The Enduring Legacy of Albert Camus’s The Outsider……….

In our society any man who doesn’t cry at his mother’s funeral is liable to be condemned to death,” was how Albert Camus summed up the story of The Outsider in one sentence. This is one of Camus’s most popular and widely read books and seventy years after it was first published in French (1942), the book  continues to surface regularly as a subject of discussion in different arenas.

Albert Camus

For me there is an enduring appeal to The Outsider. It’s   a timeless classic, a book I have read many times, and each time,  found a lot of meaning in it. The books wide appeal could be because many of us feel like an Outsider at some point in our lives. Maybe not in the same dramatic manner in which Meursault, the main character in the book becomes an Outsider, but because many of us, in our own little way, refuse to go on living our lives the way society deems we should.

It is society that is the judge and jury in instances when people decide to stray from the straight line they are taught to walk along from the time they are born. Those who take the risk and decide to follow a different path are considered the outsiders.

In an Afterword that Camus wrote in 1955 to The Outsider,(L’ E’tranger in French and also titled The Stranger in some English publications) , here is what he said:-

A long time ago, I summed up The Outsider in one 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. In this sense, he is an outsider to the society in which he lives, wandering on the fringe, on the outskirts of life, solitary and  sensual. And for that reason, some readers have been tempted to regard him as a reject. But to get a more accurate picture  of his character, or rather one which conforms more closely  to his author’s  intentions, you must ask yourself in what  way Meursault  doesn’t play the game, The answer is simple: he refuses  to lie. Lying is not only saying what’s true .It isn’t  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, everyday, to make life simpler. But, contrary to appearances, Meursault doesn’t want to make his life simpler. He says what he is, he refuses it hide his feelings and society immediately feels threatened. For example, he is asked to say that he regrets his crime, in time-honored fashion. He says he feels more annoyance about it than true regret. And it is that nuance that condemns him.”

Camus also speaks in defense of his character:

So for me, Meursault is not a reject, but a poor and naked man, in love with the sun which faces no shadows. Far from lacking the sensibility, he is driven by tenacious and therefore profound passion, the passion for an absolute and for the truth. The truth is as 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 was awarded the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature for his many works including The Outsider.  In its citation, the Nobel Prize Committee said Albert Camus was awarded the prize “ for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.”

Times have changed between then and now but humans continue  to grapple with their conscience  and find no easy answers to issues they confront.

“Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself,” Camus said in his speech after receiving the Noble prize.

Read at the link below Albert Camus’s speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1957.

Camus died in an automobile accident in 1960.

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