Book Analysis: The Stranger, Savage Inequalities.

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The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Stranger by Albert Camus is written as a stream of consciousness that doesn’t have a direct or clear plot line, especially initially. Instead of an event relating to the next to form a coherent story, the thoughts of the narrator are written one after the other as they come to the narrator’s mind. For instance, “I took the two-o’clock bus. It was a blazing hot afternoon. I’d lunched, as usual, at Céleste’s restaurant. Everyone was most kind, and Céleste said to me, ‘There’s no one like a mother’” (Camus 4). In this quote, the sentences are vaguely related to each other or not related at all. This represents aspects of the real world because events are not always correlated to each other, and most life stories do not play out like many fictional stories do. The author may have represented it in this way to emphasize the fact that most lives are not driven by some single purpose or conflict that needs to be reached or resolved, unlike how a fictional novel depicts the story of its protagonist. Furthermore, this quote is written in a choppy style that emphasizes the lack of emotion and the purely factual way the narrator recounts the day. This illustrates that the narrator is largely indifferent to the happenings around him, which becomes significant later on in the story.

Interestingly, The Stranger illustrates that a certain part of one’s identity is something one has no control over because it exists only in the minds of others. As seen in the courtroom scene in which the narrator undergoes trial for murder, both the prosecutor and the defending lawyer fabricate coherent interpretations of the narrator’s life that he himself has never thought of. Furthermore, the witnesses in the room assign deeper meanings to actions that the narrator has simply stated in the earlier chapters. The simplest actions like drinking coffee or listening to Salamano grieve over his dog paints the narrator in either a positive or negative light, and his lack of grief over his mom’s death leads the prosecutor to connect the narrator’s crime to the upcoming parricide trial, which in reality has no connection. Significantly, there is no true reasoning behind the narrator’s murder, but the courtroom attempts to fabricate one in order to make sense of the narrator’s crime. Furthermore, this scene states that in this culture, people attempt to assign meaning to every action and put labels on those they do not understand. To everyone but the narrator, every action has to have a rational reason behind it. Furthermore, because the repercussions of one’s actions are dependent on what the rest of society believes this hi dden reason to be, this part of one’s identity or self that is not under one’s control may well be a matter of life or death, as in the narrator’s case.

In addition, when unable to understand another individual, people tend to label others as “evil” or some other generalized adjective in order to deal with the disconnect from their perspective of the world, like the man who called the narrator “Mr. Antichrist” (Camus 45) after hearing he did not believe in God. This idea of an identity being assigned is clear in the quotes, “I was on the point of replying that was precisely because they were criminals. But then I realized that I, too, came under that description. Somehow it was an idea to which I never could get reconciled” (Camus 44). In this quote, the society has labeled the narrator as a criminal, but he himself cannot see himself to be such. Another aspect of culture is reflected in the scene with Raymond, his girlfriend, and the policeman where Raymond beats his girlfriend and the policeman comes to the door and hits Raymond when ordering him to come to the police station. When looking at this from a purely logical perspective, one could argue that the two hits were the same hit in which neither Raymond nor the police officer had the right nor acceptability of beating the girl or Raymond respectively. However, to the eyes of the observers, and even to the eyes of the reader, because Raymond was clearly an immoral man and the police officer had a respectable career in enforcing justice, the first was not acceptable, while the second was. While Marie states that it is horrible that Raymond hit the girl, the policeman was apparently justified in hitting Raymond and the observers show no indignation. This is an interesting comment on this culture in which justice strongly depends on circumstance and perspective.

Furthermore, the story touches on the idea of love and marriage in an interesting way. Throughout the novel, others in society are seen to put great focus on the concepts, with Salamano’s grief over his wife, Salamano’s firm belief that the narrator “must be feeling [his mother’s] death terribly” (Camus 31), and Marie’s questions about if the narrator loves her and would like to marry her. However, despite the culture’s emphasis on love, the narrator is seen to be indifferent about this emotion, and when Marie asks if he loves her states, “I said that sort of question had no meaning, really; but I supposed I didn’t” (Camus 24), and he did not show emotion after his mother’s death, even going as to say that “Really, nothing in my life had changed” (Camus 17).

The biggest concept that the author seemed to be contemplating was this: does it matter why we die, how we die, or what we do before we die, if we’re all going to die anyway? In this quote the narrator states, “All alike would be condemned to die one day; his turn, too, would come like the others’. And what difference could it make if, after being charged with murder, he were executed because he didn’t weep at his mother’s funeral, since it all came to the same thing in the end?” (Camus 75). In this society, a life is considered to be precious and invaluable, and yet, this novel states that it is almost entirely certain that a single individual will make no impact on this world, this vast plane of existence in which humanity as an overall species has not lived long in. Therefore, what is the point of putting your best efforts into living? Although this question is interesting, I believe it only holds up when one considers a life geared towards a certain purpose. If one is living for oneself instead of for some other purpose or for the sake of making an impact, living one’s life becomes a matter of putting in your best efforts to give oneself happiness and satisfaction.

One text that The Stranger can be related to is a song called “What the Spring” by 10cm. This song has similar elements to The Stranger because of contrast between the tone of the song and its actual content. To be more specific, in the novel, the narrator often describes everything in a detached and indifferent manner even though he is talking about significant events such as his mother’s death and Marie’s proposal. Similarly, this song’s melody and instrumentals are sweet and relaxed, but the lyrics are sharply contrasting and talk about how just like how the flowers of spring will eventually fall, relationships will eventually break up. Another connection is that both the song and the novel consider love in different ways than our culture commonly portrays it.

