The Stranger

The Stranger Study Guide

Camus was influenced by a diverse collection of foreign authors and philosophies in the 1930s. The mood of nihilism was high. Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky had remained significant in thought since the turn of the century. German phenomenology was flowing into France. Sartre was struggling against the shallow rationalism of Cartesian thought. Faulkner, Hemingway, and Dos Passos were translated into French and many guess that their styles and concepts made their way into the philosophy of Camus at this time. These influences and moods helped formulate the philosophies of Existentialism and the Absurd as associated with Sartre and Camus. Due to Camus' working-class upbringing, he grows up with a suspicion toward idealism and introspection. He was never one to invest in dreaming. He was interested in living life and the struggle for meaning without the distraction of dreams and fabrications. Although Camus later tried to distance himself from the concept of Existentialism, critics still place him there and his own ideas were influenced by the forum of Sartre and other Existentialist philosophers of the time. According to Existentialism, man existed among and against other men in a brutal adventure to which one must give meaning through his actions. The Absurd deals more with the irresolvable paradox between objective judgment of an action and the subjective motivation behind its performance. The disappearance of truth and goals gives way to the absurdity of existence. Yet Camus too is concerned with the creation of meaning in a meaningless world through the process of living life. The mood of pessimism, which many would take from Existentialism and the Absurd, was strengthened by the political developments of the 1930s. The rise in power of the authoritarian dictators Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco had a harmful effect on the countries of Europe and did not bode well for the upcoming years. The authoritarian regimes solidified Camus as a stong supporter of the Left.

Camus fought stubbornly against war. One can notice the effects of malaise in Camus' earlier writings, reflecting the conflicts of war as well as Franco-Algerian tensions. Economic difficulties in Algeria had increased the conflict. Officially Arabs were equal citizens to the French but they were often treated as a conquered people. When the Popular Front failed to enact a plan increasing Arab franchise, radical Arabs moved toward Nationalism. Conflict existed too between French interests and the pied-noir's, who were also treated as second class citizens but needed French protection in order to compete for working-class jobs against cheap Arab labor. Meursault of The Stranger belongs to this group and one can understand his feelings toward French institutions as well as the tension between those of Arab and French origin in the story by taking this into account. The myths of the French-Algerian are evident throughout the novel, such as the notion that they live on the frontier, are pagans, are sexualized, live through their bodies and sport, and oscillate between indolence and intense emotion. Camus wrote of Arab issues in the paper, Alger-Republican, and campaigned for Arabs who had been wrongly accused. He also wrote of the inadequate French social policy concerning schools and medical care. It was at this time, he began writing The Stranger.

By 1939, Alger-Republican was campaigning heavily against the war. Camus placed hope in Neville Chamberlain and wanted concessions to be made. After the newspaper was banned in 1940, Camus left Algeria in search of a job. Working at Paris-Soir, Camus finished the manuscript of The Stranger by May of that year. During that time he also worked on the drafts of a play, Caligula, and an essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, which he felt, with The Stranger, would be parts of one whole, constituting the cycle of the Absurd. Camus revised The Stranger while living back in Algeria with his wife's family and then sent an edition to Lyon in April 1941 where Gallimard agreed to publish it. French publishers at the time however had to work with the German Propaganda Staffel and so censorship was an issue. The Occupation authorities found nothing damaging to their cause in the book and it was published as written. The first edition consisted of only 4,000 copies. Ironically, it was very well received in anti-Nazi circles and this support, along with Sartre's article on the novel, launched Camus' career. In the context of Occupation, the book was celebrated for its focus on the illegitimacy of authority, a world without values, and the primacy of the individual. It soon became a classic of French literature in many circles and Camus was quickly recognized as a great French/European writer of the 1940s.