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.

Heat of the Moment

The first part of The Stranger by Albert Camus moved really slowly, it seemed to have no plot direction. This was very deceiving. It wasn’t until you finished the last page that you realize a lot is going on throughout the story that you didn’t see. I really appreciated how Camus used the sun and heat to demonstrate the narrator’s emotional processing of his mother’s death. It is described as a ever-present, oppressive force at different phases of the novel. Particularly interesting is how the narrator becomes tired, often falling asleep or wishing to be in his bed when he is in the heat for an extended period of time. I understood this detail to represent how exhausting processing trauma or loss can be. While Mersault is describing his mundane life, small details are revealed that clue the reader into to his spiraling mental state. But the most obvious is his growing dislike for the “heat”. At the climax of part one, the heat, or the narrator’s unfinished feelings towards his mother’s death (whether guilt, grief, anger I can’t tell yet), become “unbearable”. “The sun was the same as it had been the day I’d buried Maman, and like then, my forehead especially was hurting me, all the veins in it throbbing under the skin. It was this burning, which I couldn’t stand anymore, that made me move forward” (pg. 59). This abnormal reaction is not simply talking about temperature or physical discomfort. His trauma hangs so heavily over him that his veins throb and his skin burns. I think that Mersault manifests these discomforts in the form of an uncomfortable Algerian sun, so he doesn’t confront them. This explains his homicidal actions in the paragraphs following this passage. Because he is only processing his emotions through the oppressive heat, he believes an escape from the sun will result in an escape from emotions. He sees the shade and water spray of the rocks as an escape, even if a brief one. But the man is lying there and preventing his escape. A desperate Mersault, already losing touch, loses control in this portion and in the “heat” of the moment he kills what he perceives as something of a threat.