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Reviews401 The result is distortion ofdie significance ofindividual works and simplification of die relation between each writer and his tradition. University of AucklandMarcus Wilson TL· Stranger: Humanity and tL· Absurd, by English Showalter , Jr.; xiii & 132 pp. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989, $7.95 paper. As die fiftiedi anniversary of the appearance of The Stranger approaches, here is yet another study of Camus's masterpiece. English Showalter, Jr.'s book is a "student's companion to the novel" and its author has no pretension of breaking new ground. Eclectic and humanistic, Showalter's approach attempts to respond to the questions of the non-expert similar to the students he has encountered in his classroom. The value of this short study is that in the main Showalter succeeds superbly in accomplishing this end. The first tiiird ofthe book consists ofbiographical and historical information, a statement on die importance of The Stranger, an overview of literary criticism on the récit from 1942 to today, a discussion of translation problems, a plot summary, and a brief characterization of the narrator. Showalter begins his reading of Matthew Ward's translation with the murder of die Arab. This is followed by a chapter on the trial and by three chapters that treat consecutively the character of Meursault, narrative ambiguity, and the protagonist's final dioughts. Showalter's reading notably reflects the influence of Champigny, Girard, and Fitch. Generally, the analysis is sound, complete, and presented in refreshingly clear, simple language. Yet there is a problem of interpretation in diis otherwise excellent book. Although early on Showalter asserts that "the political and social contexts play almost no part in the novel" (p. 27), and considers the society depicted in The Stranger "a triple fiction," he relies heavily on the concept of Meursault as "the working-class European male in pre-independence Algeria" (p. 71). As a representative of diis type, Meursault is characterized by "latent racism and class consciousness" (p. 70) and is motivated by aspiration to "male dominance" (p. 43). In fact, asserts Showalter, it is diis latent racism and male rivalry with Raymond and Masson which explain in large measure his murder ofthe Arab. According to diis view die Arabs were probably not even tracking Raymond (p. 38); the white males seized upon diem to show their power. Meursault finds himself in die first two encounters exduded from "the masculine world of 402Philosophy and Literature deeds" (p. 38) and dius "must make die tiiird trip to vindicate his honor" (p. 43). In supporting this diesis, Showalter neglects to consider Meursault's initial silence and apparent indifference to becoming Raymond's "pal," his wilüng passivity in die first encounter, his comment diat it would be "pretty lousy" to shoot the Arab without provocation, and his immediate (not "eventual") mention of die attraction of die spring during die final walk. This reductionist view of Meursault also flaws Showalter's interpretation of the protagonist's relationship widi Marie. In order to buttress his argument diat Meursault is deceitful, he argues that he is playing games when he asks Marie if she has noticed how beautiful passing girls are, and when he does not inquire where she is going when they separate. For Showalter this is a game of male dominance: Meursault "knows it, she knows it, and she forgives him because his embarrassment is a concession" (p. 63). We do not know it, however, because die text does not support this view. Meursault is embarrassed because Marie catches him in his indifference; he has not played the dominant male game ofjealousy. Nodiing in Marie's words or conduct suggests diat she diinks Meursault is being anything but honest. Most disconcerting is that Showalter, elsewhere die very model of scrupulous adherence to the rules of evidence, proceeds in this matter by assertion or very selective use of evidence. Overall, however, Showalter's study is intelligent and balanced. In a very stimulating and clear manner, he introduces the reader to many of the most important modern interpretations of The Stranger, syndiesizing diem along with his own very probing insights into a coherent and generally valid reading of this inexhaustibly rich masterpiece. Whitman CollegeDale Cosper Camus: A Critical Examination, by...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 401-402
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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