Although different people would interpret The Stranger in different ways, many would probably agree that this novel is about a man’s confrontation with the society. The main character is portrayed trapped in a universe that is essentially alien to him and which he understands to be artificially constructed. At the same time, the perception of Meursault may vary from a splendid hero to a more complex character to a destructive and negative force. Each of these interpretations is made on the ground of reader’s ability to closely identify with Meursault because the narrative is told from inside and allows experiencing all feelings felt by the protagonist. THESIS STATEMENT: In Camus’s novel The Stranger, the setting is used to enhance the novel’s anti-bourgeois and doom message, convey the main character’s emotions and mood, and create a feeling of paradox and absurdity.
First of all, Camus uses the setting to enhance the anti-bourgeois meanings in the novel. Specifically, the novel is set in Algiers, a French colony in North Africa at the time. In The Stranger, the reader encounters illustrations of the discrimination in the attitude to the Arab population by the French. The time selected as a part of The Stranger’s setting helps illustrate the tone of doom and absurdity. Set in the 1940s, the story unfolds against the background of the World War 2, when not only France had suffered from occupation by the Nazi, but also the French colonies, in particular North Africa, were attacked by the German army. This war atmosphere enhances the feelings of doom and suffering in the novel.
Secondly, Camus uses the setting to convey his main character’s emotions and mood. Specifically, the beach portrayed before the murder as an expansive area helps to convey the feeling of freedom and relative peace that Meursault had before he murdered an Arab. To illustrate, the author writes: “…we had to cross a small plateau which overlooks the sea and then drops steeply down to the beach. It was covered with yellowish rocks and the
whitest asphodels set against the already hard blue of the sky” (Camus). On the contrary, the enclosed walls of his cell in a prison as well as in the courtroom help convey the feeling of suffocation that the main character has with his own life: “When I walked in, the sound of the voices echoing off the room’s high, bare walls and the harsh light pouring out of the sky onto the windows and spilling into the room brought on a kind of dizziness. My cell was quieter and darker” and, in the courtroom, “I was feeling a little dizzy too, with all those people in that stuffy room. I looked around the courtroom again but I couldn’t make out a single face” (Camus). The last quotation also shows how Meursault’s feeling of uneasiness because of being judged by all the people in the courtroom is enhanced by the description of the stuffy atmosphere there. Next, the description of the beach during and after the murder helps convey the feeling of lack of control over the character’s actions and a condition close to insanity. To illustrate, Camus writes: “I was walking slowly towards the rocks and I could feel my forehead swelling under the sun,” and then: “The sea carried up a thick, fiery breath. It seemed to me as if the sky split open from one end to the other and rained down fire” (Camus).
Moreover, Camus uses setting to convey the paradoxes and absurdity in his novel. This is well seen in his portrayal of the funeral where he uses the antithesis of death. In particular, the author describes the mortuary where his hero walks not in dark but in light colors, which symbolizes the beginning of self-knowledge in Meursault, and, thus, is associated with light; to illustrate: “a very bright, whitewashed room, with a skylight for a roof” (Camus). Further, lots of white color (of the walls, of the nurse’s bandage and smock) help convey the ideas of innocence as well as death paleness. In any case, here death is conveyed in white colors of the setting. Paradox emerges as it gets associated with the birth.
- Camus, Albert. The Stranger. 1942. Web. 18 May 2015.