HUX 556 - Nobel Laureates
ALBERT CAMUS (1913-1960)
Read: The Stranger.
Is this, as one critic notes, simply the "story of a man who is executed
for having smoked at his mother's wake"?
What purpose does Meursault feel exists in his life? Is he merely a sensualist?
Is Meursault's behavior after his mother's death irrational? clearly depraved?
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?"
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?
Examine carefully the immediate sensual and physical phenomena leading
up to the murder. Then answer this question: Why does Meursault kill the
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?
Does Camus mean to have Meursault symbolize the plight of 20th-century
man? If so, how? If not, why?*
Analyze Meursault's behavior at his trial. What is the attitude of the
Prosecutor? the Judge? the public? the chaplain?*
Explain Meursault's thought in the presence of the priest:
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.*
Note what you believe are evidences of absurdity, existentialism, and nihilism
in the text.
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.
Bree, Germaine. Camus. New Brunswick: Rutgers
UP, 1962. Based on private notebooks to which Bree had access while
Camus was still living. Compare Todd biography below.
Bree, Germaine, ed. Camus: A Collection of Critical Essays.
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1962. Twenty-one studies
of specific aspects of his art and thought.
Camus, Albert. Notebooks 1935-1942. Trans. Philip Thody.
New York: Knopf, 1963.
Cruikshank, John. Albert Camus and the Literature of Revolt.
New York: Oxford UP, 1959. Reprinted in 1970, this study explores
the themes of revolt and literature, revolt and politics.
Lebesque, Morvan. Portrait of Camus: An Illustrated Biography.
New York: Herder, 1971. Originally published in Paris in 1963,
a reliable introduction to his life and thought.
McBride, Joseph. Albert Camus: Philosopher and Litterateur.
New York: St. Martinís, 1992. A sensible assessment of his
Parker, Emmett. Albert Camus: The Artist in the Arena.
Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1965. Excellent analysis.
Rhein, Phillip H. Albert Camus. New York: Twayne,
1989. Like most volumes in the Twayne series, a reliable introduction.
Sprintzen, David. Camus: A Critical Examination.
Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1991.
Todd, Olivier. Albert Camus: A Life. Trans. Benjamin
Ivry. New York: Knopf, 1997. The latest major biography.
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- Last Updated: October 22, 1998