HUX 556 - Nobel Laureates

[Essay] [Assignment #3] [Selected Bibliography]

ALBERT CAMUS (1913-1960)

Read: The Stranger.

  1. Is this, as one critic notes, simply the "story of a man who is executed for having smoked at his mother's wake"?
  2. What purpose does Meursault feel exists in his life? Is he merely a sensualist?
  3. Is Meursault's behavior after his mother's death irrational? clearly depraved? merely unconventional?*
  4. What might explain Meursault's apparent passivity?  The following is an entry from Camus' Notebooks:  "We must pay and dirty ourselves with the meanness of human suffering. The dirty, repulsive, and slimy universe of pain." Another: "An overwhelming impulse to cast ourselves away and reject everything, to become like nothing at all, utterly destroying what makes us what we are, offering the present only solitude and nothingness, and returning to the only platform where our destinies can suddenly be renewed. The temptation is a permanent one. Should we resist or give way?" (196-198).*
  5. Meursault tells the tale. He is the omniscient narrator. Yet, he appears to be confused and tentative, even incompetent. We generally expect our omniscient narrators to be reliable and trustworthy. Why does Camus employ this unusual strategy?
  6. Examine carefully the immediate sensual and physical phenomena leading up to the murder. Then answer this question: Why does Meursault kill the Arab?*
  7. After the killing what changes do you note in Meursault's awareness of and relationship to society? What are his feeling toward justice and law?
  8. Does Camus mean to have Meursault symbolize the plight of 20th-century man? If so, how? If not, why?*
  9. Analyze Meursault's behavior at his trial. What is the attitude of the Prosecutor? the Judge? the public? the chaplain?*
  10. Explain Meursault's thought in the presence of the priest:
  11. What difference could they make to me, the deaths of others or a mother's love, or his God; or the way a man decides to live, the fate he thinks he chooses, since one and the same fate was bound to "choose" not only me but thousands of millions of privileged people who, like him, called themselves my brothers.*
  12. Note what you believe are evidences of absurdity, existentialism, and nihilism in the text.
  13. At some time in the near future you might want to read The Trial by Franz Kafka and draw some parallels between the novel and The Stranger.

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- Last Updated: October 22, 1998