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Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know.
The first novel of Albert Camus, published in 1942—which subsequently launched his writing career.
Short version: An emotionally detached young man learns that his mother's dead, gets engaged to his girlfriend for no particular reason, shoots a man for getting the sun into his eye at that time, has a bunch of philosophical existential internal monologues and conversations in prison, and is convicted and executed mostly for being a Jerkass.
Long version: The narrator is one M. Meursault (we never get his first name), a man who lives in French-colonized Algeria sometime between the two World Wars. The book opens with the news of his mother's death. He visits her nursing home, muses on the life she led there, then attends her funeral, most of which he finds quite boring. He goes on about his daily life: working in a nondescript office, spending time with his girlfriend, observing his neighbors. One of those neighbors, Raymond, enlists Meursault's help in getting revenge on his girlfriend, an Arab woman, who he thinks was cheating on him. Later on, Meursault and Raymond encounter the brother of Raymond's ex. Meursault, somewhat drunk and dazzled by the sunlight, ends up shooting the man with Raymond's revolver, for no particular reason. Thus ends Part One.
Part Two details Meursault's time in prison, and gets much more abstract. The judge who talks to Meursault doesn't seem to care much about the murder of the Arab, but takes offense at Meursault's atheism. Meursault sits in his cell, wishes he had cigarettes, and ponders the meaninglessness of life. The prosecution at his trial uses his lack of grief at his mother's death as evidence against him; he doesn't deny anything. A priest visits Meursault and is, like the judge, appalled at his atheism; Meursault ends up assaulting him. The book ends with Meursault about to be executed, hoping people will watch.
Provides examples of:
- Absurdism: An early specimen and one of the best known non-theatre examples.
- Arc Words: "But I got used to it."
- Anti-Hero: On the Sliding Scale of Anti-Heroes, Meursault is a Type V, one of the two types of Anti-Hero in an existentialist novel.
- Beige Prose: The narrator's tendency to give equal weight to everything - from his mother's death to how he feels about someone at any point in time - leads to this.
- Beware the Honest Ones
- Can Not Tell a Lie: It never occurs to Meursault to say anything but the truth.
- Character Witness: Meursault and Raymond for each other.
- Chekhov's Gun: Literal, with a side of irony. Meursault takes Raymond's pistol away from him so that Raymond won't shoot the Arab.
- Cut and Paste Translation: Matthew Ward's English translation (currently the most popular one in America) spends a good deal of its introduction bashing Stuart Gilbert's (which before his was the only one available in America.) In the original French, and in Ward's version, the narrator begins as a Terse Talker in the vein of an Ernest Hemingway protagonist, then becomes oddly lyrical after going to jail. Gilbert essentially turns him British, and incidentally rewrites some of his odder comments to sound more conventional.
- Empty Shell: Averted. Meursault may appear to be this, simply because of the Beige Prose (see above), but a closer reading reveals that he does have emotions.
- Establishing Character Moment: The first two sentences of the book, quoted at the top of the page.
- Extreme Doormat: Meursault initially seems to be an Empty Shell, but given his violent outburst at the priest in the end, it's more likely that he's one of these with a small remaining core of selfhood. He apparently used to have ambitions and dreams, but he abandoned them all as meaningless. Since he thinks nothing really matters, he does pretty much anything people ask him to.
- Foil: Meursault and just about everyone else.
- Heat Wave
- The Hero Dies: Though his death is never depicted, he knows in the end that it's coming soon.
- Hollywood Atheist: The law officials' attitude towards Meursault changes when they find out he's an atheist, and afterwards attempt to portray him as a violent Complete Monster.
- Incriminating Indifference: The prosecution's argument against Meursault is, essentially, "He didn't cry at his mother's funeral, therefore he's psychotic, therefore he's a Complete Monster who deserves to die." Of course, it doesn't help that Meursault admits his guilt from the get-go.
- Jerkass: Raymond beats his girlfriend up and has a neighbor write a threatening letter to her, gets in a fight with the girl's brother, and when the neighbor and friend he got into this mess kills him, leaves him for dead. Salamano literally kicks his dog, among other abuses. And the case can be made either way for Meursault.
- Last-Name Basis: Meursault.
- Light Is Not Good: Meursault mentions the sun being particularly bright on the day of his mother's funeral, and when he shoots the Arab. Light and heat is a reoccuring motif throughout the book, for example: when waiting for the bus, the wake, the burial, and the afformentioned beach. Meursault thinks of all of those examples negatively. Whether this means something is up to your interpretation.
- Loners Are Freaks
- Nietzsche Wannabe: Meursault comes off as the Perky Goth version of this. To him, life is meaningless since death is inevitable, but he does not mind meaninglessness, and he takes joy in the moment. This also means that to him every life is equally valuable, even a dog's life. May be horrifying, depending on whether or not you follow Camus' philosophy.
- Not So Stoic:
- After spending the story completely calm and indifferent to absolutely everything, Meursault SNAPS at the priest at the book's end.
- Arguably Salamano. He spends most of his introduction being a grumpy old man who hates and abuses his dog. After the dog runs away, he becomes grumpier and more hateful. When he realizes the dog isn't coming back, he begins to cry.
- Purple Prose: Invoked in the prosecutor's angry tirades against Meursault. Especially Egregious when he is expounding upon the perceived emptiness of Meursault's soul.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Raymond and Meursault.
- Sociopathic Hero: Meursault, possibly.
- The Stoic: Meursault, of course. He feels emotions, but not for the same reasons as most people, and he doesn't really show it.
- Too Dumb to Live: Meursault. Or rather, Too Neutral To Live. He does things, usually, because there's no reason not to do them; the few things he enjoys are immediate pleasures like smoking and sex.
- Uncatty Resemblance: Lampshaded with Salamano. He's acquired his dog's scabs and sores, and the dog has acquired his stooped, neck-straining look.
- Verbal Tic: Everything Masson says contains the phrase "and I'd even say."
- What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?: The shooting. Very long description. Justifiable, since it triggers the whole second half of the book.