One critic has said "The characters seem to move in a kind of trance in a kind of dream world.

Another critic has said that he praises the realism. `What is your view?
1. The descriptions in the book are realistic.
The settings are very much everyday life:- The old folk's home. An apartment block in suburban Algiers - the beach.

Usually the descriptions are brief and impressionistic but effective.

a) eg. the description of the beach as they arrived there as the morning
of a holiday. The yellowish stones, with which flowers growing among them - the rows of beach cottages with green or white gates L the motion­less sea with a few bathers. The gentle sound of a distant trawler - further up the massive cape slumbering on the clear water.

b) Description of action is equally effective.

eg. the events on the landing after Raymond has beaten up his Arab mistress and the neighbours have brought the police.

c) Accurate social description. Critics have remarked on the accuracy of
observation it the description of the court procedure. Camus had been a newspaper reporter, (in fact he visits himself in the court at Meursault's trial - the reporter who eyes Meursault with an expressionless face throughout).

d) Description of the appearance of characters  e.g. the examining magistrate.

2. In view of this realism why might the reader get a sense of unreality?

A) Because the book is split into two parts.

In Part one, we see events from M's. point of view. In Part two, through the eyes of other people. Thus we question what is in fact real?
eg. the question of the cafe au lait. Meursault describes in Part 1 how he came to accent the drink. It appears quite natural.

(page 26) "Il m'a offert alors d’apporter une tasse de café au lait. Comme j'aime beaucoup le café au lait j'ai accepté et il est revenu un moment après avec un plateau."

It appears quite natural. However at the trial it becomes a step towards the guillotine. The prosecutor thunders

(page 104) Oui M.M. les jures apprécieront. Et ils concluront qu'un étranger pouvait proposer du café mais qu'un fils devait le refuser devant le corps de celle qui lui avait donné le jour.

Meursault's love for Marie might appear like the sweet spontaneous love of two ordinary people

It may appear, as in the prosecutor's eyes, the most shameful debauchery.

Meursault's. relationship with his mother might represent normal son-mother ties,
It might represent callous unhumanity approachihg or even surpassing matri­cide.
showing also the problems of ageing and illness.

The friendshp with Raymond might be a normal acquaintareship of neighbours
A criminal collaboration of the basest kind.

This dichotomy illustrates an important philosophical issue, which was given much emphasis by the Existentialists:­
The distinction between subjective reality and objective reality.

Objective reality is the actual object as it exists or the actual event as it occurs. But these objects and events have to go through human perception and need to be interpreted by individual brains. Thus says Kierkegaard there is a subjective relational truth – as a result that which the individual conceives to be true is true.

This statement is not a negation of objective reality; it simply asks us to recognise the unique interpretation which each individual gives to our common environment.

When listening to the trial, Meursault accepts the validity of the prosecutor's version.

page 112) J'ai trouvé que sa façon de voir les événements ne manquait pas de clarté. Ce qu'il disait était plausible .

B ) M's. world appears strange to us because he describes it without any values or judgements.

The eye of the narrator Meursault is the eye of the camera reflecting without comment the objects and events of his environment.

Thus a blank statement of his mother's death:­

"Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas.

In everyday communication, comments and judgements are part of the essential fabric. Meursault feels entitled to report events but not to interpret them.

He can tell of the beauty and gaiety of Marie, of their haste to make love, of his need for her touch but he cannot tell her he loves her.

page 52) Je lui ai répondu que cela ne voulait rien dire, mais qu'il me semblait que non.

The kindly Celeste is disturbed by Salamano's cruel treatment of his dog. M. merely reports the habits of Salamono but will not judge.
page 44) I1 y a huit and que cela dure. Céleste dit toujours que c’est malheureux, mais au fond, personne ne peut savoir.
This is typical of the phenomenologist approach of the Existentialist.


C ) The "strange world" depicted in L'étranger represents the absurdity of the the human condition.

Camus formed his own personal doctrine, which was distinct from Existentialism. which he called the philosophy of the Absurd. Absurdity is caused by the confrontation of man, who has a desperate wish for clarity, within a world that is irrational

The irrationality of the world is a tenet of Existentialism.

"L'Etranger" represents the moment in a man's life when the routines of every­day life collapse around his ears and he suddenly comes face to face with the absurd.

The "absurdity" at the trial is that the prosecutor speaks in the name of abstract concepts such as justice and reason, concepts in which man desperately needs to believe, while the outcome will be purely irrational and gratuitous.  Meursault reviews the verdict recognising that it could have been totally different:­

page 121 Le fait que la sentence avait été lue à vingt heures plutôt qu'a deux-sept, le fait qu'elle aurait pu être tout autre, qu'elle avait été  prise par des hommes qui changent de linge, qu'elle avait été portée au crédit
d'une notion aussi imprécise que le peuple français ( ou allemand ou chinois) il me semblait bien que tout cela enlevait beaucoup de sérieux à une telle décision.

But it is not only his life since the murder which Meursault sees as absurd. When
M achieves enlightenment before his execution he talks of "toute cette vie absurde que j'avais menée."

