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Shoot Or Don’t Shoot: Review of Albert Camus’s “The Stranger”

By Crossstitchyourheart @TMNienaber

Shoot or Don’t Shoot: Review of Albert Camus’s “The Stranger”This is another one o the books I’m going to have to co-teach in the Fall.  I have to admit I’m a little concerned about how I’m going to teach this to high school juniors.  I can see this book going over fantastically in a college class but I’m not quite sure how high school age readers will handle it.  The class is for college credit so it’s not too much to ask that they read like a college student would…but I’m still a little concerned.  This is one of those books where the plot is trivial to what Camus is trying to say and it’s necessary to analyze for meaning.  I’m looking forward to seeing what my classes do with this, I think this book opens itself to some great discussions.

The narrator of Camus’s “The Stranger” finds himself in the middle of a murder trial after killing a man and not truly understanding why he did what he did.  Camus takes you into the mind of the average man and brings up issues of God, belief, fate, and choice.  As the narrator begins his story he believes that there are only two options in life: shoot or don’t shoot.  As he comes to terms with his conviction and the possibility of his own death he starts to believe less that there are only two possible choices in life and that chance should be given a bigger part in our lives, such as giving criminals a 1 in 10 chance of surviving their death sentence instead of using the guillotine, which is guaranteed to kill the condemned every time.

This book takes a while to get into, at least it did for me.  The first few chapters deal with the death of the narrator’s mother and how he feels almost nothing, his attitude is one of she was alive and

Shoot or Don’t Shoot: Review of Albert Camus’s “The Stranger”
now she’s dead and that’s the end of it.  Then there are several chapters spent showing the narrator’s interaction with the people around him and you get the strong feeling that the narrator really doesn’t care about anything or anyone, he is the epitome of apathetic.  It isn’t until you’re about half way through the book that the bulk of the plot happens.

Camus has created a beautifully written glimpse into the human condition and raises a lot of questions that make this book an excellent choice to read with other people.  I wouldn’t necessarily call this book a “summer” read, even at its short length it does take awhile to read because you have to read every word with care.  It would make a good book group book if you’re looking for something that will allow for a good, if philosophical discussion, as well as a good book if you’re looking to read something impressive or classical. It’s an excellent introduction to the theory of existentialism but this also means it might be difficult to understand if you’re reading it just for plot rather than analysis.

I wouldn’t say this is one of my favorite books, I didn’t like it until I was about 100 pages in and the narrator never becomes more sympathetic.  That being said I do think it is a must-read for every bibliophile, especially those interested in world-literature or French literature.  As an introduction to French literature goes I would recommend this far above “Madame Bovary” which seems to be a staple in French lit and world-lit reading lists.

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