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The Stranger Albert Camus Essay Questions

Topic #1
Illustrate how Meursault’s indifferent attitude and moral ambiguity is fundamentally at odds with society’s expectations of how a person should think and behave.

Outline
I. Thesis Statement: In The Stranger, society views Meursault as a cold-hearted killer and a moral “blank.” It categorizes him as dangerous and evil because Meursault refuses to conform to society’s accepted standards of behavior.

II. Meursault’s attitude and behavior
A. At his mother’s vigil and the funeral
1. Meursault remains unemotional and detached
2. Doesn’t want to see his mother’s body
3. Drinks coffee and chats during the vigil
4. Offers no expression of comfort, or grief to his mother’s close friend, Thomas Perez
5. Doesn’t cry at the funeral
B. Relationship with Marie after the funeral
1. Marie’s reaction to Meursault when she learns about his mother
2. Meursault’s activities the day after his mother’s funeral
a. Swims with Marie
b. Goes out on a date and begins an affair with Marie
C. Friendship with Raymond and agreement to write the letter
1. Meursault never questions morality of writing such a letter
2. Society’s view of a man like Raymond and Meursault’s association with him
D. Murder of the Arab and reasons for pulling the trigger
1. Meursault shoots once, then fires four more times
2. Meursault’s bizarre explanation about “the sun”
E. No apparent remorse for crime
1. Inability to ever feel regret about anything
F. Meursault doesn’t believe in God

III. How society views Meursault
A. Behavior at the funeral is repugnant to many
B. Starts affair with Marie the day after the funeral
1. Meursault enjoys himself, even though his mother has just died
C. Why is Meursault Raymond’s friend?
1. Raymond has a bad reputation
2. Meursault must be involved with Raymond in some type of criminal activity
D. Why does Meursault murder the Arab?
1. No one understands Meursault’s explanation about the sun
2. Must be part of suspected criminal activity
3. Meursault “murdered” his mother by putting her in a nursing home. His crime is even worse than the parricide case
4. Therefore, Meursault is capable of anything
E. Refusal to believe in God proof of Meursault’s immorality
1. The magistrate’s appeal to Meursault with the crucifix
2....

(The entire section is 1031 words.)

I sincerely apologize that it took me so long to pull this together. I had hoped to be more on the ball this month, but summer got in the way, he he.

I hope you all got a chance to read the book. The Stranger by Albert Camus is quite short, and I think we’ll have a great discussion on Wednesday (July 21! that in two days) about it. I may have slightly different questions on Wednesday night. These are all questions I made up, and I may refer to Cliffs Notes or Spark Notes before Wednesday. (Note that page numbers refer to the Everyman’s Library edition, translated by Matthew Ward. I included part and chapter numbers so you can find your place more easily if you read a different edition.)

The Stranger (also translated as The Outsider) was written in 1942 by Albert Camus, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his body of work in 1957. From Wikipedia: “its theme and outlook are often cited as examples of existentialism, though Camus did not consider himself an existentialist; in fact, its content explores various different philosophical schools of thought, including (most prominently and specifically) absurdism, as well as determinism, nihilism, naturalism, and stoicism.”

The People

What is the role of each of the people in the novel? What does each symbolize? Which characters, if any, are essential?

Witnesses at the Trial

  • the director of the home
  • the caretaker from the home
  • old Thomas Pérez
  • Raymond
  • Masson
  • Salamano
  • Marie
  • Céleste

Other characters

  • Maman
  • the other mourners at the home
  • Mersault’s boss
  • Raymond’s mistress and the Arab man
  • the little woman from the restaurant
  • Mersault’s lawyer
  • the prison magistrate
  • the presiding judge
  • the chaplain

Mersault’s seemingly estranged relationship with his mother is questioned. What do you think of Mersault’s relationship with his mother? Did he love her or care about her?  Does it or should it matter to the trial?

The title is also translated “The Outsider.” Who is the “stranger” or the “outsider”?  Why?

The Setting

How does the setting (Algeria) impact the novel? How would it have been different had it taken place in Paris? (“It’s dirty. Lots of pigeons and dark courtyards. Everybody’s pale.” Part 1, Chapter 5, page 41)

What role does the sun play in the novel?

The Plot and Themes in The Stranger

What happens in The Stranger? What drives the plot? Did you, personally, like the plot?

