Finding the Meaning in Nothing

When beginning to read The Stranger by Albert Camus, I had a hard time recognizing the point or the purpose of this story. I mean, it’s really hard to recognize considering Meursault’s extremely surface level attitude towards everything, including his mother’s death. During his trial, the director of the home Maman was in said, “He had been surprised by [Meursault’s] calm the day of the funeral” and that “[He] hadn’t wanted to see Maman, [he] hadn’t cried once, and that [he] left right after the funeral without paying [his] last respects at her grave” (Camus, 89). It might just be the way Meursault deals with grief, but to be honest, his inability to express his emotions not only confused me, but made me a little angry.

I think the fact that I was so mind boggled by Meursault’s response to usually emotion evoking events made me neglect what the book is trying to get across: is there any meaning to life? Honestly, I find this to be a frustrating theme. I like things to be very cut and dry, so the fact that I have to use my own opinion and figure it out myself isn’t my favorite part of reading this book. However, as Camus says in “The Myth of Sisyphus”, “Myths are made for the imagination to breathe into them”. In the case of The Stranger, I believe the same applies. We as readers have to breathe imagination into this book and form our own opinions on the meaning of life.

The Symbol of Bread

When reading “The Conversation About Bread”, I was struck by an arguably minor detail of the story: Brian’s story that Eldwin was trying to tell. But I wasn’t struck by it in the way you may think. Obviously it’s a very profound aspect of the story that Eldwin realizes he can’t write Brian’s story because it is not his experience, but I thought the writing about the bread specifically in Eldwin’s writing was very interesting. In the story he’s attempting to write he states “We were all like, what’s up with the yellow bread? For it was surely some white folk stuff” (173). I thought it was really interesting how something as simple as bread can reflect someone’s socioeconomic status and how all these boys were in awe at a type of bread. This is similar to “The Lesson”, in the sense that they see a toy at the store, a clown on a bar, and are all baffled by the fact that someone would pay $35 for it. Sylvia states “Thirty-five dollars could buy new bunk beds for Junior and Gretchen’s boy. Thirty-five dollars and the whole household could go visit Grandaddy Nelson in the country” (114). Something that seems so inexpensive and insignificant to one person could mean something so much more to another person who is less financially stable, similar to how something (the bread) could seem like no big deal to one person but can actually reflect their socioeconomic status.

The Complexity of Jeff

In the beginning of the story, it’s very unclear who Jeff is, where he is, why he’s there, what he did, etc. As the story goes on, it becomes easier for the reader to connect these dots concerning Jeff’s character. I found it really interesting that although Jeff is given the drug Verbaluce to enhance his thoughts and the way he verbally conveys them, the thoughts he has without the drug are so complex. Also, when we find out later in the story that Jeff has committed murder and that’s why he is in spiderhead, we can see the progression of his character, from committing that crime to not wanting to see Rachel or Heather suffer from Darkenfloxx despite his neutral feelings towards both women. In the end, when Jeff “escapes” from spiderhead, he thinks about the fate of everyone in spiderhead. He ponders how everyone ended up this way, if they chose it, etc. He conveys his thoughts in a way that really flow and come out almost elegantly, so much so that Jeff says “Wow, I thought, was there some Verbaluce in that drip or what? But no. This was all me now.” I found this quote interesting because Jeff is portrayed as I guess different, for a lack of a better word, from the other people in spiderhead, as he thinks more intensely about what is going on and why, and I think that quote really captures that idea.