Albert Camus by Philip Thody (auth.)

By Philip Thody (auth.)

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It would be Meursault who feels no guilt at shooting an Arab, and who provides detailed descriptions of the European visitors to his prison while relegating all the Arabs, women and men alike, to an anonymous mass. It would be Meursault who gives names to all the Europeans but who never says what any of the Arabs are called; and it would be Meursault whose killing of the Arab would be interpreted as the outward and individual sign of the genocidal instincts which are said, by critics such as Henri Krea, to inhabit the breast of every colonising European.

Camus, you then find yourself thinking, wanted to write a book in which a harmless but unconventional young man was sentenced to death primarily for his failure to observe the social convention of crying at his mother's funeral. But he had to acknowledge that however imperfect the workings of the legal system may be, this kind of thing does not happen very often. So he set up a plot in which something relatively unimportant happens: one in which an Arab gets shot in a brawl. He then wrote the story in such a way as to minimise the importance of such an event, and was able to do so primarily as a result of his own racialism.

The lawyers who represent middle-class soCiety may not understand what he means, but for the reader of Noces, the reference is obvious: And I believe that virtue is a meaningless word throughout the whole of Algeria. Not that these men lack principles. They have their code of morality, which is very well defined. You 'don't let your mother down'. You see to it that your wife is respected in the street. You show consideration to pregnant women. You don't attack an enemy two to one, because 'that's dirty'.

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