French subscription literature

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11. L'étranger



Reasons to study the work

L'étranger is variously described as a masterpiece and/or a work to exercise the minds of baccaulauréat students with its wealth of philosophical references.  Gradually achieving notoriety throughout the world, the short novel is still a "must read" for serious students of French.

The interest of the work

This short novel by Camus is easily the most popular to be studied in UK schools, combining as it does content which is open to interpretation of all kinds with very accessible language.   The first line of the novel "Maman est morte aujourd'hui" is certainly the best known start opening in French and it heralds one of the main issues.   Meursault, the narrator of the story,  is condemned more for his ambivalent attitude towards his mother at her funeral than he is for the  crime he commits at the end of the first half of the book.  

Camus portrays a young man, driven by his senses rather than any moral or religious code of behaviour.   Unable or unwilling to make ethical decisions just to keep up appearances Meursault, who likes nothing more than to be left in peace, is drawn into a social situation over which he has no control.  Drawn into a confrontational situation not of his own making, Meursault kills another man, an anonymous Arab and then has to face the consequences.

The second part of the novel demonstrates that the world is not such a free place as Meursault imagined as he confronts the social networks controlling society:  religion, the law and convention.   We begin to empathize as the Meursault, who is the narrator,  realizes to what extent he has proved himself to be inhuman, not by killing an unarmed native inhabitant of this country but by ostensibly lacking respect towards his mother,

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