The Stranger, published in 1942, captures the feeling of man’s disaffection in a cold, cruel world
Albert Camus developed his ideas in the character of Mersault. Meursault, a shipping clerk, lives
in Algiers, a city in North Africa. The story begins with the death of Mersault’s mother. Since he
is an average man who earns barely enough for himself, Mersault sent his mother away to a
Home for the Aged in Marengo, an action that brought him criticism. Then when he attends the
funeral of his mother, he finds that he does not feel much grief; neither is he concerned about
observing the social formalities of mourning. The day after his mother’s funeral, Mersault
becomes involved in an affair with Marie, who was once a typist in his office. They swim
together, have lunch, watch a comic film, and make love. The society is horrified at his refusal to
observe a period of mourning for his mother. He is called "uncouth," "insensitive," and a "social
monster". Part I also reveals Mersault’s involvement with Raymond Sintes, his neighbor who
works as a pimp. Raymond has beaten has girlfriend for cheating on him, but he wants to punish
her further. He persuades Mersault to write a scathing letter to her on Raymond’s behalf. The
result of the letter is another confrontation between the girl and Raymond in which he beats her
brutally. Mersault agrees to testify in Raymond’s behalf, saying that he was provoked by the girl
into the confrontation. Mersault also agrees to travel with Raymond to the beach house of
Masson, Raymond’s friend. At the beach, they encounter two Arabs, one of whom is the brother
of the beaten girlfriend. A fight ensues, and Raymond is stabbed in the arms and mouth.
Mersault is drawn into the conflict and winds up killing the Arab brother. It is the second key
event of Part I. Both the death of his mother and the murder of the Arab have a direct bearing on
the events of Part II.
Mersault is arrested and imprisoned for the murder. He is not worried about his case, for he feels
the jury will understand how the shooting was not intentional. He does not hire his own attorney,
but accepts the court appointed one. When the attorney tries to get Mersault to slant the truth
about his reactions to his mother’s death, he refuses, for Mersault values honesty and is true to
himself. He also fails to see the relationship between his case and his feelings for his mother.
Mersault also refuses to see the chaplain, who eventually barges in to Mersault’s cell. When
Mersault refuses to confess his guilt and beg forgiveness, the chaplain reacts with disbelief.
When he tires to pray for Mersault, he screams at the chaplain. In a similar manner, he refuses to
react to the crucifix that the magistrate shows him and reveals that he does not believe in God.
The magistrate believes that he has never met a more taciturn, self-centered, naïve, honest, and
blunt criminal. He also thinks that Mersault is so hard-hearted that he must be an "antichrist."
The jury has the same reaction to Mersault. They do not comprehend any of his explanations and
feel that his lack of emotion and remorse is inhuman. As a result, they judge him to be guilty of
murder and sentence him to death by the guillotine. Mersault can hardly believe the verdict, for
he has never thought of himself as a criminal. In the end, however, he approaches his death like
he has approached his life - with indifference. He thinks perhaps that after death his existence
may be less absurd; he may be more closely aligned with the universe.
The major theme of the novel is the absurdity of life, as evidenced by the life and death of
Mersault. He works as a shipping clerk performing monotonous and everyday tasks, which he
does not like. He tries to fill his weekends with activity, but often finds himself walking around
his apartment, smoking, and staring out into his neighborhood. When he does form a relationship
with Marie, it has no meaning to him. He tells her that he can never love her, for love is too
vague of an emotion; he will, however, marry her if she insists. His relationship with Raymond is
equally absurd. Even though he knows his neighbor is a violent pimp, he allows himself to
become involved in his problems, for he feels it makes no difference. In the end, he winds up
killing the brother of Raymond’s Arab girlfriend, even though he did not really intend to murder
him. Since he shows no remorse or emotion over the murder of the Arab, the death of his mother,
or anything else in life, the jury decides that Mersault is unfit to live and convicts him to death by
the guillotine. His absurd existence comes to an absurd end.
