I knew that the highly acclaimed "l'enstranger" would be refreshing, but I didn't expect it to be full of shock to my view of life. It was also the first time I really experienced that a good literary work can really transcend the constraints of politics on discourse, to directly penetrate human mind, describe a system of rules and reduce politics to an unsurprising rule in the system. At the same time it is conveyed in a way that is extremely down to earth, not overlooking the masses.
Camus was also extremely straightforward to summarize all what he wanted to express directly in the preface (the version I'm reading is the afterword, and many thanks to the editor for putting it at the end instead of at the beginning otherwise there would be much less exciting to read through the novel...) The central idea is clearly summarized, even without the literary treatment, reading it is a pleasurable experience:
I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: "In our society any man who does not weep at his mother's funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death." I only meant that the hero of my book is condemmed because he does not play the game. In this respect, he is foreign to the society in which he lives; he wanders, on the fringe, in the suburbs of private, solitary, sensual life. And this is why some readers have been tempted to look upon him as a piece of social wreckage. A much more accurate idea of the character, or, at least one much closer to the author's intentions, will emerge if one asks just how Meursault doesn't play the game. The reply is a simple one; he refuses to lie. To lie is not only to say what isn't true. It is also and above all, to say more than is true, and, as far as the human heart is concerned, to express more than one feels. This is what we all do, every day, to simplify life. He says what he is, he refuses to hide his feelings, and immediately society feels threatened. He is asked, for example, to say that he regrets his crime, in the approved manner. He replies that what he feels is annoyance rather than real regret. And this shade of meaning condems him.
For me, therefore, Meursault is not a piece of social wreckage, but a poor and naked man enamored of a sun that leaves no shadows. Far from being bereft of all feeling, he is animated by a passion that is deep because it is stubborn, a passion for the absolute and for truth. This truth is still a negative one, the truth of what we are and what we feel, but without it no conquest of ourselves or of the world will ever be possible.
One would therefore not be much mistaken to read The Stranger as the story of a man who, without any heroics, agrees to die for the truth. I also happen to say, again paradoxically, that I had tried to draw in my character the only Christ we deserve. It will be understood, after my explanations, that I said this with no blasphemous intent, and only with the slightly ironic affection an artist has the right to feel for the characters he has created.
by Albert Camus
January 8, 1955
One more thing, here is my guess on why Camus mentions that it is a "slightly ironic affection" in the last sentence: the original is "I had tried to draw in my character the only Christ we deserve", and he explains that he does not mean any blasphemy, but "the slightly ironic affection an artist has the right to feel for the characters he has created". In fact, Camus's ability to portray the Christ with such precision and literary flair is far beyond the realm of an "artist", but to say directly, "I'm even more awesome than the Christ for writing such a work", the "normal" readers can not accept it. That's why Camus said there is a "slightly ironic affection", right? ;D