Exile and the Kingdom – Albert Camus

Albert Camus, the Nobel Award winning author from Algeria, explores isolation and character’s intense revelations  with a series of 6 short stories in Exile and the Kingdom.  Each of the stories have a character who seems to be lost or isolated from a part of their society and each finds a way to connect with themselves or those around them in the muck of what is playing out around them.

The first story is ‘The Adulterous Woman,’ in which a wife accompanies her long-time husband to rebuild his dry-goods business after a war.  She contemplated why they were still together after so many years- was it because he loved her or because she needed to feel loved? A stop in a desert town with so much foreign to the couple, the woman finally finds an answer, but perhaps not the one she had been looking for.

‘The Renegade’ is the second story.  A young man from the outskirts of the Catholic Kingdom joins the church to become the greatest missionary.  His hubris broke himself from order of the church to go to a Christian’s forbidden area.  A desert land of other gods and deities. He believed his strength would hold out, but after torturous days and nights, he falls to the dark side, and makes a decision to defend his god.

The next story, called ‘The Silent Men,’ a shop of coopers return to barrel-making after several weeks of striking for higher wages.  Mixed feelings spread throughout the shop, the boss was sour that his workers walked out on him, the workers were upset that the boss was not so understanding of their situation, and ugly words  from the boss did not help the resolution.  The main character, Yvars, lived each day to come home to his wife and a glass of anisette to enjoy the sunset over the sea.  That was his kingdom.  While at work, he felt undervalued, but could understand the boss’s view.  A tragedy of the boss’s family on the first day back to work still could not overpower the silence in the shop, and Yvars ends up watching the sunset in reflection that night.

The fourth story, ‘The Guest,’ is a tale about a school teacher living alone on the top of a mesa.  As the first big snow fell over the plateau, he knew the small group of students would have their own struggles surviving the winter.  He watched two men ride horses up the mesa and welcomed an old acquaintance, a lawman, transporting a prisoner.  The lawman quickly delivers the prisoner to the objecting teacher and leaves to continue preparing for his duties back in the city.  The teacher was to continue the transport to a city a small distance away.  The prisoner had killed his cousin to help feed his family, the family had hidden the man and it took a while for the law to catch up.  A war was forming at their home and the lawmen could not take care of all of their duties themselves.  The teacher disagreed with the transport and hurt the lawman’s feelings when he said he would take the prisoner but had no intentions of delivering him to the prison in the other city.  The lawman left and the teacher and prisoner spent a night together in the schoolhouse.  Did he need his gun?  Did he lock it up?  Would he continue the transport?  What will happen if he released the prisoner?  Many questions ran through his mind as the sun rose and  dawned on a new day.  What ever happened to that prisoner?  Were the choices the teacher made the best he could have made?

The fifth story was called ‘The Artist At Work.’  A man with special artistic ability was grateful for his abilities and had never asked for more.  Early in his career he knew he had talent and graciously accepted the first contract given to him.  There were no major complaints and he soon found love.  The years passed, the family grew, and the artist’s work also grew, but he remained humble.  Many followers visited the house daily at all hours, and the artist was grateful for friends and critics.  An architect he was friends with from childhood also came often and gave him honest opinions of art, and life. As the years went by the artist’s fame waned and he realized he needed to rekindle the creativity.  Weeks went by and he turned to alcohol, then women, and his work continued to fall behind.  Finally he builds himself a loft to paint in and he believes this will bring everything back, but a change may not be enough to bring an artist back to relevance.

The final story, ‘The Growing Stone,’ is about an engineer who is hired to construct a jetty to protect a small village on a large river delta in South America.  The man is touted as a hero before he even proposes an idea.  The man meets many of the locals and joins in a Christian festival, but it follows many of the local customs and seems to be a mix of the new and old religions.  The following day, he joins the judge and chief of police to watch a parade, in which his new friend, a chef has volunteered to carry a large stone on his head to show his gratitude in Jesus for saving him from a sinking ship.  After the parade has finished, the engineer has not seen the chef, so he runs to the street and finds him struggling to carry the stone.  The engineer takes the stone and quickly walks it to the church himself, but he does not stop there, he continues on to the chef’s hut and drops the stone onto the floor inside.  The struggles between new and old were all around in this story, and as the engineer drops the stone, he shows his respect for the people and their ways instead of taking the stone to the church where it was intended to be taken.

Each of the stories were entertaining alone, but altogether they form a great theme of realization and reverence.  Characters come to respect their own callings and others around them.  Much like his more popular work, The Stranger, the internal struggles of the characters are apparent and central.  A nice read for thinking and personal self-reflection.

The Stranger – Albert Camus

A young Frenchman, Meursault, lives on his own, working a trivial job.  The story opens with news of his mother’s passing.  She lived nearly 80 Kilometers away, at the elderly home he had sent her to live as he had little income to support her living at home with him.  He was disconnected from his mother, the time they spent when they lived together was uneventful, each having nothing to say and wishing to be elsewhere.  At the viewing and funeral, Meursault had not wished to see his mothers body, and had not cried, giving the appearance of indifference.  Upon returning home, he began an affair with Marie, a woman who used to be his coworker.  He thought she was incredibly beautiful, but as she asked him for marriage, he again showed indifference to their future.

Meursault’s friend Raymond lived across the hall in their building.  He was involved with a woman who cheated him and asked Meursault for help in writing a letter to her to have some cathartic revenge.  The woman returned to Raymond’s apartment and he beat her.  The woman’s brother was an Arab who began keeping a threatening eye on Raymond.

One day Meursault, Marie, and Raymond went to Raymond’s friend’s beach house.  After a day of swimming and eating, the men went for a walk on the beach and ran into the Arabic brother and his friend, a fight ensued.  Raymond was cut with a knife and went to the doctor.  Later that day, Meursault was still on the beach and was suffering from the heat.  He considered going up the stairs to the beach home, or back to a cold spring (where they last saw the Arabs) to cool off.  He started walking to the spring and found the Arab there.  The blistering heat got to Meursault and as the Arab’s knife flashed a ray of the sun into his eyes, Meursault began shooting him.

The second half of the book relates the time leading up to Meursault’s trial for killing the Arab.  He was seemingly indifferent the entire time.  His lack of desire to fight for himself and prove his innocence led Meursualt to being charged with the crime and sentenced to the guillotine.

The book had a sense of indifference throughout.  Meursault did not care much that his mother died.  He did not care whether he married Marie or not.  He did not really seem to care whether he was found guilty of murder or not.  In the end, he was resigned to the fact that we are all born, we all live a meaningless life, and we all must die.  The melancholy of triviality that lasted throughout the book ended in his final realization.  Meursault was finally happy.