France, Algeria, and Salamano’s Dog

Throughout The Stranger, there is an obvious divide between the Europeans and the Arabs, and it is often hostile, as would be expected considering the context of the story, where Algeria is a colony of France. While reading the story, I felt like Salamano and his dog could be an allegory for this relationship between an imperious France and a subjugated Algeria. I gathered this idea through the various interactions between Salamano and his dog, one of which was where Salamano noted that before the dog got sick, “‘His coat was the best thing about him.’” Meursault goes on to narrate that “Every night and every morning after the dog had gotten that skin disease, Salamano rubbed him with ointment. But according to him, the dog’s real sickness was old age” (45). The fact that the dog was initially healthy with a nice coat, but through living with Salamano had its “hair fall out” and became “covered with brown sores and scabs” (26), which Salamano falsely attributes to old age, indicates that Salamano’s abuse is the true cause of the dog’s condition. It is mentioned that the dog has the skin disease mange, but the unhealthy, abusive environment it is subject to is what gave rise to its poor condition, which Salamano unsuccessfully attempts to alleviate with ointment. A comparison can be drawn between this situation and that of France and Algeria, where France brought Algeria under its control, causing great damage to the colony due to excessive violence and exploitation of its land. France then did not take responsibility for the scabs and sores it caused Algeria just as Salamano blamed his dog’s scabs and sores on old age, and France pretended to have a positive impact on its colony through introducing its culture, as did Salamano when administering his dog ointment. Another section where the dog and Salamano seemed to be symbols for Algeria and France was when Meursault was describing Salamano’s walks with his dog: “the dog pulling the man along until old Salamano stumbles. Then he beats the dog and swears at it. The dog cowers and trails behind. Then it’s the old man who pulls the dog. Once the dog has forgotten, it starts dragging its master along again” (27). Here, the dog has the natural inclination to break free from Salamano, however, whenever it attempts to do so, Salamano pulls it back under his domination, punishing it for trying to achieve liberty just as France did to Algeria when it showed resistance to being a colony. In these and other examples, the dynamic between Salamano and his dog seems as though it could be a symbol for that of France and Algeria in the time period of The Stranger.

Existentialist Lines in the Sand

Evil Mr. Heidkamp brought up some interesting points in his lecture on existentialism last week about the monotony of daily life. Primarily, he discussed the meaning of life is to “accept the absurd” and forge your own path, however underwhelming it may be. Essentially, it is the epitome of individuality. According to him, most people choose to believe in values such as love, religion, and anything else they use to explain away the truth. In doing so, they follow the grain of countless others around and before them – sheep following the flock.

So, in order to break free of this cycle and discover the true meaning of life, one must accept that life is not filled with purpose or values, it just is. It is merely a thing that exists, nothing else. And if accepting this means others view you as radical? So be it. But where does one draw the line? At what point does ‘just existing’ or ‘just doing’ become inexcusable? When someone commits murder for sure.

Which brings us to the novel, The Stranger, in which Meursault lives a monotonous and average life, doing the same things everyday without adventure. In this story, Meursault is the embodiment of existentialism. He goes through life with no emotional attachment, accepting everything the way it is. When he shoots the man and is jailed, he is unable to provide any explanation as to why. He was handed a gun, he shot it. He gets caught, he accepts it. He gets put on death row, he accepts that too. If this is what it means to “accept the absurd,” why would anyone want that? What’s so bad about choosing to believe in values and purpose? And, if one acknowledges the absurd but continues on in the fashion of everyone else, is that a roundabout way of accepting it?

Nabokov and Camus

It is no secret that Vladimir Nabokov was a controversial figure. Nabokov famously said inflammatory things about many authors who are in high regard in the literary cannon. For instance, on Gogol, Nabokov said “I was careful not to learn anything from him. As a teacher, he is dubious and dangerous. At his worst, as in his Ukrainian stuff, he is a worthless writer; at his best, he is incomparable and inimitable.” On Hemingway, Nabokov proclaimed, “[He is] a writer of books for boys. Certainly better than Conrad. Has at least a voice of his own. Nothing I would care to have written myself. In mentality and emotion, hopelessly juvenile.”

