Literary Devices In The Stranger

Introduction to “The Stranger

The Stranger (L’Étranger) is the famous 1942 novel by French philosopher Albert Camus. Its concise first-person narrative follows the life of Meursault, an indifferent young clerk living in French Algiers. When his girlfriend’s brother murders a man, Meursault himself ends up unexpectedly killing someone on a beach. He is then condemned to death for refusing to submit to society’s expectations and morality.

The novel explores what Camus termed “the nakedness of man faced with the absurd.” It exemplifies philosophical ideas related to absurdism and existentialism. Camus aimed to depict the world’s fundamental meaninglessness in the face of human mortality. The protagonist Meursault becomes a divisive figure, seen variously as a callous sociopath, an honest truth-teller, a victim of circumstance, or an everyman anti-hero.

First published during the existentialist movement and amidst WWII in Nazi-occupied Paris, The Stranger delivers a poignant subversion of traditional character archetypes and narrative conventions. Camus’ terse, unromanticized style and detached protagonist scandalized many. But the novel’s piercing consideration of life’s absurdities and objective rendering of emotion still deeply resonate with modern readers.

Summary of “The Stranger”

On the day of his mother’s funeral in Algiers, the apathetic Meursault smokes, drinks coffee, and sleeps. Over the next few days he carries on routines: swim, flirt with his mistress Marie, and head to comedy films with his neighbor Raymond. After witnessing violent behavior from Raymond’s Arab neighbor, Meursault is later approached by the Arab on a beach. Almost unthinkingly, Meursault shoots and kills him.

Unaffected by societal standards like showing remorse, Meursault irritates his defense lawyer and the examining magistrate. He’s arrested and confined to prison. During trial, the prosecutor argues Meursault deserves death for his “profound, disturbing callousness” and society rules in favor of execution.

In jail, Meursault develops a sincere relationship with his Chaplain. But Meursault never relents to normal emotions others demand before his final moments. Even as death approaches, Meursault finds freedom in the “benign indifference” of the universe, concluding with an iconic image of himself embracing straight into the “gentle indifference of the world.”

Themes in “The Stranger

Key themes relate to existentialism and the human condition:

  • Facing mortality and realizing the inherent meaninglessness of life
  • Searching for truth and authenticity in spite of societal pressures and constructs
  • The “absurdity” of so much human behavior and institutions
  • Human alienation from self, others, and nature in the modern world
  • Individuality, free will, and choosing how to confront life’s indifference
  • The level of emotions and actions that humans can control

There is also commentary on colonialism, religion, justice systems, and shifting perspectives.

Writing Style of “The Stranger”

Camus pioneered an objective, unromanticized writing style often called “flat, affectless prose.” The tone is calm, detached, and neutral, except for occasional moments of sensory detail and striking imagery. This voice creates a jarring contrast with the disturbing content. For example:

“Then the Arab drew his knife and held it up towards me, athwart the sunlight.”

Yet this dissonance perfectly suits Meursault’s alienated way of perceiving life. The unsentimental language emphasizes a lack of interpretation or commentary on events, which allows the readers to make their own judgements about Meursault’s choices and the meaning of his experiences. The prose alters standard prose rhythms to subtly signal inner dissonance and restrain emotion.

Some have categorized the style as “flat-affect” writing modeled on the textual equivalent of a flat affect personality disorder. Yet Camus was interested in portraying a heightened awareness and psychological truth through literary techniques that reduce external moralizing.

Literary Devices in “The Stranger”

1- Understatement

Camus frequently uses understatement to defuse shocking details. For example:

“Then I fired four more times at close range. The gun went slightly up with the recoil.”

Meursault describes shooting the Arab man on the beach. Meursault opts not to talk about the dramatic and emotional details of the act of shooting at someone repeatedly within close range of him but rather he states what happened as it was in a matter-of fact manner.

His neutral tone makes the shocking act of murder sound almost thoughtless and indifferent. The understatement prevents sensationalizing the violence and keeps the focus on Meursault’s unique inner perspective. Underplaying such a pivotal and disturbing moment, Camus draws attention to Meursault’s alienated worldview that keeps him emotionally disconnected from societal standards and moral judgment. The understatement adds compelling nuance to the character’s detached mindset.

