There has always seemed to me to have been an astounding misrepresentation of Camus’s L’Etranger on both sides of the argument. Conor Cruise O’Brien’s argument that, in line with that those of Henri Kréa and Pierre Nora’s, Camus through Meursault was nothing more than fulfilling the ‘genocidal’ (Nora) ‘and puerile dream of the “poor white” that Camus never ceased to be’ (Kréa) is both classist and racist on it own terms. O’Brien continues this argument saying that Camus gives names to all of the Europeans while all the Arabs remain nameless. Of course this is palpably untrue. Meursault’s friends have names all of which are European but there are countless others who are not given names in the novel. The caretaker, Meursault’s boss, his lawyer, the magistrate, the state’s advocate, the policemen x 3, the judge, the journalist he talks to and the robotic woman in Celeste’s restaurant all do not have names and are all European.
They are simply that which lie outside Meursault’s limited area of emotional engagement and his understanding of the world. But more importantly they, like the ‘Arabs’, are also all part of (except for the robotic woman) the colonial and imperial mechanisms. As Said suggested Camus distinctly constructs the colonial world. But unlike Said’s conclusion that the French-Algerian is almost unconscious of his affirmation of colonialism Camus contrariwise is at pains to critique it. Camus after all in L’Etranger by no means paints the colonial courts and their findings with any sense of pride or justification – quite the contrary. Again The Plague is also a critique of occupation rather than an apologia of it.
As for the other side of the argument, that states that those who focus on the colonial aspect of the novel should not be doing this but should be focusing on its universal humanism, are equally wrong. There is a representation of a colonial world. The Arabs of L’Etranger like those who work within its colonial structures are all nameless – this is its inhumanity.