The Stranger and Post-Colonialism

The Stranger, at it’s core is an examination of human personality, consciousness, and how we understand life. The characters are therefore, incredibly complex and unique, because each of them approaches the circumstances in the book differently. Meursault is indifferent to the disturbing elements of his life, Marie is a woman willing to marry a criminal who does not love her, Raymond and Salamano are abusive but share complicated relationships with the creatures they abuse. Each major character is a complexity, as long as they are white. The Arab that Meursault kills is fundamental to telling the main character’s story, and presumably would also be complex and unique. But he is not named or otherwise acknowledged as a thinking being. He is a monolith. He, like the other Arabs throughout the story, does not speak, only acts in violence. They all present a burden to the narrator and his friends throughout the story. Whether they are following Meursault, attacking him or lying in the shade and blocking him from getting out of the sun.

In the second part of the book, Arabs are presented again as one body and mind. He describes the first prison cell he is placed in. “The day of my arrest I was put in a room where there were already several other prisoners, most of them Arabs. They laughed when they saw me. Then they asked what I was in for. I said I’d killed an Arab and they were all silent.” Meursault never mentions any individual. It’s implied they all asked together and laughed together and went silent together. There was no acknowledgement of an action beyond what every other Arab person was doing. It appears again when Meursault is visited by Marie. When he enters the visiting room he mentions how most of the Arab families were all doing the same thing. “Most of the Arab prisoners and their families had squatted down facing each other.” Meursault implies the existence of one Arab woman being an anomaly from the rest because he registers her yelling to her white husband through the visiting room bars. The ethnicity of this woman is never confirmed, and even if she was intended to be non-white, her only purpose is to be a burden to Marie and Meursault’s conversation. This attribute mirrors the burden the man Meursault killed created for him.

A post-colonization society often creates monoliths so they do not have to acknowledge individuality, and therefore humanness of the people they invade, rape, kill and oppress. We see an enormous post-colonization monolith in the form of the American Indian. The savage, whooping Indian warrior with feathers in his hair and little clothing on his body was created by white guilt. It is easier to imagine the colonization of mindless savages then the colonization of culturally unique, politically and socially organized societies in which each person plays a role and has individuality. I suspect this theme arises in The Stranger, either intentionally or unintentionally by generalizing the actions and person hood of the Arab community in Algiers.

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