‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus – Do You Love Your Mother?

The Stranger’ aka ‘The Outsider’ by Albert Camus  (1942) – 117 pages  Translated by Matthew Ward

‘In our society, any man who doesn’t cry at his mother’s funeral is liable to be condemned to death.’   –  Albert Camus

 

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It is a quite simple series of events that occurs for the main character, Meursault,  in ‘The Stranger’ starting with his mother’s death and funeral.

Do you love your mother?  Many people when answering this question would overwhelm us with their emphatic ‘Yes’, telling us just how very much and how very deeply they loved their mothers.  These people would show the world just how wonderful they are, because they loved their mothers so much.

However for some people the question of loving your mother isn’t that easy.  If you really loved her, you would not have put her in that old folks’ home.  Instead she would have been living here with you.  There were times you got into terrible fights with her, and you feel guilty about that.  You always thought she loved one of your brothers or sisters more than she liked you.   She disapproved of your wife and family.  She was a terrible bother, calling you up in the middle of the night to berate you.  She was an alcoholic or embarrassing in some other way.

Camus4So when you are asked the question ‘Did you love your mother?’, to be honest the best you can say is “Yes, but…”  or “She was OK some of the time.”  You might not say anything with much enthusiasm. However, if you answer the question honestly or with some hesitation, you immediately become suspect to the entire rest of the world.  How can anyone not totally love the woman who brought you into this world and raised you?

So what does loving or not loving your mother have to do with ‘The Stranger’?  Everything.

Albert Camus, in his own afterword to a 1955 edition of ‘The Stranger’, wrote:

 “A long time ago, I summed up The Stranger in a sentence which I realize is extremely paradoxical. ‘In our society, any man who doesn’t cry at his mother’s funeral is liable to be condemned to death.’ I simply meant that the hero of the book is condemned because he doesn’t play the game … He refuses to lie. Lying is not only saying what isn’t true. It is also, in fact especially, saying more than is true and, in the case of the human heart, saying more than one feels. We all do it, every day, to make life simpler. But Meursault, contrary to appearances, doesn’t want to make life simpler. He says what he is, he refuses to hide his feelings and society immediately feels threatened. For example, he is asked to say that he regrets his crime, in time-honoured fashion. He replies that he feels more annoyance about it than true regret. And it is this nuance that condemns him.”

 ‘The Stranger’ is a classic, a powerful novella. I can’t believe I hadn’t read it up until now.

 

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8 responses to this post.

  1. Such a fabulous book….

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    • Hi Cathy,
      Indeed. For whatever reason, I had not read Albert Camus up until four years ago. Now I’ve read ‘Ther Fall’, ‘The Plague’, and ‘The Stranger’, and all have been wonderful. I have reviews for all three novels on my blog.

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  2. I’m so glad you liked it too, thanks for a great review:)

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    • Hi Lisa,
      That car accident that killed Albert Camus at age 46 was a real tragedy. It would have been vastly interesting to see what novels he would have written.

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  3. Amazing book – I remember reading it in college (I am a French literature M.A.) and I was very impressed. He was one of the most interesting writers of 20th century. It’s really a shame that he died so young.

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    • Hi Bombeletta,
      French literature M.A., how interesting!
      I really like the simple unadorned style of Camus’ writing and his unique themes. I am also a huge fan of Jean-Paul Sartre having read the ‘Roads to Freedom’ trilogy and Nausea. Sartre’s wife Simone de Beauvoir wrote the wonderful book of stories ‘When Things of the Spirit Come First’ and the novel ‘The Mandarins’. Reviews of both can be found here. I read Sartre before I started the blog.

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      • I wrote my B.A. thesis on Beauvoir’s memoir “Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter” in reference to her outstanding “Second Sex” and her idea of feminism and education. Her memoirs are amazing, by the way 🙂
        It’s funny that I was never a big enthousiast of Sartre’s writings. I prefered Simone better, but still – their relantionship and their work are a real milestone for the French literature of 20th century.

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        • Hi, thank you for the leads. I really should read more non-fiction. I have heard a lot of good things about de Beauvoir and ‘Second Sex’, etc. Her collection of stories ‘When Things of the Spirit Come First’ was extremely good.
          I was pleasantly surprised by Sartre’s fiction. I was afraid it might be heavy and philosophical, but that wasn’t the case at all.

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