Similarities between The Stranger by Albert Camus and The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud
Colonialism being a long and significant period in the human history was often discussed in various works of literature. At the time when the Western countries ruled their colonies, European writers were mostly supportive of this regime or at least working within the frames of general tendency. However, after colonialism stopped being the dominating political system in the world, the criticism of this order came to the surface both in the former colonies and in the European literature. These two stages of literature development can be illustrated by The Stranger written by Albert Camus, a French author, and The Meursault Investigation by Algerian writer Kamel Daoud. Despite profound differences in the perspective of the narrators, these two novels have a range of similarities that are connected with the concepts of substitutability, invisibility, isolation and repetition of trauma.
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The Stranger by Camus was created at the time when Algeria was controlled by the French government. This colonization began in 1827 and lasted till 1962, so in 1942 it had already been a society that was profoundly influenced by this corrosive system. Camus was born in Algeria and lived there for a long period and even when he moved to Europe, he paid much attention to the events happening in this country. However, his perspective was typical of a European colonizer and he did not see Algeria as a free independent country. In his novel The Stranger the main character called Meursault, also a French Algerian, kills an Arab without any distinctive reason and when he is asked why he did it, he tries to explain that it was because of the sun. Camus did not give a name to this Arab and he remains only a passing secondary character without any distinctive traits. However, in 2015 Kamel Daoud writes a novel that is closely connected with The Stranger, but offers the Arab perspective of the events described by Camus. In this novel the narrator is the brother of the man killed by Meursault and both brothers have the names. The victims name is Musa and the narrator is called Harun. Telling all the events from the perspective of the colonized nation Harun does agree that his brother was a poor illiterate God created apparently for the sole purpose of taking a bullet and returning to dust. Nevertheless, the narrator often uses the same words and expression that were used in the original novel, but makes them sound differently and puts them in a new different context. For example, he also starts his novel with direct reference to the mother of the narrator, Mamas still alive today. This phrase creates strong parallels with The Stranger that starts with the following sentence, Mother died today.
However, even the above-mentioned differences do not diminish the significant role of similarities in these two novels. Both writers pay much attention to the concept of substitutability that takes absurd forms in The Stranger and The Meursault Investigation. This feature is perfectly revealed in the characters of Meursault in Camuss novel and Musa in Daouds text. Camus shows Meursault as a person without any aim in life. He is not a personality with some distinctive features, wishes or desires, but something like an empty vase without anything in it. Therefore, Meursault is a shell that does not have any content and, as a result, he could be substituted by any other person. However, it does not seem that these qualities are forced onto Meursault as it is his own choice of behavior. The same absurd substitutability can be seen in case of Musa, but here the situation is profoundly different. Musa can be also substituted for any Arab, but not because it was his choice. His fate could be common for any representative of the colonized nation that did not have any right to construct their own identity according to their wishes and traditions. When Musas mother and brother learn that he was murdered, they try to take the body to bury, but it appears impossible as the man had no name. No newspapers mention this murder and it goes without any attention of the European institutions. When forty days pass, the family had no other way out, but to have the funeral with an empty grave. Therefore, to a certain extent, Musa could be also substituted by anyone due to the universality of his fate for all colonized and exploited people.
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The above-mentioned idea of substitutability is closely related to invisibility that is explored in both novels. First of all, this invisibility is related to the life of Arabs in Algeria controlled by the French. It is revealed not only directly, but also metaphorically, especially in the scene when Meursault kills an Arab. Meursault who was the narrator of this story describes it in the following way, Beneath a veil of brine and tears my eyes were blinded; I was conscious only of the cymbals of the sun clashing on my skull, and, less distinctly, of the keen blade of light flashing up from the knife, scarring my eyelashes. He cannot see the Arab when he kills him and this aspect plays a very important role in the novel. It reflects the European attitude towards the native inhabitants of Algeria whom they did not consider to be equal to them. The Arab killed by Meursault is not only invisible directly, but also disappears after his death as the novel moves on and centers on the life of Meursault. Daoud also makes Musa invisible as he disappears at the beginning of the novel and does not return to his family even after his death. However, the writer takes this concept further and extends it to the life of Harun. Although Harun is the narrator and his perspective dominates the novel, Daoud shows that he also becomes an invisible stranger for his own nation when he kills a French settler during the cease-fire. He is rejected by the new system that does not want such people. In fact he is trapped in the same situation as his brother, but Harum is invisible both to the Europeans and his own people.