2- Symbolism

Dominant symbols constantly recur, like the sun’s blinding heat, the sea, death, and most famously the courtroom observer who seems to represent the self Meursault thought he knew:

“For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.”

Through symbolism, the narrator reflects on his emotions of being marginalized. He confesses, he wishes there would be many people at his execution, cursing and yelling at him. It signifies an aspiration which assumes the form of the relationship with someone and it may take the form of hate, while the other option is to remain lonely.

Crowd represents the society and humanity at large. Therefore he wants the pain associated with a relationship with cold beings and to be part of their world by feeling their hatred than just die totally isolated without even feeling part of the community. His wish indicates that who we are is greatly determined by whether we feel accepted by others. The narrator’s sole unmet yearning even on the threshold of death is for relationship and belonging, though all that he envisages involves being connected by hate instead of love. The symbolic crowd indicates how much of relations we need psychologically.

3- Repetition

Words like “same,” “already,” and “still” repeat to convey Meursault’s enduring alienation:

“Nothing had changed and yet everything was different.”

Repetition of the word “everything” establishes the contrast in the quote. By saying “nothing had changed” it sets a perceived sense that things are the same. Then repeating the phrase “everything” in the second part is in effect a contrast – somehow the everything now is so different from the everything just a moment ago.

4- Irony

Meursault’s ironic self-reflection leaves us unsettled:

“Do I regret anything? I regret I didn’t have time to contemplate more of the endless blue of the evening sky. But I certainly don’t regret living.”

The excerpt has situational irony. Situational irony is where the actual outcome of a situation is quite different or even opposite of what is expected. In such situation one would have expected the condemned person to have uttered something that would seem to indicate that they regretted having lived less instead. However, this individual without a hint of regret missed out on life despite this. The only regret they have is not to have looked more into the lovely skyline in the evening.

Then, it is also ironical that while dying the speaker did not wish they had travelled, loved more or spent time with families. Their sole regret is looking less often at a simple natural beauty – the boundless night sky. This turns are as such showing the irony that it was the small joys of appreciating nature, that more than all the grand experiences we associate with a full life, really mattered to this person. The irony underlines what kept their life significant even at this juncture.

5- Motif

The motif of sunlight and heat hammers home the flattening meaninglessness and stripping away of illusions:

“A steady swelling of bitterness kept rising in me. At the very moment when I had been a beast, entirely a beast…”

In the ‘The Stranger’ section, Meursault express his bitterness, which is almost a violent feeling of being angry, that increases in him. He adds that he felt like a beast, what means that he didn’t feel like a human but more like an animal. Bitter and beast through which one feels is a thematic device that is recurrent in a narrative to emphasize a prominent idea. Through the motif of feeling uncomfortable, upset or out of place, this book portrays how the main character, Meursault, is so often disconnected from the world and rarely acts to please others as it should be. This part of the story gives us a picture exactly what problems Meursault faces with his emotions and behaviors making him even more different from the rest.

6- Rhetorical Questions

The unanswered rhetorical questions echo Meursault’s baffled self-interrogations:

“When did it start? Everything started then.”

In this part of ” The Stranger “, the character asks: “When did it start?” and then answers: “Everything started then.” It’s a rhetorical question—that is, a question that isn’t asked to get an answer but to make a point or get someone to think. The character is not trying to suggest any specific date or time; his point is that some major change had happened at that time. With this query he makes us reflect on what has changed and why it is significant. It’s like asking ‘Why this happened?’ not to get an answer, but trying to understand something clearer.

7- Diction

Unusual, defamiliarizing word choices like “familiar,” “kindly,” and “consoling” starkly contrast the situation:

“A kindly passing lady offered me a few words of consolation.”

The sentence ” A kindly passing lady offered me a few words of consolation” in the work ” The Stranger” in fact does not contain a rhetorical question. In contrast it tells us of a scene where a nice lady tries to make him feel better by saying nice things. This is not a question. Its here to make someone feel better through a gesture of kindness by giving comforting words. It’s like when somebody cheers you up when you’re sad.

Literary Devices In The Stranger
Literary Devices In The Stranger

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