Some of Mersault’s accounts of what happened seem rushed or bored or a little confused. Do you believe Mersault? Is he a reliable narrator?

Part One

The funeral happens first in the text and becomes a very important part of the story. How does the funeral impact Mersault, and does he think it has impacted him?

Compare chapter 2 (meeting Marie) to chapter 1 (the funeral). How do these two chapters contrast?

Salamano’s ugly dog is regularly beaten by his owner. What does Mersault think of the dog and his owner? Why does Camus include the story of Salamano’s dog? (possible foreshadowing…)

What impact does Raymond’s dilemma have on Mersault? What are his thoughts?

How does Mersault end up on the beach with the gun?

Part Two

For what is Mersault on trial? (“I accuse this man of burying his mother with crime in his heart!” Part 2, Chapter 3, page 92)

What evidence is there for and against him? How do the characters (see list above) judge him?

What does Mersault expect from the trial? What do the others expect from the trial?

What are his last thoughts? How does he refuse the chaplain?

Why

Mersault never answers “why” in this novel, or rather, his only reason seems ridiculous. (“I blurted out that it was because of the sun.” Part 2, Chapter 4, page 98). As an outsider looking in on Mersault, what reasons for the events do you see? Why do you think events unfold as they do?

Do you think Mersault ever felt remorse for his crime?

The philosophies (paraphrased from Merriam-Webster)

  • Existentialism: universe is unfathomable; individuals must assume responsibility without knowing right or wrong
  • Absurdism: universe is irrational and meaningless; search for order brings individual in conflict with universe
  • Determinism: occurrences are determined by proceeding events; predestined
  • Nihilism: existence is senseless and useless; no such thing as moral truths
  • Naturalisim: scientific laws can explain everything; act based on natural desires
  • Stoicism: individuals should be passionless, unmoved by joy or grief, and submissive to natural law

Possibly Significant Quotes

The nurse’s comment to Mersault at the funeral: “‘If you go slowly, you risk getting sunstroke. But if you go too fast, you work up a sweat and then catch a chill inside the church.’ She was right. There was no way out.” (Part 1, Chapter 1, page 16-17)

“It occurred to me that anyway one more Sunday was over, that Maman was buried now, that I was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed.” (Part 1, Chaper 2, page 23)

The sun: “The sun was the same as it had been the day I’d buried Maman, and like then, my forehead especially was hurting me, all the veins in it throbbing under the skin. It was this burning, which I couldn’t stand anymore, that made me move forward.” (Part 1, Chapter 6, page 56)

The gunshots: “It was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness.” (Part 1, Chapter 6, page 57)

Céleste’s testimony: “‘The way I see it, it’s bad luck. Everybody knows what bad luck is. IT leaves you defenseless. And there it is! The way I see it, it’s bad luck.’ … He seemed to be asking me what else he could do. I said nothing; I made no gesture of any kind, but it was the first time in my life I ever wanted to kiss a man.” (Part 2, Chapter 3, page 89)

Remorse: “It was the hour when, a long time ago, I was perfectly content.” (Part 2, Chapter 3, page 93) and then “I was assailed by memories of a life that wasn’t mine anymore, but one in which I’d found the simplest and most lasting joys…” (Part 2, Chapter 4, page 100)

“At times like this I remembered a story Maman used to tell me about my father. I never knew him. Maybe the only thing I did know about the man was the story Maman would tell me back then: he’d gone to watch a murderer be executed. Jus thte thought of going had made him sick to his stomach. But he went anyway, and when he came back he spent half the morning throwing up. … How had I not seen that there was nothing more important than an execution, and that when you come right down to it, it was the only thing a man could truly be interested in? …” (Part 2, Chapter 5, page 104-105)

While in prison: “Maman used to say that you can always find something to be happy about.” (Part 2, Chapter 5, page 108)

Wishing for a new life (response to the chaplain): “But it didn’t mean any more than wishing to be rich, to be able to swim faster, or to have a more nicely shaped mouth. It was all the same.” (Part 2, Chapter 5, page 114)

Sirens blasted just before they came for him for his execution: “For the first time in a long time I thought about Maman. I felt as if I understood why at the end of her life she had taken a ‘fiancé,’ why she had played at beginning again. …So close to death, Maman must have felt free then and ready to live it all again. Nobody, nobody had the right to cry over her. And I felt ready to live it all again too. …I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.” (Part 2, Chapter 5, page 116-117)

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