One possible explanation for this is that unlike many authors, Nabokov writes for the art of writing. Nabokov’s vision of a good writer as presented in his essay on good readers and good writers is a person who does not take the world that exists and morph it to convey their own message but instead embraces a new world for it’s own inherent artistic value. Nabokov is dissatisfied with authors, including many literary giants, who he perceives as trying to push some sort of agenda or philosophy through their works. This is something of which Camus is undeniably guilty, as Camus’s work serves largely as a vehicle to demonstrate Absurdist and Existentialist principals in practice. It’s no surprise then that when asked his thoughts on Camus, Nabokov responded “Dislike him. Second-rate, ephemeral, puffed-up. A nonentity, means absolutely nothing to me. Awful.”

Perhaps all is not lost, however, for the Nabokovian reading Camus. Some have pointed out the similarities the writers have in their contemplation of the absurd, despite their vast differences in style. Further, it is definitely possible to employ the technique of “reading with the spine” when reading Camus’s masterpiece The Stranger as the novel is neither cerebral nor submerged in emotion but rather a curious in-between (something that can also be said of Absurdity as a philosophy). In the end, it’s important to remember that while comparing these author’s philosophies may be a fun exercise, they are still just that — philosophies. And philosophies are only useful in as far as they can help us make sense of the world, as opposed to make it more convoluted.

It’s the Lack of a Moral Compass for Me

While reading The Stranger I thought that Meursault was a very problematic character. I did not like how he did not care about too much of anything. I also thought it was quite distasteful how he was able to be friends with Raymond and Salamano who are abusers. Meursault was very aware of how bad of a character that Salamano was, he describes some of Salamano’s action to the reader he states, ¨When the dog wants to urinate, the old man won´t give him enough time and yanks at him…If the dog has an accident in the room, it gets beaten again¨(27). Even after Meursault knew how bad Salamano he made another friend who was is an abuser who name is Raymond. In fact he even went into Raymond’s apartment to eat food. While in the apartment Raymond also admitted to beating his girlfriend(29-32). I am overall sick of Meursault and his lack of being aware of red flags and frankly bad people. He also just kind of goes along with everything Raymond says without correcting him and telling him what he is doing is unacceptable.

Is Meursault an existentialist?

Existentialism is the concept of individual freedom, choice, and control over one’s destiny. In The Stranger, Meursault remains an amoral character. He doesn’t display strong feelings toward anything. This behavior separates Meursault from the existentialist because they have an interest in ethics and morality. Existentialists do not believe that morality and belief systems are required. However, many existentialist still choose to develop their moral compass and exercise it through freedom and choice. Meursault doesn’t seem to be interested in “correctness” at all. Whether it is society’s rule or his own opinions, Meursault doesn’t care. He is like an inanimate leaf floating through life on a gust of wind. His lack of choice represents the opposite approach that many early existentialists advocated. In part 1 of the novel, Meursault is the result of simply living to stay alive and responding to any immediate discomfort. To the reader, he appears lost, causing us to consider what gives us purpose? An existentialist would say that Meursault’s life matters because he has it, but would Meursault agree? 

Does Life Really Matter?

Does life really matter? I continue to ask myself this question looking back on my past decisions and looking forward to my future. Throughout the college application process, I’ve questioned some of my decisions. I do not regret any of my decisions but I do think I could have calmed down a little bit. I could have spent some more time with my family or friends instead of being on my phone for hours. I could have taken a deep breath and realized that one test isn’t going to ruin my future. As individuals, we tend to make our lives more complicated than it needs to be. But yes, in a way everything in life matters.

Relationships are one of the most important values in anyone’s life. Humans are supposed to be social, as we all experienced through quarantine, being isolated from those we love such as friends and extended family can be lonely and difficult. Although constructs like money, power, and religion are all in some way made up by humans, a bond between yourself and others is unlike anything else. Social interaction is what makes life matter to me, does it for you?

The Art Of “Getting Used To It”

As we continue through Albert Camus’s The Stranger, we see Meursault continue on through his life and eventually end up in prison for killing an Arab. This is a huge twist in the story and Meursault’s life changes drastically. He went from having a routine, a way of life, to ending up in a dark, bug infested prison. As I read this, I thought about how hard it would be for Meursault to adjust to this new experience and new way of life. He was so used to doing things on his own time, without any outside influence about how he acted and what he did. Now, he is thrown for a loop and has little to no control over his actions in prison.

