Analysis of The Stranger and The Meursault’s Investigation as examples of African Novels
The research endeavors to analyse the The Stranger by Albert Camus and Meursault’s Investigation by Daud Kamal an examples of African novel, from a postcolonial perspective. In doing so the native Arab portrayed in both the novels will be analysed. Firstly the voiceless Arab of The Stranger will be analyzed and then the portrayal of the Arab in the Meursault’s Investigation will be analysed.
The Stranger by Albert Camus was published in 1942, during the Second World War. The time when the novel was published Africa was a colony of France.“In the French colonies the exotification of the East , flourished with, for instance, the idea of the noble savage, human primitivism, untouched nature, and unrestrained sexuality” (Azar 45). In the novel we see that the Algerian male citizens are described as a “group of Arabs”(Camus 40). There is no individuality attached with the Arab populace in the novel. Their namelessness de-individualizes them which leads to their de-humanization or thingification and only in few cases the Arab is called a “man” (96) or a human in most of the instances in the novel they are either “ an Arab”(88) or “ a body” (68). Edward Said in Orientalism says that in western literature “ there is no individual aspect (of the colonized) is taken into account. The non-western cultures are represented as a homogeneous mass” (4). According to Azar “the notion of the Arab in The Stranger is that of a stranger of whom the reader is presupposed to already know about” (4).
In the novel the westerners are portrayed superior to the natives and the natives are “exoticised, mystified and represented as savage and seductive carrying all dark traits of humanity such as decadence, cruelty, sexual desire” ( Said 1-4). The voiceless, nameless Arabs in the novel are portrayed through an imperial gaze. The reader is not told anything about the Arab populace and whatever the reader knows is through Meursault’s description. Which implies that the natives are not relevant and important for the white people like Meursault. In comparison to the natives, the readers is provide information about the white characters at least, their names and personal traits.
Meursault’s description of the Arabs is full by “glances, sense of threat, indifference, and silence”. He says that “I saw a group of Arabs […] they were staring at us but in that way of theirs” (Camus 48). The silence of the Arabs is also portrayed as exotic, mysterious and domineering. Furthermore the native for him is not more than “Raymond’s mistress’s brother” (40).When the mysteriousness and the exoticization of the Arabs is not talked about they are scrutinized by their body language and sounds such as murmuring, laughter, melody etc. As Meursault says “maybe it was the shadow on his face but it looked like he was smiling” (58).
Camus’ portrayal of the native women is different from the native men. They are not portrayed as hostile but exotic with feature like “Brightly colored scar[ves] on [their] heads” (6). The woman is not called Arab but “Moorish” “when Raymond told me that woman’s name I realized she was Moorish” (Camus 32). The use of the word Moorish instead of Arab could be termed as a way of exoticising the “Orient Stereotype”. The woman is also portrayed as a colonizer’s mistress. This leads to Davis; suggestion that “ the exotic is appealing while the foreign seens resistant and menancing” (228).
In addition to this the weapons given to the Arabs are knives, portraying them as primitive while the white people in the novel use guns, modern weapons. Not only this the fact that Meursault is sentenced to death for his indifferent behaviors at his mother’s death further amplifies the dehumanizing treatment of the Arabs.
In addition to this analysis of the portrayal of the native characters in the novel another interpretation is that through such a portrayal of the Arabs Camus is sympathizing with them. after the second world war France denounced to grant citizenship and equal rights to the Arab Population of Algeria.
According to an Algerian Journalist Tahir Djaout ,“ If you Speak you die, if you do not speak you die, so speak and die” ( qtd in “Review of Meursault’s Investigation”). This idea sums up the entire counter narrative produced by Kamel Doaud to Camus “ The Stranger”. The voiceless, nameless, dehumanized Arab of Camus is given an identity in Doaud’s “Meursault’s Investigation”. it seems to be an attempt of the “ Empire writing back”. The novel’s protagonist is Harun, brother of the Arab killed by Meursault. In this novel we are provided the information about the murdered Arab’s life, name, personality in short this novels makes the thingified, dehumanized Arab a human again, Musa. As Alice Kaplan writes “ it (Meursault’s Investigation) gave him a name, family and his own experience of life in French ruled Algeria” (qtd in “Review ‘Looking for”). The novel can also be called an analysis of the impact of colonialism on the colonized people
Although, in an abstract sense, Doaud constantly aligns himself with Camus but in one aspect he challenges him. In this novel the concept of the “Stranger” gets reverted. The ruling aliens of the country are portrayed as ‘The Stanger” and not the natives.
The novel not only returns sentiments to the crime but also investigates it. Harun and his mother try to understand the reason behind Musa’s erasure from both the world and the text. In doing so the writer carries absurdist sentiments to Algeria. Harun’s narration escalates in a similar way to Meursault in the but he considers himself comparatively religious. His main problem is the fanatical Islamism that engulfed the country after its independence.
As the novel progresses we see that Harun is becoming more and more like the man who killed his brother. Like Meursault he also kill a Frenchman, a stranger. It seems at this point that the novel is propagating the idea of an eye for an eye but in Meursault’s Investigation the sentiments are not raped off the crime. After the crime he constantly thinks of a verse of Quran that the murder of one person is equivalent to the murder of the entire humanity. Not only he is portrayed guilty but the murdered person is also given a full name. Harun constantly thinks murder as an unforgivable crime. These attributes of his personality makes him different to Meursault.
He considers that in the post-colonial Algeria religion is turning people away from their actual lives just as the colonialization did. According to Machiavelli ‘Religion is always used as a tool to manipulate people”. When he critics the religion he actually critics the fanatics misusing it for their purposes. So he is a religious person unlike Meursault.
‘The Absurd was right there, in The Stranger, he claims, but it was not Meursault’s experience so much as that which he denied the “Arab.” And life, Harun urges, is now an experience that continues to be denied through the imposition of religious fanaticism in postcolonial Algeria” (“Doaud’s Kamel”).
Both of these novels stand as adequate examples of African novel. African Novel is term ascribed to the fiction written by writers living in the African continent but it is not necessarily about the continent. But in this case the novels are written by Algerian writers, writing in the continent and about the continent. While on talks about Algerian population from the Colonizer’s gaze the other talks about it from the colonized gaze.
Camus, Albert. The Stranger. Translated by Stuart Gilbert, vintage books, 1942.
Davis, Muriam Haleh. “ ‘A new world rising’: Albert Camus and the Absurdity of neo- liberalism”. Social Identities, 2001, pp.225-238, www.academia.edu/5995560/A_New_World_Rising_Albert_Camus_and_the_Absurdity_of_Neo-liberalism_Social_Identities_, Accessed 8 Dec 2016.
Daoud, Kamel. The Meursault’s Investigation. Translated by John Cullen, other press, 2013.
Said, Edward. Orientalism. 1 eds, vintage, 1979, pp. 1-4.
Salhi, Kamal. ‘Rethinking Francophone Culture: Africa and the Caribbean between History and Theory”. Research in African Literature, vol 35, 2004, pp.2-29.
Lalami, Laila. “Review of The Meursault’s Investigation”. 8 June 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/06/14/books/review/the-meursault-investigation-by-kamel-daoud.html, Accessed 8 Dec 2016.