"If you want to be a philosopher, write novels."'The Outsider' is an absurdist and existentialist novel, although the author of this novel Albert Camus did not like to be called an existentialist. This was one of the earliest works of Albert Camus along with the essay 'The myth of Sisyphus' and these works along with other novels which followed this novel established him into one of the best known French existentialists along with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Originally written in French, the book's title was L'Etranger and according to Sandra Smith, the translator of this edition of the book, this word can be translated as 'outsider', 'stranger' or 'foreigner'. She says, "Our protagonist, Meursault, is all three, and the concept of an outsider encapsulates all three possible meanings: Meursault is a stranger to himself, an outsider to society and a foreigner because he is a Frenchman in Algeria." In fact, some translations of L'Etranger are titled 'The Stranger.'
The whole novel, especially the second part, revolves around society trying to find meaning where there is no meaning, according to Camus. The universe is irrational and it cannot be explained by logic. In the end, when Meursault is given the death sentence, he thinks that appealing against that decision is of no use because death will anyways come to him later, if not now. Meursault hardly shows any emotion through his interactions with anybody. When Marie Cardona, the girlfriend of Meursault, asks him whether he loves her, he says no. Even then he is ready to marry her because he is indifferent to the marriage proposal by her. He would have said yes to a marriage proposal by any other girl.
This novella is also a statement against the expectations of the society from an individual. Meursault did not cry during his mother's funeral, where it was expected from him to cry. This was not taken easily by the society and later during the trial, he was dubbed as a cold-blooded criminal who can kill a person without any emotion. Conformity with society's set ideals of behavior is something which is not tolerated by Meursault. Why should a person lose his individual existence and behave exactly the way society wants him to behave unaware of his existence?
Another theme explored in last pages is atheism. When a chaplain comes to Meursault and asks him to do confess his sins so that afterlife is taken care of, Meursault could not convince himself with the symbolism chaplain presents to him. When chaplain says to him that justice of men was nothing and justice of God everything, Meursault says it is because of former that he is inside the jail. More than atheism, it can be called apatheism as Meursault does not refuse or accept the existence of God but he is indifferent to the question and finds it meaningless.
Albert Camus describes everyday things very vividly. The character Meursault describes what he sees very clearly but falters when he starts describing the emotions. We have seen this art of description in Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea. To observe and describe everything that happens around you is something which is used to depict the meaninglessness of this universe. In fact, many things that we do cannot be explained by reason. While describing these things sometimes a distaste can be seen in this novel, although that is milder than that expressed by Sartre in Nausea.