Another theme that is common for both novels is isolation. In The Stranger Meursault is completely isolated from the surrounding world and all its main elements, such as emotions or logic. First of all, there is a huge wall between Meursault and the society he does not have real friends and even his sporadic communication with other people does not create any links between him and the rest of the world. He is unable to build any emotional connections between him and his mother or his lover Marie. It seems that Meursault cannot experience the same emotions as other people and it makes him more alienated. When he is put to prison, he is offered to change his testimony to save his life, but he does not want to use the common logic and refused to do as it. The isolation of Meursault is supposed to show the absurdity of life and rather radical interpretation of its meaning as offered by Camus. Daoud takes the main features of Meursaults isolation and transfers them onto Harun. Despite the fact that Harum is able to communicate with the other people and shows deep emotional response to the events that happened in his life, he also ends in isolation as he is not understood by his family and his country. Daoud finishes his novel with a scene when Harum plunges himself in a deep isolation from the rest of the world. He writes, Lying on my back in the country yard, I made an even denser night for myself by closing my eyes. The isolation of both characters is very important in showing that both colonial and postcolonial societies have a number of important problems that prevent it from functioning harmoniously and effectively.
Both societies the colonizers and the colonized are deeply affected by this regime. It has a powerful dehumanizing impact on all people that are engaged in this process. The colonizers tend to neglect basic human rights and treat other people as sources of income or as mere animals, whereas the colonized sink in the abyss of violence and ignorance. They are also deprived of their right to construct their own identity and, as result, loose the understanding of who they are. All these factors lead to the constant repetition of trauma that is described in both novels. It is especially evident in The Meursault Investigation where trauma is shown on various levels. If the novel is partly about the legacy of colonial violence how it traumatizes its victims, and begets more violence it is also about a painful estrangement from the world that succeeded it. The same ideas about violence and trauma are also present in The Stranger, although Camus chooses to give them more philosophical interpretation and Daoud puts these ideas in a more social context. However, both writers accent their repetitions in different spheres of life once one area is damaged, the whole social system becomes vulnerable and fragile.
It is important to bear in mind that these similarities do not make these novel identical. These novels have different purpose. The narrator in Daouds novel is desperate to create his identity and the identity of his country according to his own rules and without any interference. He says, I'm going to take the stones from the old houses the colonists left behind, remove them one by one, and build my own house, my own language. Camus attempts to show the paradoxical nature of life and absurd changes that isolation and aimlessness may bring to a human life. However, some critics also argue that the social tensions between the colonizers and the colonized are still very powerful in The Stranger. The relationship between Europeans and Arabs is, as Kaplan writes, the backbone of the book, not merely a platform to pontificate about the absurdity of life. In any case, the similarities between these two novels make these differences even more striking and important and the messages that both writers wanted to communicate to the audience become more visible and understandable.
All things considered, The Stranger by Camus and The Meursault Investigation by Daoud perfectly illustrate differences in the European and Algerian perspective on the events taking place in the colony. Nevertheless, there are many similarities between these novels that tell about the deep historical and cultural connections between the colonizers and the colonized. Although Daouds text reinterprets The Stranger, both novels pay much attention to the ideas of substitutability and invisibility that relate both to Meursault and the Arab he killed. Camus and Daoud equally explore the concepts of isolation and repetition of trauma that become the crucial elements for the depiction of the relations between the Europeans and the Arabs. Read and analyzed together, these two novels contribute to a better understanding of colonialism and postcolonial tendencies both in literature and the society.
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