What Camus himself said in his Avant-propos to the English edition of 1955

Meursault is condemned because he refuses to play the game
He is an outsider because he wanders alone in his private sensual world – but he is not a social derelict
Meursault’s strict honesty
The way in which he refuses to play the game is: he refuses to lie. 
Lying means more than to speak untruths.  It means also:


We all lie in this way every day to simplify life.  But Meursault refuses:


This different emphasis condemns Meursault, because society feels threatened by these men who will not lie as convention requires.  Camus recalls a previous comment he made about the book:
Dans notre société tout homme qui ne pleure pas à l’enterrement de sa mère risque d’être condamné à mort.

Meursault is not insensitive- Meursault’s passion
Meursault is motivated by a deep and tacit passion- his passion for the absolute and the truth.                                                                                       
 The truth he seeks passionately is about being and feeling
This is a negative truth, yet without it no victory over oneself or the world is possible

Why we should feel sympathy for Meursault
Camus describes his character, Meursault in sympathetic terms:
“un homme pauvre et nu, amoureux du soleil qui ne laisse pas d’ombres
Camus sees him as a martyr who accepts dying for the truth.  He does this without heroics.
This idea of martyrdom is in an earlier slightly ironic statement, which recalls that Meursault represents “le seul Christ que nous méritons



What the critic, Germaine Brée, said about l’Étranger

The story of L’Etranger was conceived by Camus in Algeria before the 1939-1945 War.  It reflects the climate of malaise or spiritual unrest prevalent in Europe in the interwar years Camus gives voice to this malaise by describing the “absurd” in man’s condition.

The character of Meursault

At first the reader finds him:



Later the reader recognises that his principal characteristic is total sincerity.

The total sincerity of Meursault

He refuses instinctively to make any claims going beyond what he actually understands and feels.
He does this even though he sees the disturbing effect of his rigorous honesty on others.
He does this even though he has no wish to hurt other people

We recognize that Meursault is incapable of pretence from:
a) His reaction to his mother’s death
b) His behaviour at her funeral
c) His merciless honesty to Marie.

He shows that he cannot make the socially acceptable responses.
Meursault is just an ordinary man
Unlike the romantic rebels in the works of Byron or Victor Hugo, Meursault has no heroic dimension.

Meursault enjoys the simple pleasures of the everyday world:
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.

He accepts human love as ephemeral – the memory of Marie fades at times, when he is in prison.  In his final days he accepts that Marie is probably already embracing some other lover.

The great passion of Meursault beneath the surface.
This is expressed most strongly in his angry rejection of the prison chaplain.  He had reached a total conviction of the truth:



Thus his final days have an even more poignant value and even the last moment will be lived with a poignant intensity

Meursault is not a hero
Camus does not offer Meursault as a model to be copied.
He is a man suffering from a malady of the spirit: e.g. his murder of the Arab has dangerous, inhuman or sub-human implications.  Yet his crime pales beside the crime of the trial, this anonymous irresponsible procedure of society, which judges and condemns him for what he is and not for what he did.

Germaine Brée sees Meursault as a man with a narrow perspective, with limited spiritual capacity She sees him as being indifferent to everything except things of his own senses.
To her he appears to have no inner life at all
She sees him finally shaken into a kind of spiritual awakening.

Meursault represents a man struggling with the absurd.
Camus believed that there was no rational design in the universe.  Tied to the routine of our daily lives we did not normally suffer from the absurd condition of human life until moments when the world around suddenly collapses around our ears.  We see Meursault at such a moment of his life Meursault’s life then comes to illustrate the absurdity of man’s condition:
Man wishes: Permanence- Purpose - Satisfactory love.
The world offers: Mortality –Irrationality -Sensual attachments- quickly forgotten

Meursault’s final awakening reflects Camus’ belief that recognition of the Absurd was not an invitation to death but an invitation to life.  In the end, Meursault recognized that: “le bonheur et l’absurde sont deux fils de la même terre.  Ils sont inséparables. »

Meursault touchingly represents Camus’ personal situation at that time.
At the time of conceiving and writing L’Etranger (1937-1941), Camus was himself under sentence of death. The young apparently robust young man, passionately in love with life, was struck down with pulmonary tuberculosis in 1937.  Death now seemed to him to be an arbitrary and unjust sentence, which weighed not upon him alone but upon all men

The style of the book
The story is told in the first person, but objectively.  Meursault tells his story with such detachment that it could be happening to someone else.
Any descriptions are unemotional.  However the flat style is relieved by:



What Connor Cruise O’Brien said in “Camus” (1970)

O’Brien says that students usually seize upon the interpretation of Meursault as the social rebel, who, although he does not condemn nor try to fight social oppression, nevertheless denounces it through his quiet refusal to conform.  They admire his intractable respect for the truth O’Brien reminds us that:

Meursault lies in the book:

  1. He concocts a letter to deceive the Arab girl


  1. He lies to the police to clear Raymond

Meursault is indifferent to social wrong.

  1. He does not intervene as the Arab girl is beaten up.


  1. He fires his gun at the Arab.

However, O’Brien points out one category of phenomena about which Meursault does not lie:
Meursault never lies about his own feelings

O’Brien on the topic of social oppression
O’Brien disputes the interpretation that this book deals with social oppression:

  1. Meursault is indifferent to the oppression of the Arab girl


  1. The Arabs seem people in the shadows of no importance
  2. There is certainly no explicit picture of Arab/ French relationships in Algeria in the 1930s. The picture is not accurate as no Frenchman would ever have been condemned for the murder of an Arab under circumstances where he felt his life under threat


O’Brien tries to assess the appeal of the book for students

  1. Students will agree with Meursault about the importance of living and loving.  They will sympathise that Meursault is condemned for loving Maria.
  2. Students will agree with the individual’s right to be strictly honest about one’s feelings.  The compromises that we make with the world around us are adopted in later years.