He states that the adjustment was difficult at first, “When I was first imprisoned, the hardest thing was that my thoughts were still those of a free man” (76). He continues on and thinks, “But that only lasted a few months. Afterwards my only thoughts were those of a prisoner” (77). This highlights how he was able to adjust to a new life, adapting the thoughts and actions that he felt helped him in his new environment. Furthermore, he states, “All the time, I often thought that if I had had to live in the trunk of a dead tree with nothing to do but look up at the sky flowering overhead, little by little I would have gotten used to it” (77). I think this is important because he is showing that no matter where he is put, he feels that he is able to adjust and become familiar and “used to” his new place.

I think this is a very important point to make, especially in regards to the year 2020 and what has been going on in our world. No one thought that the entire world would be going through a pandemic and all of the chaos that has emerged from it, but we have gotten used to it. We went from being confused and scared, to every person wearing a mask being normal, and another semester of school from home. While no one was expecting this to happen, and no one is necessarily ecstatic about it, we as humans have all gotten used to it. It is a human adaptation, being able to grow and learn in a new environment, and it is one that I think is very crucial in present times. Both Meursault and people all over the world have been able to “get used” to a big change and make the best out of it.

Does It Matter That Nothing Matters?

It has been established that all of those things that give us purpose in life exist simply to distract us from the inevitable: death. We use things like love, friendship, new experiences, happiness, freedom, money, and even our own identities to make our time on Earth feel like it is about more than birth, reproduction, and eventually death. But does it matter? Does it matter that nothing we value really matters?

To believe that nothing matters, while accurate, is demoralizing at best. With that mindset, one might be completely content to spend the rest of their life in bed staring at the ceiling or watching paint dry. While these activities are valid and don’t change the eventual outcome of their life, why would one choose to not go live? Our time here is meaningless, so why not make the most of it? Why shouldn’t we stay up too late or learn about the things we love or challenge ourselves? It may be pointless, but does that make it not valid? If we could enjoy our time alive instead of wasting away, why shouldn’t we? I think that knowing that nothing matters is important for overcoming fear, and to help us find calm and work through problems that feel daunting or life changing. However, that awareness can be balanced with an excitement for life. If nothing matters, it can’t hurt to try for whatever makes you happy. The worst that can happen is failure, and if you fail, it doesn’t matter.

The Importance of Ambition

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.

Is Mersault Just Crazy?

The Stranger, a novel by Albert Camus, has one of the most interesting, strange, analyzed characters in literary history, Monsieur Mersault. What separates him from the rest of the character world is his pessimistic viewpoint of life, that it is absurd for everyone and that its only certainty is death. He clearly lacks the basic morals and emotions the rest of the world has, not mourning the death of his mother and killing a man for no reason other than it was hot outside.

Many critics of the story would say that Mersault’s indifferent viewpoint on life is the key to true happiness, defeating the systems of social power brought upon us by our ancestors, seeing the book as Camus’ guide to lead a good life. But is it? Or is it a counter-example to how to lead a life? Imagine a world where killing people for no reason is common, nobody cares for relationships, and the only thing on people’s minds are death. There is no doubt that there is power in the morality system, shaming the people that are not able to control themselves, but is it not necessary to avoid chaos?

Monsieur Mersault is showing himself in the story to be a complete Nihilist, and a pessimistic one too, far away from the existentialist and the optimistic Nihilist. It is true what Mersault thinks, life really does not matter because we are all going to die, but it is not worth still living it to the fullest?Even if life does not matter, is it not a good idea to make it a better place? His actions in the novel, firing off at the priest at the end, killing the Arab without remorse, and showing no respect to women throughout (except for fulfilling his desires), all point to the behavior of an absolute sociopath that really does not care about anyone, not even himself.

Life might not matter at all because we are only here for a short time, but that does not mean people like Mersault should be around to ruin it for all of us. There might be systems of power Mersault is fighting with his strange viewpoint, but the ones he fight are the ones that keep evil and dullness from taking over the world. Camus in this story is showing the audience the extreme existentialism that could be dangerous and that sprouts from his teachings and is telling us not to be Mersault.