“Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday. I can’t be sure”
Opening sentences that capture the essence of a writing are rare. Camus’ opening lines conveys so much meaning to the reader that in all truthfulness a meditation on that sentence would itself provide so much insight into The Stranger.
The detachment, so apparent in the sentence that Mr. Meursault feels about his mother’s death, sets the tone for the subject of absurdism that Camus illustrates in The Stranger.
The entire book is written in very short simple sentences. Almost staccato style. Lethargic and not intended with literary acrobatics in mind. There are no deep emotional dialogues. Just observations. The reader might as well attribute intent to Mr Meursault’s actions.
However, the simplicity masks a story of stupendous complexity. By not spelling out anything, Camus has created an ever-peeling-onion’esque story.
A Roomful of Mad Men
“Just then I noticed that all the men in the courtroom were greeting each other, exchanging remarks and forming groups – behaving in fact, as in a club where the company of others of one’s own tastes and standing makes one feel at ease. That, no doubt, explained the odd impression I had of being de trop here, a sort of gate-crasher”.
When there is no judgement there is no affinity. This is a scary process according to the proceedings in the book. This is true in many situations. When it comes to public figures and errant humans, the less we understand the motives of a person the more he is vilified. Understanding leads to predictability and predictability, irrationally, leads to comfort.
This is from the view of the conforming masses. So how about from the point of view of the misunderstood?
Mr. Meursault is sitting watching the proceedings of the court objectively. He has detached himself from everything that is happening around him, and realizes that he is solitary in a room full of people, bustling with everyday activity. It is only in the solitary confinement of prison that he really feel some calm.
Unfortunately, detachment in this case leads to a dead body. It would have been interesting if the detachment lead to a more benign action like a kiss or a wave. However, to the absurdist, they all are the same. It really does not matter whether there is a death or a birth.
The only way I think the character of the stranger acts in his life is the present. The present and the physical. This is close enough approximation for hedonism. Many argue the case for existentialism for the same state but there might be small differences. Either ways, many of us have felt this detachment in some or the other form where the surroundings do not interest us and we do an astral projection and float about the community detachedly.
By bringing in violence and an utter lack of explanation and remorse, Camus has fully committed to the idea than say, a Dostoevsky, who for all his brilliance, wants his killers to atone for their sin.