My Old Book: Simon Wright
This article is from the October 2012 issue of Total Politics
The most important theme of Albert Camus’ The Outsider is society’s relationship with the truth. I read the novel while at university, and the impression it made on me then is still with me today.
Despite the weaknesses of its chief character – Meursault is a murderer who is apparently insensitive to everyone and everything around him – the book is compelling. The plot is simple, but the questions it raises and the themes it treats are not.
Camus presents us with an unconventional, strange misfit in order that we might question our own notions of normality, convention, right and wrong. Throughout the book, Meursault refuses to adhere to social norms such as “white lies”, he cannot “play the game” of social niceties or cover-ups and, most provocatively, cannot engage emotively with those around him, responding passively to key events such as his mother’s death, and disregarding the feelings of his girlfriend. Ironically, his one saving grace – his inability to lie – results in his execution.
The figure of the outsider is used to put the spotlight on our everyday dealings, common behaviour, accepted standards and relationships. While the story is about Meursault’s court case, it could equally well be society that’s on trial. The Outsider is still as relevant today as when it was written.