Psychological self-examinations are common in French first-person narratives, but Camus’s The Stranger gave the technique of psychological depth a new twist at the time it was published. Instead of allowing the protagonist to detail a static psychology for the reader, the action and behavior was given to the reader to decipher. Camus did this because he felt that “psychology is action, not thinking about oneself.” The protagonist, along with a failure to explain everything to the reader, refuses to justify himself to other Characters. He tells only what he is thinking and perceiving, he does not interrupt with commentary. By narrating the story this way, through the most indifferent person, the reader is also drawn into Meursault’s perspective. The audience feels the absurdity of the events. However, other Characters, who do not even have the benefit of hearing the whole of Meursault’s story as the book’s readers do, prefer their ideas of him. They are only too ready to make their judgments at the trial. Moreover, they readily condemn him to death as a heartless killer without regret
B Structure and Language
Camus’s success with his narration was immediately recognized to be extremely innovative. His language, while recognized as similar to the American “Hemingway style,” was seen as so appropriate to the task as to be hardly borrowed. The language style that Camus used was one of direct speech that did not allow much description. He chose that style because it backed up his narrative technique. The reader is focused on the Characters through a reduction of their being to reactions and behavior as they are related through Meursault.
Camus also divided the story at the murder. Part one opens with the death of Maman and ends with the murder of the Arab. In part two of the novel, Meursault is in prison and at the end is awaiting his execution. The division reinforces the importance of Meursault in the universe of the story. Normality is jarred throughout the first part until it dissolves into chaos because of the murder. The second half shows the force of law entering to re-establish meaning and therefore bring back order through the death of Meursault. The structure and the language, then, were technically at one with the greater theme of absurdity.
Environment is a very important element to Meursault. He reports the heat of rooms, the way that the sun affects him, and all the other conditions of the habitat he lives in. The story itself is set around the city of Algiers and the beach. The time is always the day and the sun is always out. Curiously, in the universe of The Stranger there is no night, no darkness outside of mental obscurity. Things happen overnight, but no action occurs in the plot in the dark. The only moment when darkness does threaten is at the start of the vigil but the caretaker dispels the darkness with the electric light. Other things that happen overnight include private encounters with Marie (we assume) and the verdict which is read at eight at night. However, the novel’s events occur during the day, long days that are hardly different from other days. Such facts of time emphasize the absurdity of Meursault; everything is meaningless except for the current state of the body in the environment.
This technique is used to indicate a happening before it occurs, and this foretelling can be foreboding. A disturbing moment for Meursault, as well as the unsuspecting reader, occurs while Meursault is sitting near his Maman’s coffin. “It was then that I realized they were all sitting across from me, nodding their heads, grouped around the caretaker. For a second I had the ridiculous feeling that they were there to judge me.” Later, in part two, it is precisely his behavior at this funeral with which the state prosecution is concerned. The way in which Meursault honors his mother has everything to do with his guilt. In other words, the sense of judgment he felt from those sitting across from him at the funeral vigil foreshadowed the solitary condemnation at the trial.