Author ¦ Albert Camus
Length ¦ Short
Year first published ¦ 1946
Synopsis ¦ The story centres on Meursault's trial, after he has been unwittingly drawn to commit a senseless crime.
Meursault is uncommunicative by nature, and those involved in the case struggled to understand the enigmatic protagonist. Told with a rather straightforward first-person narration, the book's simplicity dives deep into themes of existential philosophy and questions what it really means to be human.
Book cover design ¦ I read my books on my Kindle. So for this journal, I've decided to design my own book cover based on my interpretation of the story. The circle is Meursault — a plain shape that wounded up being the centre of it all. I've likened him to a lone body in the empty skies he often gazes at, detached and removed from the "meaning" society created.
Spoilers warning: Please do not continue if you have not read the book.
This is my first time picking up this acclaimed classic, and I did find it impactful. Despite it being a short read (roughly two hours), it successfully raised a few profound questions. Is there actually an inherit meaning to life? Are humans fit to judge others for their crimes? What is the definition of being human? What truly makes us "human"?
"Since we're all going to die, it's obvious that when and how don't matter."
The book follows a heavily pragmatic viewpoint as Meursault faced the consequence of his crime. To the other characters, he is presented as a remorseless, unfeeling individual. Yet, as the story unfolds, we see the consistency of his thoughts, his objective evaluation in each circumstances and how he is honestly rational by nature. No incident in the book ever hinted that he had the intention to harm others nor was he, by any means, "evil".
Yet, those who were assigned to judge him thought otherwise. Meursault failed to cry at his mother's funeral and he was seen as cold. He did not believe in God and he was seen as a being with no soul or conscience. He showed no sign of sadness for the man he murdered, and he was seen as inhuman.
"I explained to him, however, that my nature was such that my physical needs often got in the way of my feelings."
The book highlights how in a given situation, humans tend to display a varying degree of emotions. The prosecutor, the judge, the priest and those who questioned Meursault take turn trying to elicit a specific emotive response from him. In this light, Albert Camus raises more questions. How much of our feelings is created by ourselves? How much of it is taught to us, crafted by the invisible societal laws? How do we justify the expectations we place on others to feel the same? Why is there an expectation to display certain emotions in certain situations?
In the end, I believe everyone have crafted their own sense of "what is human", and there can never be a true or fair assessment. As with the characters in the book, many of us try to impose our values onto others, just as they were once instituted into us.
While the book concluded with the depressing fate of Meursault and many unanswered questions, it did leave me with plenty of intellectual nourishment.