Date: May 8 2022
A. Camus, The Stranger. RandomHouse, 1996.
One Sentence Summary: In which an apathetic and selfish college drop-out is arrested after he guns-down a man because it was too hot out upon leaving his lover with his best friend, a pimp, in a beach house - oh, and his mom died a few days prior, but what does that matter?
Key Takeaway: The idea of apathetic selfishness.
This book takes a practical approach from the perspective of The Stranger - the Stranger actually isn't really an unknown any-man in this book but an Algerian Frenchman named Monsieur Meursault. In the story, Meursault is an employee at a nondescript office doing mundane tasks for his boss and his colleague, Emmanuel. In the very first line of the book, Meursault receives a telegram informing him about his mother's death; this was his response:
"Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure."
And with that sort of attitude, Meursault proceeds, and proceeded, throughout his life.
He went to University for a short while, but eventually dropped out - not due to the academic rigour but rather, the pointlessness of it. Not in the sense of a robust reflection one may make upon the state of the French education system but more of a nihilistic worldview. That it was meaningless to languish under the weight of academic pressure when there are better things, in his mind, to simply do.
Meursault, the day after his mother's funeral, strikes up a languid relationship with an old flame from his old job which is primarily focused around sex and the libertine and clandestine pursuit of pleasure. The young woman, Marie Cardona, asks the following of Meursault:
Suppose another girl had asked you to marry her—I mean, a girl you liked in the same way as you like me—would you have said 'Yes' to her, too?"
"And I daresay that's why I love you," she added.
"But maybe that's why one day I'll come to hate you."
As the story progresses, Meursault eventually kills a man and is arrested. But what is interesting is not this action but the man of Meursault. To me, and this is probably my biggest takeaway point from this book, is the idea of apathetic selfishness. In all his endeavors, Meursault seemed to be agreeable or kind, but in reality, he just did not care about society or anyone as long as it did not bother him greatly.
Meursault is sort of like those dramatically indecisive people you meet in life. The ones who seem to have no real ambition or volition, who have an opinion about decisions but do not take the effort to express them. Rather, they force others to proffer decisions about an action until they agree with the decision as it suits them.
Before this book, I never really thought of selfishness in that way, but Meursault is a completely self-absorbed individual. Surely no Machiavellian but at the same time, something else that is selfish. A will that exists only because it exists and whose sole concern is moving through life in the most painless manner possible.
Zelko, Jacob. The Stranger. https://jacobzelko.com/05082022174413-the-stranger. May 8 2022.