Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Strange Title

The Stranger by Albert Camus is proving to be a captivating and thought provoking book. It centers around the events leading up to and after Mersault’s murder of an unnamed Arab. I am really enjoying this book and I find it the most accessible novel we have read so far this semester.

The one thing I don’t understand about this book is the title. Why is it called The Stranger? Who is the stranger? As of page 99 out of 123 (80% of the book) I have no idea why this book is titled The Stranger. In The Mezzanine, Mrs. Dalloway, and The Metamorphosis the title had a clear connection to the novel.

Am I’m missing something? Perhaps I don’t yet understand the title because its reasoning is revealed later in the book.  As I continue to read The Stranger, my curiosity only grows about the meaning behind the title. I have resisted the urge to visit Wikipedia and have come up with a few hypotheses about the significance of the title.

1.         It could refer to the Arabs in the novel. They are never personally named and appear in the novel to be one indistinguishable friend group that just shows up. We never learn anything about them except for the fact that the sister of one of them was Raymond’s mistress. In that sense, to the reader, the Arabs are almost complete strangers.

2.          This hypothesis is a spin off of the previous one, but instead of the Arabs being strangers to us, the Arab who Mersault murders was a stranger to him.

3.         Could the term “stranger” refer not to an unknown person, but to one who is strange? Mersault and Raymond and Salamano all have major issues and are very strange. Mersault is especially strange in the way he goes along with Raymond even when it is not ethical, has no sense of self preservation and in the way he reacts to his mother’s death.

4.         The title could be a reflection of Albert Camus’s intrigue with the absurd. The absurd is the idea that everything in the meaning only has meaning because we give it meaning. That said, maybe Camus is trying to say we are all strangers until we meet and give meaning to our interactions. I think this one is a little far fetched, but it could be a possibility.

These are just a few ideas that have been floating around in my mind as to why The Stranger is titled The Stranger. Hopefully as we finish up the book, we’ll get a clear answer and the title will make perfect sense.


  1. I think that the title could refer to Mersault himself. Throughout the book, he really gives us close to nothing when it comes to his personal emotions and sentiments towards every situation that we come across. This is in part because Mersault often really doesn't have any feelings towards anything that happens to him. To most people, this would make Mersault seem like a stranger I suppose. The fact that he doesn't feel anything, thus he doesn't share anything with us can be mistaken for a certain privacy, keeping us and Mersault "strangers".

  2. ^Another reason for why "the stranger" could be Meursault is that Meursault seems to not know himself. We have discussed in class how Meursault seems to not have a conscious and never has any "original" thoughts. He doesn't reflect on himself or anything he has done (he looks in the mirror and sees the edge of a table) and in that respect he is a stranger to himself.

  3. I definitely think the stranger is Meursalt. As the trial scene begins, Meursalt "ran
    [his] eyes round the courtroom but couldn't recognize any of the faces (p 52)." It generally seemed the Meursalt was uncomfortable, and hyper-aware of all the people - almost none of whom he knows - watching him. This tension is highlighted even more by the fact that multiple newspaper reporters are there.

  4. I think everyone has the same idea: Meursault is the stranger in the novel. While you suggest some good ideas, I think that the main point of the story is how Meursault is alienated due to his lack of emotion/human reactions. The key idea that the courtroom scene especially makes clear is that the people (jury, judge, lawyers, etc.) are judging Meursault based on his reaction to his mother's death. To say that the Arab is the stranger ignores the fact that he only appears for a small portion of the novel. It makes a lot more sense that Meursault is the source of the alienation theme that plagues this book until the very end.

  5. The French title is "L'Etranger," which has been translated also as "the outsider" and implies something closer to "the estranged" than the English term "stranger" implies. Think of it as something like "the strange one" or "the estranged" and it quite clearly refers to Meursault, especially in light of his treatment by the court.