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Another text that this novel can be related to is the article “A neuroscientist who studies rage says we’re all capable of doing something terrible”, which states that every single human has the capability to murder. It gives examples of murderers their neighbors had called a “super-nice kid” or “just the guy to call in to sit with the kiddies when me and the old lady want to go to the show,” and states that criminals are not violent human beings who are of a different mind than the rest of society. This is clearly related to this novel, because the narrator never shows any predisposition to violence or crime prior to his “grip clos[ing] on the revolver” (Camus 39) and shooting the man. This article states, “It’s comforting to think that those everyone who commits violence is a criminal, and fundamentally different from you. Plenty of criminals used to think the same” (Goldhill). This illustrates that despite our culture’s predisposition to label criminals as something “other”, in reality, all people have the capability to murder. Perhaps it is even a part of our identities as human beings that when we are faced with certain stimuli, we have automatic violent tendencies that may lead us to kill another. Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools by Jonathan Kozol (there were no page numbers in the pdf I read this book from. This is why there is a lack of page` numbers in the in text citations).

Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools by Jonathan Kozol reveals a horrifying aspect of the real world in which there is a stark distinction between the education received by the privileged and the unprivileged. The purpose of this harsh and realistic representation of the world is clear. The author is trying to portray the message that something has to be done about the distinct gap between the education received by the young students by informing the readers about the current situation. He appeals to both the emotions and the logical side of the readers by providing excerpts of unprivileged students and also by providing statistics and quotes from experts in their field. For instance, he states, “I look into the faces of these children. At this moment they seem full of hope and innocence and expectation. The little girls have tiny voices and they squirm about on little chairs and lean way forward with their elbows on the table and their noses just above the table’s surface and make faces at each other and seem mischievous and wise and beautiful. Two years from now, in junior high, there may be more toughness in their eyes, a look of lessened expectations and increasing cynicism. By the time they are 14, a certain rawness and vulgarity may have set in. Many will be hostile and embittered by that time” (Kozol). A child’s innocence is something that appeals to the emotions of adults as it is something that adults want to protect. This urges readers to take action against the disparity between the rich and poor students of America.

This book clearly illustrates a darker side about our culture in which a part of your identity likely determines the quality of education you will receive in your life. The household you were born in and the color of your skin can determine the education you get in your future. Furthermore, this book illustrates that we live in a culture in which, “... by requiring attendance but refusing to require equity, effectively requires inequality. Compulsory inequity, perpetuated by state law, too frequently condemns our children to unequal lives” (Kozol). Therefore, under our current society, not only is education offered unequally, but the unequal education is mandatory. In a way, our culture is making sure the disparity between the privileged and the unprivileged stays in place.

Furthermore, he offers an explanation of equality and equity, and states that if everyone starts off at different levels, equality, in which the same amount of support is given to everyone, is not fairness. Therefore, the arguments of his opponents that “leveling” the quality of education across America is not fair to those in prestigious schools are not valid. This idea of equality versus equity can be related to texts below.

One text that this book can be related to is this image:

In this image, the same people are represented on both sides but have been given different levels of support, represented by the books underneath them. On the side of equality, all people have been given two books, one named “High Standards”, while on the side of equity, the people have been given different number of books, with the child on the right also receiving “Great Teaching” and “Individual Support”. In the left, only two people were able to reach the line that represents success while on the right, all people were able to reach success. This is clearly related to Savage Inequalities as it discusses the concept of giving equally to both the advantaged and the disadvantaged versus giving enough to everyone so that they may reach success. This visual representation is easier to interpret because it is a simple graphic explanation of equality and equity. However, because of this simplicity, it fails to mention the deeper nuances that Savage Inequalities manages to discuss as a book.

This difference between equality and equity is further considered in the article “Equality is Not Enough”. It states that equality, which is the idea of sharing is caring, everyone getting the same number of candy pieces, or everyone getting the same amount of time with a soccer ball, is an oversimplification of fairness that cannot carry over into education. If various students start off at different levels, equality would give the same amount of support to each of the students and would not give the initially disadvantaged students the same opportunities to succeed. Therefore, equality is not fairness. This is an argument that Kozol makes in his book as well, but Kozol further considers the reasons why equity is so hard to put into practice.

He states, “Much of the resistance, it appears, derives from a conservative anxiety that equity equates to ‘leveling’” (Kozol). According to Kozol, the idea of more support being given to less privileged schools equates to “down-leveling” in the minds of many, where the privileged schools are brought down to the levels of the unprivileged ones, or that ‘Equity means shortages of toilet tissue for all students, not just for the black kids in New Jersey or in Mississippi’” (Kozol). On the other hand, the article “Equality is Not Enough” also considers disabilities as a disadvantage in this culture that is made for those without disabilities. In this society, being disabled supposedly, “... feels kind of like riding on roads built for cars” (Sun). The infrastructure of the society and culture are based around those without disabilities, which unintentionally does not meet everyone’s needs. Instead of just considering education, Sun also discusses how the concept of equality versus equity show the unfairness of the system to the disabled. This decision may be linked to the type of text Sun is writing. An article arguing that equality is not always fair needs to provide multiple examples in which this is the case. On the other hand, Kozol is solely focused on discussing the horrifying education gap. Overall, Kozol uses Savage Inequalities to send the message that our current culture shows unfairness to disadvantaged students.

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