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Book Analysis

How Does Albert Camus Critique Society With The Aid Of The Relationship Between Salamano & His Dog? - Shreya Sachdev

The novella, The Outsider, written by Albert Camus explores the relationship of Salamano and his dog and discusses whether the purpose of their relationship is to primarily critique society as a whole. The main question asked here is how does Albert Camus critique society as a whole with the aid of the relationship between Salamano and his dog through diction as well as characterisation.

Salamano is first introduced to readers when he appears on page 18. Meursault describes the relationship between Salamano and his dog when he says: “the hall was dark and, when I was starting up the stairs, I almost bumped into old Salamano, who lived on the same floor as I. As usual, he had his dog with him. For eight years the two had been inseparable. Salamano’s spaniel is an ugly brute, afflicted with some skin disease—mange, I suspect; anyhow, it has lost all its hair and its body is covered with brown scabs. Perhaps through living in one small room, cooped up with his dog, Salamano has come to resemble it. His towy hair has gone very thin, and he has reddish blotches on his face. And the dog has developed something of its master’s queer hunched-up gait; it always has its muzzle stretched far forward and its nose to the ground. But, oddly enough, though so much alike, they detest each other.” This statement clearly conveys to the readers that Salamano and his dog have been with each other for 8 years now, implying the fact that they have gotten used to each other. Meursault continues on by saying that Salamano and his dog actually detest each other even though Salamano has owned this dog for 8 years.

In the next paragraph, Meursault starts to describe the daily routine that Salamano and his dog have when he says: “Twice a day, at eleven and six, the old fellow takes his dog for a walk, and for eight years that walk has never varied. You can see them in the rue de Lyon, the dog pulling his master along as hard as he can, till finally the old chap misses a step and nearly falls. Then he beats his dog and calls it names. The dog cowers and lags behind, and it’s his master’s turn to drag him along. Presently the dog forgets, starts tugging at the leash again, gets another hiding and more abuse. Then they halt on the pavement, the pair of them, and glare at each other; the dog with terror and the man with hatred in his eyes. Every time they’re out, this happens. When the dog wants to stop at a lamppost, the old boy won’t let him, and drags him on, and the wretched spaniel leaves behind him a trail of little drops. But, if he does it in the room, it means another hiding. It’s been going on like this for eight years.”  Meursault is clearly conveying to readers that Salamano and his dog do not have a healthy relationship as Salamano beats and abuses his dog and this dog is now severely bruised with “reddish blotches on his face”.

On page 25, we learn that Salamano’s dog is nowhere to be found. Surprisingly, we learn that Salamano is actually heartbroken over his dog running away or being taken away which shocks us as readers since we know that Salamano heavily mistreated his dog. When Meursault suggests to Salamano that Salamano buys a new dog, Salamano replies by saying that he does not want to buy a new dog since he was used to this one. This sentence conveys to readers that Salamano never actually cared or loved his dog, nor was he emotionally attached to his dog. More likely, it was the fact that Salamano was so used to his dog and their daily routine that contributed to Salamano missing his dog. As humans, we are all resistant to change. For the majority of people, it’s quite difficult to step out of your comfort zone and try something new because humans feel safe in their comfort zone. Albert Camus does an excellent job of criticizing society as a whole through the relationship between Salamano and his dog. No matter how much Salamano despises his dog and doesn’t care about it, Salamano would still rather keep his old and ugly dog rather than get a new one due to the fact that Salamano is used to this relationship and it has become part of his daily routine. Salamano and his dog are both miserable together because they make each other miserable, yet because they’re comfortable in this relationship and this routine has been going on for 8 years, they’re both extremely resistant to change.

It is clear that Albert Camus places Salamano and his dog’s relationship in the story to symbolize society. The story of the Outsider revolves around Meursault, a man who is extremely detached from the world. As we know, Meursault does not show any emotional reaction when his mother dies, when Marie tells him she loves him, and when he shoots a random Arab on the beach. Meursault not reacting to these situations are viewed to readers as “strange” and “different” as they do not fit into the norm of society. Albert Camus subtly makes us question why we consider Meursault to be an outsider and why the things he does are considered wrong and immoral. Albert Camus does this through the representation of Salamano and his dog’s relationship. As mentioned previously, the reason Salamano doesn’t try to get out of his miserable life and get another dog is due to the fact that he has become so used to this daily routine that it’s too difficult for him to change his lifestyle. Likewise, the reason humans are resistant to change and think of a different way to live is due to the fact that as humans, we have all been brought up to believe that there are certain things that are considered as “wrong” and certain things that are considered as “right” which is why humans are so unaccepting of Meursault and his way of living. Just how Salamano is used to his dog and resistant to get a new one, we are used to our way of living and resistant to another way of living.

It is highly likely that Albert Camus wants to emphasize the relationship between Salamano and his dog and criticize society.  Albert Camus also uses the relationship between Raymond and his girlfriend to show how and why people are resistant to change. We know that Raymond asks Meursault to write a threatening letter to his girlfriend as Raymond cannot accept the fact that they are broken up. Raymond is not able to move on and find somebody else because he is used to his ex girlfriend and is thus again resistant to change. The similar incident between Raymond and his girlfriend is proof that Albert Camus is indeed using Salamano and his dog to criticize society for the way in which they are so resistant to change.

To conclude, I believe that Albert Camus very subtly criticizes society through Salamano’s diction and characterization. Albert Camus does a great job of first describing how Salamano truly feels towards his dog as we learn that he abuses and beats his dog, When Salamano loses his dog, we are surprised to learn that Salamano actually cries over this loss which makes us realize just how resistant humans are to change. Albert Camus criticizes society as a whole through Salamano’s characterisation and diction.

Shreya Sachdev