The Stranger

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The Stranger Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Albert Camus's The Stranger. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Albert Camus

Born in French Algeria in 1913 to a poor family, Camus’ father died in World War 1 the next year. Camus grew up in a two-bedroom apartment shared among five family members. He worked to support his education at University of Algiers but tuberculosis forced him to drop out. Afterwards, Camus became a journalist for a newspaper opposed to the French colonial government in Algiers and then for the Resistance in Paris during World War II. Camus developed his philosophy of the absurd while living in Paris. Though Absurdism asserts the meaningless of life in an indifferent universe, Camus maintained faith in human dignity and ability to escape despair. In addition to his first novel, The Stranger, Camus published The Plague, The Fall, and philosophical essays including The Myth of Sisyphus and The Rebel. His work’s rich influence on intellectual and artistic culture earned him a Nobel Prize in 1957. Camus died in a car accident in 1961.
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Historical Context of The Stranger

Fought between 1914 and 1918, World War I introduced the world to unprecedented violence and gave rise to a new sense of disaffection and doubt, producing art very different than the art of the past. In the wake of the war rose the Lost Generation, a group of artists who addressed the collapse of traditional structures of meaning—both secular and religious—and conveyed their sense of life’s meaninglessness. Born during World War I, Camus lost his father to the fighting and grew up to be an integral member of the Lost Generation. By the time he wrote The Stranger in the early 1940s, World War II had begun and the Nazi regime occupied France, where Camus had recently moved from Algeria. Though he fought passionately for the French Resistance against the Germans, Camus lived amidst widespread fear that the senseless horrors of World War I would be repeated. The inadequacy of religion or logic to account for such horrors helped inspire his own philosophy of Absurdism, whose ideas are reflected throughout The Stranger.

Other Books Related to The Stranger

Though technically a philosophical essay, The Myth of Sisyphus is integral to a deeper understanding of The Stranger. It was published the same year as The Stranger and, along with the novel, cemented Camus’ reputation as a prominent thinker. In it, Camus explicates the tenets of his philosophy, Absurdism, the ideas of which underpin much of the action of The Stranger. The Myth of Sisyphus pinpoints the absurd precisely: neither the world nor human thinking in and of itself is absurd. Rather, the absurd arises when human thinking attempts to impose its order, reason, and logic on the meaningless world, a perennially futile goal. In The Stranger, the absurd is demonstrated by the trial, the lawyers, and the numerous priests and Christians who attempt to convert Meursault to religion.
Key Facts about The Stranger
  • Full Title: The Stranger
  • When Written: 1941?-1942
  • Where Written: France
  • When Published: 1942
  • Literary Period: Modernist
  • Genre: Philosophical novel
  • Setting: Algiers, Algeria
  • Climax: Meursault shoots the Arab.
  • Antagonist: Raymond
  • Point of View: First person (Meursault is the narrator.)

Extra Credit for The Stranger

An Existential Novel? Though The Stranger is often categorized as an existential novel, Camus himself rejected this label. Camus’ philosophy of Absurdism resembles Existentialism in many respects (both philosophies, for example, believe in the essential meaninglessness of life) but Camus was fiercely committed to human morality and dignity, ideas many Existentialists discarded.

Alternate Translations. The key sentence in Meursault’s final acceptance of death has been translated in several different ways, each of which shifts the line’s meaning. The edition on which this guide is based was translated by Matthew Ward and published in 1988. It translates the line: "I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world." The first English edition, translated by Stuart Gilbert and published in 1946, translated this line, "I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe." The second English edition, translated by Joseph Laredo and first published in 1982, translated the line, "I laid my heart open to the gentle indifference of the universe."