The Outsider follows Monsieur Mersault as he navigates his life in Algiers. What makes Mersault interesting is that Camus paints each of his interactions as existing without the burden of emotion or attachment. It is not quite apathy, but certainly an indifference.
In the midst of reading this, I was unsure of what Camus was building towards. I came into this book with zero information about its reputation and that of its author. I only decided to give it a read because it happened to be on my brother’s bookshelf.
After finishing, my first impression was that Camus’ commentary largely zones in on the meaning of life. What is it? But as I slept on it, the more interesting question he seems to be asking is what makes someone human? How do you define humanity? This was a recurring gripe of Meursault by others, that he was cold, indifferent, and showed no attachment. Camus, however, portrays him doing normal human things. He works, eats, and even a desire to have fun with Marie and swimming. Meursault is irrefutably human, but there is a tension between his sense of humanity and one expected of him.
This duality is what is later put under vigorous examination in the second half. He bemoans throughout the trial did not give him as much opportunity to defend himself. After all, he was the one being tried. Each person that talks to Meursault ends up lecturing him about how they think he should feel and react to everything. His detached responses engender frustration, anger, and eventually hopelessness. Camus suggests that these attempts to appeal to Meursault’s better nature presupposes that a better nature exists. In a way, these are attempts to justify their way of life: the Judge’s, the Lawyer’s, and the Priest’s. Meursault’s non-conformity results in his marginalisation and ultimately his punishment. A result that serves as proof their ways of living is correct.
It only took the better part of an afternoon to finish The Outside, but the questions Camus raised have lingered in the week since. I don’t think this will be my final time reading it, life experience, I think will add a lot more nuance to further readings.
Recommended. It may be a quick-read, but its ideas will remain. One to have on the bookshelf for a potential yearly read, I feel like your interpretation will grow more nuanced as you do.