On a weekend away with the neighbour small annoyances and a blindingly hot sun lead Mr. Meursault to kill a man. He never quite knows why he has done it. He explains to his lawyer that by nature his physical needs often distort his feelings. He accepts his fate of incarceration and the trial, understanding that this is the way society has to deal with him. In his cell, small pleasures such as seeing what tie the lawyer will be wearing, an old scrap of newspaper, and watching the sky change colour keep him from despair.
Mr. Meursault leads his life refusing to lie, to himself and to everybody else. Authority figures in the novel, particularly religious ones, are insulted, stressed and baffled by his attitude. Camus says in the afterword:
‘Meursault is not a reject, but a poor and naked man, in love with a sun that leaves no shadows. Far from lacking all sensibility, he is driven by a tenacious and therefore profound passion, the passion for an absolute and for truth. The truth is yet a negative one, a truth born of living and feeling, but without which no triumph over the self or over the world will ever be possible’.
Camus believed that happiness was only possible through the truth, and acceptance of the absurd.
As a novel The Outsider is straightforward, with plain, clean prose. It is somewhat similar to reading Kafka, attempting to extrapolate the philosophical morsels from the narrator’s observations, speech and opinions – an absorbing and stimulating task. I would suggest having a look at The Myth of Sisyphus before reading The Outsider, or at least reading some background on Camus, his vision of the absurd, and existential philosophy.
Here are some samples of Albert Camus’ wisdom:
‘The society based on production is only productive, not creative.’
‘Those who lack the courage will always find a philosophy to justify it.’
‘Truth, like light, blinds. Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.’