Anatomy of a Book: The Outsider, by Albert Camus

When I woke I was leaning up against a soldier; he grinned, and asked me if I’d come from a long way off, and I just nodded, to cut things short. (p.14)

This is a story about Meursault, a man living in France, and his detachment with the world.

It occurred to me that somehow I’d got through another Sunday, that Mother now was buried, and tomorrow I’d be going back to work as usual. Really, nothing in my life had changed. (p.32)

And while a lack of desire from the central character can be frustrating, and it is for the early pages, it begins to be very interesting. The book is a way to see the world like few others do. The detachment of Meursault seems to ask whether it is he who does not fit, or if everyone else is at fault for not seeing the futility in repetition.

Then she asked me again if I loved her. I replied, much as before, that her question meant nothing or next to nothing – but I suppose I didn’t. (p.48)

One point to remember, as a writer, is unintentionally described by Camus.

…it was a silly thing to try and force one’s thoughts out of their natural groove. (p.111

This is true. Do not try and write like others, but do try to include these elements:

Changing Status:

…he looked rather hurt, and told me that I always shilly-shallied, and that I lacked ambition… (.p48)

Meursault is an outsider. He has no connection to the world. The changing of his status, while he does get a marriage proposal, increased job prospects, and more friends, is not important to the story’s narrative

High Stakes:

Meursault’s choices lead him to be placed on trial for a murder that he did commit. The focus of the trial, on his personality rather than the crime, makes for somewhat of a farce. Still, he can die if convicted.

Believable Characters:

He fluttered his hand fretfully; then, sitting up, smoothed out his cassock. (p.115)

This very short line about a priest gives believable detail to the character. There is often grains of detail in this book, and they fill the world to make it real.

Time Pressure:

The story happens quickly, approximately 100 pages (excluding introduction). At moments the pace seems unrealistic, but for the good of moving the story it is acceptable. 


As said this is about seeing the world through the eyes of an outsider. Perhaps he is an introvert, or a psychopath, or a nihilist. The fact that no condition is clearly attributed to him removes any excuse for his personality and therefore focuses on his viewpoint. As the book was written when psychology was a developing field it is possible to see this as a ground breaking book.


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