Mama’s Boy: Reading Woman in L’Etranger

  • Vicki Mistacco


In his last interview, when asked what he felt critics, had most neglected in his work, Camus replied: ‘La part obscure, ce qu’il y a d’aveugle et d’instinctif en moi.’1 Many have since sought to approach this dark, enigmatic side from the perspective of psychoanalysis, emphasising, as Freudian and Lacanian orthodoxy requires, the oedipal moment, and in so doing repressing or devaluing the maternal bond, giving primacy to the phallus and the threat of castration. To my knowledge, however, no sustained effort has been made to view Camus’s writing from the perspective of psychoanalytic feminism, stressing rather the importance of the ipre-oedipal stage in which the primary figure is not the father but the mother and the primary relationship is a dual not triangular one, between mother and child.2 Feminist critics have most often adopted this approach to study the mother/daughter dyad in women writers. Shifting the context, I propose here to effect a kind of ‘naive’ reading, to ‘overread’ Camus, as if he were a woman writer, for traces of the relationship between the feminine and text production, bracketing psychoanalytic orthodoxy to allow the ‘underread’,3 the feminine maternal, to emerge from the shadows of critical repression and be seen in Meursault’s revolt in L’Etranger, the text’ ambiguities, and the author’s concept of the Absurd. By referring positively to Meursault as a ‘mama’s boy’, lam drawing upon the hero’s infantile vocabulary to suggest the transgressive potential in this relationship and to question the term’s pejorative cultural connotations of a somehow ‘effeminate’ boy whose excessive attachment to the mother extends scandalously beyond the ‘normal’ time.


Traditional Gender Role Symbolic Order Woman Writer Mother Earth Maternal Bond 
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Notes and Works Cited

  1. 1.
    Albert Camus, Essais (Paris: Bibliothèque de la Pléïade, 1965), 1925.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Vicki Mistacco, ‘Nomadic Meanings: The Woman Effect in “La Femme adultère”’, in Albert Camus’ ‘L’Exil et le royaume: The Third Decade Anthony Rizzuto (ed.) (Toronto: Les Editions Paratexte, 1988), pp. 71–84Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Nancy K. Miller proposes a poetics of the underread and a practice of ‘overreading’ women writers in Subject to Change: Reading Feminist Writing (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), p. 83.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    My remarks are based on an overview of this vast body of literature. For the sake of economy, however, I refer the reader only to the studies I consider the most representative and/or most influential: Alain Costes, Albert Camus ou la parole manquante, étude psychanalytique (Paris: Payot, 1973)Google Scholar
  5. Jean Gassin, L’Univers symbolique d’Albert Camus. Essai d’interprétation psychanalytique (Paris: Minard, 1981)Google Scholar
  6. Donald Lazere, The Unique Creation of Albert Camus (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973)Google Scholar
  7. Ben Stoltzfus, ‘Camus’s L’Etranger: A Lacanian Reading’, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 31, no. 4 (Winter 1989), pp. 514–35.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Richard Miller (trans.) (New York: Hill & Wang, 1975), p. 47. Cited in Marianne Hirsch, The Mother/Daughter Plot: Narrative, Psychoanalysis, Feminism (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1989), p. 52.Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    Mary Jacobus, Reading Woman: Essays in Feminist Criticism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), p. 193.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    Camus’s misogyny has been amply documented. In addition to passing remarks about the author’s and his characters’ inability to advance to adult sexual relationships in Lazere, Costes, and Gassin, for interpretations of women and the feminine and especially for compilations of misogynist quotes by Camus, see Anthony Rizzuto, ‘Camus and a Society without Women,’ Modern Language Studies, vol. 13, no. 1 (Winter 1983), pp. 3–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Edouard Morot-Sir, ‘L’Esthétique d’Albert Camus: logique de la limite, mesure de la mystique,’ Cahiers Albert Camus, vol. 5 (1985), pp. 93–112.Google Scholar
  12. Louise K. Horowitz, ‘Of Women and Arabs: Sexual and Racial Polarization in Camus,’ Modern Language Studies, vol. 17, no. 3 (Summer 1987), pp. 54–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 9.
    Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror, Léon S. Roudiez (trans.) (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), p. 2.Google Scholar
  14. 11.
    Gay-Crosier, Raymond and Jacqueline Lévi-Valensi (eds), Albert Camus: oeuvre ouverte, oeuvre fermée (Paris: Gallimard, Cahiers Albert Camus: 5, 1985), pp. 248–9.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    ’sorties’, in Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément, The Newly Born Woman, trans. Betsy Wing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), p. 86.Google Scholar
  16. Catherine Clément and Hélène Cixous, La Jeune née (Paris: Union Générale d’Editions, 1975), p. 160.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vicki Mistacco

There are no affiliations available

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