was something about the way it was written that seemed familiar to me. Well, I’ve finally figured it out: The Stranger reminds me of film noir. Mr. Heidkamp has said that this book heavily influenced a lot of Western pop culture, and since this book came out in the 1940s, which was around when film noir was rising to prominence, so I think this book may have influenced the popularity of the genre.

I think the main reason this story gave me the same feelings a noir story would is the futility of it all. So far, the entire story has just been descriptions of events and characters in the protagonist’s daily life, nothing that’s particularly exciting, and this feeling doesn’t ever change even if things that are out of the ordinary do start happening (like when Raymond plans to get revenge on his girlfriend). This is a very big staple of noir films–there is a large focus on how life always goes on, even if tragic or otherwise important events occur, and it can be seen in the way Meursault reflects on his mother’s death: “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” (24).

The character of Meursault represents this theme well. He doesn’t seems to have any severe opinions about anything, and prefers to spend his free time idling away, sleeping or people-watching. He has fully embraced the unchanging, unforgiving nature of time, and it manifests in an almost overwhelming sense of apathy, like when he says, “He told me that I’d have to act as a witness for him. It didn’t matter to me, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to say” (37). While most noir protagonists have to learn this way of thinking by the end of the story, he in introduced with it.

Another characteristic of noir is having the protagonist come face to face with extreme and tragic violence (sometimes they are just a witness to it, other times they’re committing the violent act themselves–Meurault is in this second category). I’ve only just finished chapter 6, but Meursault’s murder of the Arab man is definitely extreme. The entire passage is very intense, it feels unhinged and senseless, and that raw feeling is also present in a lot of film noir murder scenes. It will be interesting to see how Meursault’s apathetic nature might be affected by the aftermath of the murder, so I’m looking forward to reading more.

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