Albert Camus' novel The Stranger begins with Meursault learning of his mother's death. People are put off by his apparent lack of grief.

What is the significance? Did Meursault in fact feel grief but was simply unable or unwilling to display it? Or did he not love his mother? Or he simply couldn't cope with her death?

  • what an interesting question, i hope it's not better suited to the lit stack – user38026 Sep 2 '19 at 22:58

What is the significance of The Stranger's lack of grief over his mother's death …?

L’Étranger is one book that definitely needs to be read in the original language.

It loses so much in translation, leaving it, as a comment in one of the other answers said, "boring, stupid, and a little sleazy".

In fact, the very first line, which in French establishes the character's view of the world, loses it completely in English, messing it up in at least two different ways:

Mother died today.

It makes "Mother" the significant part of the sentence, making us think that what follows will be about her. The formal and impersonal word "Mother" detaches Meursault from her.

But in the original French:

Aujourd’hui, maman est morte.

the idea is quite different.

It isn't a formal "Mother", it is "Maman", a much more personal and intimate term.

And the word order is different. It leads with "Today", not "Mother". What is most significant to Meursault is that it is today. His character lives in the present, not dwelling on the past, not dreaming of the future. He accepts what happens as it happens.

"Mother died today." is formal. It tells us about the woman and nothing about the narrator other than that he refers to her in an impersonal way. Her death was something she did, something that has already happened and already been consigned to the past.

A better translation, "Today, my Mom is dead." is informal and personal. Meursault is telling us about now, and we learn that he considers time important (something reinforced shortly later when he says that perhaps it was yesterday). Her death is part of his present, and he has affection for her.

To return to the original question though, it really isn't obvious that the narrator is lacking grief. He is simply a person that readily accepts the world he finds himself in, and a person without intimate social relationships and extravagant displays of emotion.

  • Wow, amazing that just one word in the first sentence pretty much sums up the entire book. – David Blomstrom Sep 4 '19 at 21:03
  • @DavidBlomstrom Can't believe you chose that answer, it's the same as mine, but over analyzed and verbose. The use of mother or mommy or whatever doesnt tell you about the narrator grief. tssss..... – Manu de Hanoi Sep 8 '19 at 15:27
  • @Manu de Hanoi - I chose that answer partly because he emphasized the importance of the word "today," which really made things fall into place. – David Blomstrom Sep 8 '19 at 18:13
  • @DavidBlomstrom, that's over analysing, writing "today, mom died" or "mom died today" doesnt tell you anything about the grief. – Manu de Hanoi Sep 10 '19 at 1:54

The popcorn interpretation of Meursault is that his detachment from events is authentic because he is estranged from the faked, or at least over blown, grief of others. But does that do justice to the subtlety of Camus's philosophy? That probably depends on whether he assimilated and then went beyond the lessons of Heidegger

The Meursault of Part I could not be lonely since, as Heidegger notes, loneliness is a mode of being with the other; it is a recognition that the human being is not an autarchic, self-contained entity (see Heidegger, 1962, p. 157).

(from a google books search, just to show that I'm not talking nonsense). And the Marxist claim that alienation is the fallen state of man under capitalism.

It could perhaps instead be interpreted as a sentencing of Meursault: that he won't let himself express the universal experience of guilt, and so grief, due to his alienation from others.

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    Interesting. I had a hunch that he might have indeed felt grief but simply had his own way of showing (or not showing) it. – David Blomstrom Sep 2 '19 at 23:28
  • @DavidBlomstrom i didn't get that far. he was just unable to express grief, due to his misunderstanding of what it meas to be human / alone – user38026 Sep 2 '19 at 23:31
  • I haven't read the book but assumed from the question that it was about whether Meursault was displaying wisdom and detachment or a callous lack of care, – user20253 Sep 4 '19 at 13:44

The Stranger is a novel, not a philosophy essay. Meursault doesnt show grief to the reader. And the reader is free to interpret that as he wishes. Could be he simply didnt like his mother, could be he's grieving silently, could be some mild form of autism etc....

I always found strange the hype around this novel as if it was delivering some kind of super important message. I believe it just shows a puzzling but realistic psychological profile.

EDIT:BTW, if you want the real version of the stranger, have a look at the Chris Watts murder case. Good luck with finding a "significance".

  • you could use a reference for this claim that novels / the stranger cannot make salient existential points – user38026 Sep 3 '19 at 10:50
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    The reference is I read it. You can draw existential points from about anything, even a madeleine ! Jordan Peterson makes a living out of it. – Manu de Hanoi Sep 3 '19 at 10:57
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    When I read The Stranger I was stunned; I thought it was totally boring, stupid and a little sleazy. But the reviews claim it's full of deep meaning, so I assumed I just needed to look a little deeper. I enjoyed Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy a lot more. ;) – David Blomstrom Sep 3 '19 at 20:15
  • Camus received the Nobel prize for a reason. Meursault cannot feel emotion, he is indifferent. He is not hiding anything. The ending tells the tale. When he is awaiting his own execution he has an awakening, but it is a bizarre one. The only thing he gives voice to is that when he is led out to be executed he hopes to be met with, "Howls of execration." CMS – user37981 Sep 7 '19 at 14:51
  • @CharlesMSaunders Camus got a nobel prize in litterature not philosophy. And the prize wasnt specifically for this novel. The narrator in that novel is indifferent, ok, so what ?! The novel doesnt really explore the implications or the genesis of that character trait. At least "american psycho" is funny at times – Manu de Hanoi Sep 8 '19 at 15:33

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