The Stranger by Albert Camus
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What happens when we bump into a hive of sticky words that seem delectable on the surface but grasping them blurs the lines etched in our minds? How does it feel when some kind of hurricane is unleashed on our notions that were, until now, not subject to acute ambiguity? It’s a bit harsh actually; voluntarily letting oneself meander into alleys which have danger signs dangling at every short step, at every dark window. But the human mind is a peculiar, peculiar creature – it’s as much ours as it’s free.
I met a certain Monsieur Meursault in these alleys yesterday. I had met him long ago too. But this remarkably unremarkable man had left not much of an impression on me. Except of course, with his lash of absurdity, which was rather abhorrent but unavoidable. Meeting him again was intriguing since time, I had heard, changes people. Or may be time changes itself? But nonetheless, the more time elapses, the more striking the change appears. But Mr. Meursault defies this logic. He appeared absurd then, he appears absurd now. But has the ‘absurd’ changed?
Not knowing the age of his deceased mother, not shedding a single tear during her funeral, returning to his life and living like nothing has changed, finding no difference in marrying the woman he makes love to and a random woman on the road, agreeing to stand witness for a rogue in lieu of a black pudding dinner, allowing himself to follow a marked man for no apparent reason, remembering only the faint tinkering bell from a passing ice-cream cart out of all the noises during his trial (for murder) – Does all this make him absurd in my eyes? No. His state of mind can easily pass as someone’s who has taken a barrage of reality bullets on his chest and has let his eyes be blinded by the truth floating at a level easily missed by the squatting populace. In his acute observations of the mundane, one can almost touch his sensibilities. In his tacit acceptances, one can value his measured detachment. In his distracting ways, one can sense a scorching need for action that keeps the frozen feet of life from remaining so.
What then makes him absurd? His dubious use of freedom. He is free to act and be accountable for the consequences. Why then, a consciousness emanating from his deepest throes, is in conflict with his happiness? Why are there flashes of wishes bothering him from streams which were firm in his grasp and he let them slip in his ennui? If he indeed was viewing life from a balcony that didn’t have a lamp from Worldly Fairs, then why should its glow trouble him in prison? Why should he attempt to be like others having gotten the compliment the previous day of being different, intelligent even? If people’s opinion does matter, then he is far from being indifferent.
Meursault appeared to be a person who had embraced life in a certain way. But his fingers kept slipping off life’s pulse which continued to alter its trail. He had his moments of triumph and failure. Just like me. But he bagged the role of the protagonist in Camus’ story and not I, because he never stopped believing in what he did despite calamities of enormous magnitudes. Whether that was right or wrong is not deductible but what is deductible is his courage to be faithful to himself.
’I never thought of days as such, only the words ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’ still kept some meaning.
Yes, he had simpler definition of life which our complex eyes may find difficult to fathom. But a long, careful look and we won’t label him a stranger. For he represented a part of us that is occasionally absurd to the onlooker; a part of us that only makes sense to us.
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