Midaq Alley is perhaps Mahfouz's best known novel. Set in Cairo during World War II, the book
revolves around the people living and working in an old, narrow alley. Among them are the
pious, the corrupt, the naive, the ambitious, the cynical, and the mystical. As he intertwines their
stories, the spirit Mahfouz evokes in his collective portrait of the people of war-time Cairo seems
as familiar and unaltered nearly half a century later as the traditional neighborhoods themselves.
This unchanging quality of Egyptian society is a prominent theme inMidaq Alley.Mahfouz tells
us that Midaq Alley is an "ancient relic" and "one of the gems of times gone by." The crumbling
walls of Kirsha's cafe "give off strong odors from the medicines of olden times, smells which
have now become the spices and folk-cures of today and tomorrow." The alley itself he describes
as a throwback to some undefined, perhaps undefinable, era-ever since which it has been in a
constant state of a disrepair. Its vitality and spirit are seemingly timeless, however.
Much of the social life in Midaq Alley is centered in Kirsha's cafe. As night falls, the men gather
there to drink tea, smoke their hooka water pipes, chat, and while away the hours. It is here that
the reader meets such colorful figures as Radwan Husseini, clearly the most pious of Midaq
Alley's characters. The people come to him for spiritual guidance in times of stress and
indecision, respecting his wisdom and his religious authority. Although Husseini is the alley's
most optimistic person, he has suffered the bitterness of losing all his children. Yet he has
eschewed self-destructive behavior, turning instead to faith to find solace and meaning in life.
If Radwan Husseini is the alley's most cheerful individual, Hussein Kirsha, the son of the cafe
owner, is one of its more cynical. Hussein, who has no affection for Midaq Alley or its people, is
eager to leave home and its troubles forever. He goes to work for the British army, making
considerable sums of money both legally and illegally, and lives a life of material extravagance.
The end of the war, however, ends his good fortune and he finds himself back in the alley, his
ambitions defeated by forces far beyond his control.
In addition to corrupting himself, Hussein also convinces his friend Abbas, a young barber, to
sell his shop in the alley and seek his fortune with the British army. Abbas, who is content with
life in Midaq Alley and feels genuine affection for his neighbors, initially rejects Hussein's
appeals. But Abbas is in love with Hamida, a young woman of uncommon beauty, ambition, and
an unflinching willingness to manipulate people to achieve her ends. In order to get Hamida to
agree to marry him, Abbas decides to leave the alley for more lucrative employment with the
British.Hamida, the central character in the unfolding story, sees Abbas as her best hope out of a
life of poverty and monotony in the alley. When, however, she is tempted by the proposal of a
wealthy businessman, she quickly forgets her commitment to Abbas. Things don't work out as
planned for either the businessman or Hamida, however. Mahfouz is at his best in depicting the
consequences for Hamida of embracing materialistic values and moral depravity in her rebellion
against lower-class life.
The dilemmas of her class' situation are readily apparent in Midaq Alley. With few prospects for
improving their material conditions, the people of the alley respond in different ways. For many,
money becomes an obsession. Others accept their plight with varying degrees of resignation,
good humor, and escapism. Bitter squabbling may alternate with touching demonstration of
camaraderie. It is this solidarity, stemming from the reality that they have no one else to rely on,
that holds the denizens of Midaq Alley together, despite the hardships and social dislocations
Midaq Alley tells us about the role of wealth in their society as mainly being based on wealth.
Such as when Abbas wished to marry Hamida and she did not want to marry him because he
didn't have very much money until he said he was going to go away to the Britsh Army and work
there. The came along Salim Alwan who wished to marry Hamida, and Salim had more money
then Abbas woulr ever had so Hamida decided to marry him, but then he had a haert attack and
was out of the picture, and she was back to Abbas, eventually the rich pimp had Hamida under
his spell and she decided to go off with him, where she soon realized that he did not love her that
she was just being used to get more money. Hamida had always felt that money would make all
her dreams come true and give her true happiness, but that was not really what happened, she got
jewels and perfume, and beautiful robes but ended up hating what she was doing, I guess that
goes along with the saying, money doesn't bring happiness.