D) The "grotesque" characters contribute to the strangeness of this world:

i) Salamano with the absurd routine

ii The odd like woman who shares Meursault's table at Celeste's. Like an automaton she performs every movement with feverish haste. By imposing methodical routine onto even the smallest activities of her life she has dehumanised herself.

These absurd characters are probably to Camus representations of people who are the slaves of habit, which gives to them lives a semblance of aim and of value. (They have not achieved the freedom of the “homme revolté”) The Existentialist philosopher talks of people leading an inauthentic life, acting a part, attaching importance to the banality of everyday life.

E ) The moments when M's perception is confused.

The world is described by Meursault appears unreal when his perception is confused by the environment.
In our desperate wish for clarity in human affairs we may like to pretend that every person is totally rational and in full possession of his or her faculties. Life, in fact, is much more uncertain. Meursault explains his own irrational moments to his defending counsel:­
page 81 He tells him he had "Une nature telle que mes besoins physiques dérangeaient souvent mes sentiments. Le jour où j'avais enterré maman, j'étais très fatigué et j'avais sommeil.

In his own account of the funeral he had said:
page 34:- J'étais un peu perdu entre le ciel bleu et blanc et la monotonie de
ces couleurs, noir gluant du goudron ouvert, noir terne des habits, noir
laqué de la voiture, celle du vernis et celle de l'encens, la fatigue d'une nuit d'insomnie me troublait le regard et les idées.

It was this disturbed perception which led to Meursault shooting the Arab. When he came across the Arab again on the beach the rational thing to do was to turn round and go away - but to do this meant facing the burning sun

page 74 C'était le même soleil que le jour oû j'avais enterré maman, comme alors, le front surtout me faisait mal et toutes les veines battaient ensemble sous la peau.

He therefore moves forward and in the strained emotional atmosphere the events which follow are irrational. He has the illusion that the reflection from the knife strikes him in the face. His eyes are blinded with tears; the heaven seems to rain fire. He tenses and pulls the trigger. There is a pause as, horrified, he realises what he has done, then ( perhaps in despair?) he fires four more shots.

The events of the murder are as irrational and gratuitous as are many events in the life of man, as viewed by the philosophy of the absurd. Man however confronts this irrationality by demanding clarity:- When the examining magistrate asks why Meursault fired the last four shots - he can't give an explanation

page 83 Une fois de plus, j'ai revu la plage rouge et J’ai senti sur mon front la brûlure du soleil. Mais cette fois, je n'ai rien répondu.

At the end of the final summing up of the prosecutor, Meursault is asked of he has anything to say. Again he has no rational explanation page 115

J'ai dit rapidement, en mêlant un peu les mots et en me rendant compte de mon ridicule, que c’était à cause du soleil
NB This picture of the mind and body interrelating is in keeping with Existentialist psychology. Existentialists stress: that mind and body is one and they stand for the unity of the individual.

The opposite thesis is that of a dualism. This proposes that there is a split of body and mind. This dualism is favoured by Christianity in the idea of a soul which can be independent of the  body. Descartes is given credit or blame for the standing of dualism in Western Philosophy.

Is the emphasis on the ideas behind the story rather than upon the story itself?
Critics often point out that as Camus is a novelist of ideas, his characters are sometimes shadowy, the representation of ideas rather than of living people.  His stories themselves are allegories rather than living pictures from human life. 
We might question whether this is a fair criticism of l'étranger.  The story is very strong and could survive as a story without any allegorical interpretation.

We have shown previously how realistic and concrete is the description of people, places and events is in the novel.

There is one further reason why we should deny that Camus would regard the events of life as unimportant.  The doctrine of Existentialism was the doctrine of existence.  To the Existentialist as to Meursault, the fact which illuminates our view of human life was the threat of non-being, the nothingness which always be always yawns and at our feet.  A principle in Camus’ doctrine of the absurd was that of the “and” passion, that would be should seek to multiply the lucid experience of life.

Life once lived is a series of concrete phenomena and it is futile to waste time with theoretical speculation about a god and about what might have been done, about guilt.

However absurd life may be, however unsatisfactory may be human experience, all living people and and and are privileged.  Some of our simple activities give us pleasure.

Meursault enjoys a dry towel.

He enjoys the twilight in his town; while his defence lawyers are concluding the case for the defence, Meursault is distracted by the trumpet of an ice cream and recalls the life which is no longer is: p 117
Page 117 - j'ai été assailli des souvenirs d'une vie qui ne m'appartenait plus, mais où j'avais trouvé les plus pauvres et les plus tenaces de mes joies : des odeurs 'd’été, le quartier que j'aimais, un certain ciel du soir, le rire et les robes de Marie. Tout ce que je faisais d'inutile en ce lieu, m'est alors remonté à la gorge.


The novel, l’Étranger, depicts the real world which we recognise.

It also gives a striking picture of man's place in this reality viewed from the standpoint of Existentialist philosophy:

In the irrational world, man is alone.  He is in an alien world.  In his final enlightenment, Meursault accepts the indifference of this world.
Page 133 - Je m'ouvrais pour la première fois à la tendre indifférence du monde. De l’éprouver si pareil a moi, si fraternel enfin, j'ai senti que j'avais été heureux, et que je l'étais encore.

This is the final cry of revolt of Meursault, the stranger in an alien world.