Those of you who know me know that I love reading. Those of you who know me well know that I don’t particularly like reading post-modernist literature. Why is that? Is it the lack of defined plot? The rather lackluster characters? The frequent use of stream of consciousness? The flagrant ignoring of even the most fundamental rules of literature. And of course this isn’t a blanket statement. There are plenty of post-modern novels that I enjoy, just not all of them.
Thus The Stranger was one of those books that I didn’t particularly enjoy reading. But nevertheless. It had some up sides. In particular, I really enjoyed the apathy of the text, and how Camus twisted the meaning of it. While most people define apathy as a negative response to say, a large amount of responsibility or childish boredom, Camus paints apathy in a brighter light; almost meaning that how can we not be apathetic? With the inevitable twists and turns of fate throwing us this way and that like a bunch of rubber dolls, how can we but help to lose hope and energy to change our futures? What will happen will happen. Like during the funeral procession, when they say that if they walk too slow, they risk getting sun stroke. But if they go too fast, they will get sweaty and then catch a cold in the chilly church. Either way, they’re kind of screwed, aren’t they? In the same way we see the relationship between the main character’s neighbor and his dog. If the dog goes to slow, he gets beaten. If he goes too fast, he gets beaten. It’s a lose lose situation that they can’t get out of because they enjoy the comfort of routine. We eventually see that the dog has mysteriously disappeared; we assume it ran away, breaking the circuit. This is also why his appeal in court is so lackluster’ everyone in the court has already formed an opinion about him through preconceived social norms and expectations; who is he that can convince a skeptical crowd that he is different, or that somehow, the laws don’t apply?
In fact, in writing this book Camus painted one of the truest characters to have ever existed in literature: a stranger in that he is above bias, cultural background, social pressures etc. He really is a stranger to this society we’ve created that is focused on caring so much about each other, about rituals and customs and gossip. Perhaps we dislike this character not because he is loathsome, but because he is free in a way that we are too scared to be ourselves. We are jealous of him for being able to live so freely and whimsically.
So what do you think? Does his apathy make him a villain? Or secretly, a hero?