A Sickness Called Death: The Significance of Salamano’s Dog
The French novel The Stranger, written by Albert Camus and translated by Matthew Ward, describes a French-colonized Algeria in the 1940’s. Throughout the novel, central arguments and themes are being linked together by different scenes. In the scene that brings into focus Salamano and his dog, Camus demonstrates that routine is an illusion of control, the nearness of death leads to awareness of the choice between serenity and sorrow, and that all choices are equal.
Camus uses Salamano’s treatment of his dog as a symbol for routine in order to demonstrate the importance of routine—an illusion of control. In terms of appearance, it seems that Salamano cares more about his dog after his dog was gone than when the dog was in his company. Camus describes that Salamano’s daily routine with the dog consists of “[them standing] there on the side walk and [staring] at each other, the dog in terror, the man in hatred” and Salamano constantly swears, yanks, and spits at the dog (Camus 27). However, after the disappearance of his dog, Salamano searches the streets again and again looking for his dog. This reveals Salamano’s dependence on his dog—an inseparability whose roots lie within the comfort of routine. Even though they have been together for eight years, they never change their routine. Furthermore, when Camus has Meursault suggest that Salamano should get a new dog, the latter replies that he “was used to this one,” just as Salamano was “used to [his wife]” (Camus 44). Camus suggests that it is not just about caring for or loving the dog, but rather seeking comfort in the routine that they had together, just as most people do. Salamano did not have a happy life with either his wife or the dog, but he gets used to it regardless—and thus chooses to remain in this comfort zone. Camus further illustrates that as Salamano and his dog become old together, they have even ended up “looking like each other” (Camus 26). On the other hand, Salamano could have easily prevented the escape of his dog, but the existence of a routine distracts him from the possibility of his dog escaping. Through this faulty assumption of Salamano’s, Camus suggests that routine not only gives comfort to the individual, but also makes the individual unconscious in the grand scheme of life. Even though Salamano “[has] been meaning to get [his dog] a smaller collar for a long time, [he] never thought [his dog] would take off like that” (Camus 38). Although Salamano knew that the collar was too big, he thought he had control of his dog because it is part of the routine and it has never happened before. Salamano breaks the routine by stopping to watch “The King of Escape Artists” (Camus 38). Just as “The King of Escape Artists” creates the illusion that the chains can hold him, Camus blinds Salamano with the illusion that the collar can hold his dog since the dog has not escaped before. By creating the illusion of control, Camus shows how some people can get blinded by routine.
Moreover, Camus draws parallels between the dog and Maman to show that the nearness of death leads to awareness of the choice between serenity and sorrow. Just as the relationship between Meursault and his mother, the relationship between Salamano and his dog is not a happy one either. In fact, the relationship between Salamano and his dog is rather miserable; Salamano complains that the problem with his dog is that “he is always there,” as if the dog has become a burden to him (Camus 28). Camus compares this relationship with the relationship between Meursault and Maman, where Maman lived with Meursault for a long time until Meursault begins to see her as a burden as well. Meursault barely speaks to Maman and eventually sends her to a home. In the end, the dog runs away and Maman dies. When Meursault hears Salamano weeping over the loss of his dog, Meursault “thought of Maman” (Camus 39). Camus draws a parallel between the two relationships to present the choice between serenity and sorrow. While Salamano cries over missing his dog, Meursault does not react much to the loss of Maman. Salamano chose to be sorrowful over his loss while Meursault chose to not display emotions even at the funeral of Maman. Camus suggests that the choice between serenity and sorrow is decided by oneself and how one perceives death of another, or even himself.
Conveying a further philosophical message, Camus shows the futility of choice by implying that all choices are futile and equal. In the scene in which Salamano is telling Meursault about the condition of his dog, Salamano recalls how he rubbed the dog with ointment every day after the dog had gotten that skin disease, Salamano says that “the dog’s real sickness was old age, and there’s no cure for old age” (Camus 45). Camus illustrates the futility of choice by showing that regardless of whether or not Salamano rubs his dog with ointment, his dog will still die as his dog cannot escape the inevitable death of old age. Although his dog appears to have attained freedom and escapes from the collar, the choice he makes is futile and equivalent to the other choice of staying, because whether the dog escapes or not does not affect the ultimate outcome. The dog is sick with death, and choices made in the face of death are equivalent to one another as the final outcomes are the same: death is inevitable. Furthermore, it does not matter whether Salamano looks for his dog or not; it does not matter whether he gets a smaller collar for his dog or not; it does not matter whether his dog comes back or not; the escape of the dog does not even matter, because eventually the dog will die and so will Salamano. No matter what choices people make, everyone dies regardless of anything. Camus’ implications show that all choices are equal and futile because the ultimate outcome, death, will come no matter what.
Camus cleverly and efficiently communicates central themes and arguments throughout the book with only a few sentences in a scene. Camus also connects these arguments with other philosophical ideas, notably the futility of choice. However, while all choices do not change the ultimate destination in one’s life, death, they are not futile or equal to one another if it changes the path one will take to reach that destination. The interaction between all choices intertwine and forms the world that everyone lives in; Every choice made affects the future, however small. Some choices delay the arrival of death, while others can have the opposite effect. But even though this topic can be argued forever, it is important to note Camus’ final revelation regarding the value of life. Meursault states that “Salamano’s dog was worth just as much as his wife;” One of Camus’ final arguments is that people can be just as sorrowful towards a dog or a wife (Camus 121). Although the life Salamano led with his dog and his wife are not happy ones, they are as equally worthy as any other life. When death strikes like “a dark wind,” one would realize that the routine they have been relying is just an illusion of control; however, one can still choose between serenity and sorrow, even if that choice is futile in that it does not avoid the arrival of death (Camus 121).
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The French novel The Stranger, written by Albert Camus and translated by Matthew Ward, describes a French-colonized Algeria in the 1940’s. Throughout the novel, central arguments and themes are being […]