Throughout the entire first part of The Stranger, the thing that sticks out to me the most is how Meursault views each situation he is placed in with what I would describe as nonchalance. I have found that, in most stories, there is almost always an end game for the protagonist; there is always some ambition that is striven for, whether it be based on personal gain, the defeat of a greater evil, emotions, or the betterment of society. However, in this story, it would appear as though Meursault has no end game. When his boss offers him a job in Paris and he says he doesn’t care either way, his boss tells him that he has no ambition. To me, this indicates that Meursault’s lack of ambition is part of the theme of the story. To have an antagonist who doesn’t have an ambition, who doesn’t truly desire anything, makes for an intriguing read because you can’t see the ending. When you have a main character like Mearsault, who isn’t driven by any one thing, it can be almost impossible to predict his actions. For instance, when he shot the Arab man at the end of Part 1, it wasn’t an act of revenge, but rather a kind of instinctual response to his exhaustion and disorientation. As the narrator says, “everything began to reel”. What I think Part 1 is trying to express is the danger of the unpredictability that occurs when a person has nothing to drive them, or to ground them.
I thought that the theme behind Conversation About Bread was interesting because it applies to everything that we read or watch on TV. It questions whether it is possible to write a story about race, class, religion, gender, etc., without creating a monolith out of the group being discussed. One of the short story’s main characters, Eldwin, worded it best; “Didn’t every story provide a narrow representation at best and fetishize somebody at worst?” This was the epiphany that Eldwin came to toward the end of the story, after realizing that he couldn’t write his friend Brian’s story without also writing the story of every other black kid from the South.
If you look closely, you can see this issue in every TV show, movie, novel, or short story that focuses on the issue of a power binary. Everyone experiences different things, so everyone has a different story. Yet, when someone introduces a story about an individual, it is often generalized and applied to an entire group. This is because each reader views each story from a different perspective, and thereby gains a different interpretation of it. In my opinion, the issue is not necessarily with the writer in the creation of a monolith, but with the reader.
To me, one of the biggest themes of the story is morality. The people being experimented on are criminals, but they are still being tortured, emotionally and physically. At the end, Jeff is asked to give the scientists permission to put someone through extreme pain. He is hesitant to do it, but he finally gives in. When it kills her and he asked to do it again to someone else, he refuses, ending his own life instead. It’s a very dark story line, but a very important one because Jeff finds a way to escape from the darkness of the power binary he is in. The story ends with Jeff’s final thoughts; “I was happy, so happy, because for the first time in years, and forevermore, I had not killed, and never would.” He finds joy in his own death because by finding his humanity, he is able to escape.