Albert Camus’ The Stranger and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye are both among the most important novels of the twentieth century. The modern world’s general moral change and the individual’s alienation from the society serve as the main, basic topic for both novels which is still relevant to any twenty first century reader. Since many people find themselves in the same position of feeling like an outsider from society in their own worlds, I intend to outline how it still finds relevance today.
Both characters, Meursault and Holden Caulfield share the same sense that they are alienated from the worlds in which they live in which is important to a twenty first century reader as many people have problems assimilating themselves into society. Like Holden, teens today also resist conforming to society’s norms as is also highlighted in The Stranger with the protagonist Meursault. Salinger chooses to narrate his novel so that the novel that depicts his protagonist, Holden’s, transition from adolescence to adulthood. In contrast, Camus writes his novel in order to record the events leading up to, and the last days before, the execution of his main character, Meursault. Through the employment of settings, characterisation and endings, both authors imply that society’s pressure on the individual to fit in plays a major part in both of these climaxes, this has huge importance to any twenty first century reader as the topic is still challenged in today’s society.
Both characters Meursault and Holden Caulfield suggest that society pressures individuals to fit in and conform to. Holden is a teenager struggling with the fact that everyone has to grow up, which to him means that you have to become “phony” or corrupt. Holden distances himself from the adult world and so to stay a child he gets himself expelled from schools. While on the other hand Meursault does things for no real reason. He is completely aloof, unattached and almost an unemotional person. He does not think much about events or their consequences, nor does he express much feeling in relationships or during emotional times. Both of these characters express their detachment from society which is relevant for many people in the twenty first century’s society as many people find difficulty finding their place within civilization.
Holden’s conversational tone and choice of words illustrates his rebellion from adult society as a stereotypical teenager. His frustration with adults is characterized by his persistent use of words like “goddamn,” “puked,” “hell,” “crap,” and “moron.” When Holden describes Jane’s stepfather, he talks about how he would “run around the goddamn house naked”. He continues using this word when he tells the reader how Sally was conversing with a college friend, “they continued their goddamn boring conversation”. This relates to a twenty first century teenager in particular as they also have their own language to separate themselves from their parents such as in the form as instant messaging where abbreviations litter their conversations. Holden also tries desperately to have almost a direct conversation with the reader, aware of his audience; he attempts to impress the audience by exaggeration or repetition through a narrative tone. There is a sense that Holden wants the audience to like him as he utilizes the audience as a counsellor as outpours his ideas.
This is relevant to many teenagers in the twenty first century as they try to find their place in civilization or a school society and may go to extreme lengths to find themselves and create a reputation for people to remember them by. In The Outsider, it is almost the opposite with Meursault. Through short clinical sentences and abrupt punctuation it highlights a detached character. Instead he lists a logical thought process and lays out what he thinks, almost unaware of a reader highlighted in the opening lines, “I’ll catch the two o’clock bus and get there in the afternoon. Then I can keep the vigil and I’ll come back tomorrow night. I asked my boss for two days off…” This almost list style of writing enables the reader from building a connection or impression to the character as there doesn’t seem to be much depth to his emotions or opinions. Meursault is unlike Holden in the sense that he does not crave attention and want people to like him his actions throughout the book explain how he is a stranger to society as he can’t fathom why everyone around him is so interested in his being.
The story examines the uncertainty of justice: the public official compiling the details of the murder case tells him repentance and turning to Christianity will save him, but Meursault refuses to pretend he has found religion; emotional honesty overrides self-preservation, and he accepts the idea of punishment as a consequence of his actions as part of the status quo. The actual death of the Arab as a human being with a family is seems almost irrelevant, as Camus tells us little more about the victim beyond the fact that he is dead. Indeed, Meursault is never even asked to confront, reflect or comment upon the victim as anything other than as a consequence of his actions and the cause of his current predicament. The humanity of the victim and inhumanity of murdering another human being is seemingly beside the point.
The book holds huge relevance to the twentieth century reader as an interesting motif in The Stranger is that of watching or observation. Camus is writing a book about our endless search for meaning: that we are all looking for a purpose in our lives. The characters of The Stranger all watch each other and the world around them. Meursault watches the world go by from his balcony. He later passively watches his own trial; the world around him is a fascination to Meursault. He keenly observes the sun, the heat, the physical geography of his surroundings. The eyes of the jury and witnesses at his trial, finally the idea of the watching crowd, representing the eyes of society, as he is an outsider of the world he surrounds himself in.
To conclude, both The Stranger and The Catcher in the Rye are both relevant to different people within the twenty first century society for many different reasons, but both novels were written with the same topic of how one fits into society. Due to both characters in the novels being from different age groups within society it allows them to become important to people within those same age groups today as many face the same dilemma of finding themselves an outsider within their society.