THE STRANGER by Albert Camus

Links for the East Side Readers' discussion

  • Man in My Basement, Walter Mosley :: why we’re reading this book; “What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer -- and why?"
    The Stranger by Albert Camus probably had the greatest impact on me. I suppose that's because it was a novel about ideas in a very concrete and sensual world. This to me is the most difficult stretch for a writer -- to talk about the mind and spirit while using the most pedestrian props. Also the hero is not an attractive personality. He's just a guy, a little removed, who comes to heroism without anyone really knowing it. This makes him more like an average Joe rather than someone beyond our reach or range.”
Study Guides (Free)::
No reading group guides, exactly, but check out especially the questions in red below:Significance of images of water:
  • Its religious connotations: baptism and purification.
  • Swimming: associated with Marie and pleasure.
  • The paper roller at his office: far more detail is given to this than the nature of Meursault’s work.
  • As relief from the sun, it is this potent natural force that influences his firing of the gun.
  • Water is essential for life.
Of light:
  • Association with freedom and energy.
  • Symbol for violence and destruction (c.f. the sun).
  • The sun as source of light absolves man from responsibility. Man is thus absolved from guilt but reduced to something less than man: to the status of an irresponsible element in nature.
  • Permanency of elements vs transient nature of man.
How Camus challenges convention and the nature of humanity in his exploration of the "absurd":
  • Meursault as a character: his general indifference.
  • His refusal to adhere to convention: he will not lie to Marie or judge about his feelings.
  • His unusually honest and direct way of communicating these thoughts.
  • How he debunks social and moral codes.
  • Scathing attack on justice: court-room scene and one man’s arrogance in pronouncing judgment on others.
  • Challenge to religion – Meursault refuses to listen to the priest & is unswervingly atheistic to the very end.
  • To what extent do we think Meursault is guilty?
  • Does he change as a person throughout the novel?
  • Is there a shift in his character in Part 2?
Chapter 1
  • What does the reference to "a soldier" tell you about the time period of the story?
  • Why was it odd that Madam Meursault desired a religious burial?
  • Does Meursault give an explanation for wanting/not wanting to see the open casket? Why would someone respond in this way? In your opinion, is this normal behavior?
  • Describe Meursault’s dream-like experience beginning on page 9. What is happening?
  • What is the purpose of holding a vigil? How long does it last?
Chapter 2
  • On page 21, what hint is the reader given as to where Meursault lives?
  • What does Meursault choose to do on Sunday? What does this demonstrate about his character/personality?
  • What does Meursault mean when he says, "It occurred to me....really, nothing had changed." (See last sentence on p 24).
Chapter 3
  • What is your opinion on Meursault’s compulsion to wash his hands?
  • In your opinion, offer an explanation for why Meursault takes a "flying leap" onto a truck with Emmanuel.
  • Who is Salamano? Explain his relationship with his pet. Do you think Salamano cares about its health care?
Chapter 4
  • How do you know if Meursault is upset or calm about what just happened?
  • What happens to Salamano’s dog?
Chapter 5
  • In your opinion, is Meursault’s behavior normal regarding his job and his girlfriend? Why/why not?
  • During a brief discussion between Salamano and Meursault, what new information does Salamano convey about Meursault’s Maman?
Chapter 6
  • On page 53, what is symbolic about Meursault’s statement, "The blazing sand looked red to me now."
  • Why don’t the Arabs react to this discussion unfolding directly in front of them?
  • On page 57, Meursault returns to the beach by himself. Camus uses symbolism when he states "There was the same dazzling red glare," and "With every blade of light...". In your opinion, what is being implied?
  • When Meursault encounters the lone Arab, he is once again overcome by the sun’s heat. What event does the heat force him to recall?
  • Why does Meursault feel threatened and consequently pull out a gun?
Chapter 1 - Part II
  • On p. 70, Meursault says, "I thought about it for a minute and said that more than sorry I felt kind of annoyed." Does Meursault have a conscience? Why or why not?
  • In your opinion, does Meursault feel complimented when referred to as "Monsieur Antichrist"?

Chapter 2 - Part II
  • In a sense, what item was more difficult for Meursault to lose than his freedom?
  • On p. 79, Meursault states that having "a memory" is "an advantage." Briefly explain.
  • The last sentences on p. 81 refer to Meursault’s mother’s funeral and to what nights in prison are like. In your opinion, is there a connection between the two?

Chapter 3 - Part II
  • How is the Algerian court system shown as different from ours?
  • A previous incident occurred between the caretaker and Meursault, which is briefly discussed during the trial. This leads to Camus’ title of the novel. What is the incident?
  • What is the prosecutor implying when he questions Raymond? (refers to "chance" numerous times.)
  • Explain what Meursault means when he says, "it was back to my cell...sleep of the innocent. (p.97)
Chapter 4 - Part II
  • Does Meursault feel like he has anything to say to defend himself?
  • In your opinion, does Meursault believe that his crime was premeditated?
  • On p. 100, Meursault reveals the key to his character/personality. What is this?
  • Imagism is used on p. 104. "left me with the impression.... Was making me dizzy." In your opinion, what is Meursault feeling at this point?
  • Why can’t Meursault return Marie’s smile in the courtroom?
  • What is Meursault’s sentence? In your opinion, is his reaction normal?
Chapter 5 - Part II
  • According to Meursault, why is witnessing an execution so important?
  • What is "the trouble with the guillotine"?
  • What is ironic about this when compared to how Meursault originally got into this predicament?
  • When Meursault’s situation finally "sinks in", what are the two things he always thinks about?
  • What is Meursault’s pessimistic view on life and living?
  • Is Meursault a religious person? How do you know?
  • What does the priest mean when he says, "your heart is blind."
  • In the last few paragraphs, how does Meursault finally relate to Maman?
  • Why does Meursault wish that a large crowd of spectators greet him with cries of hate at his execution?
What is the significance of the setting in "The Outsider" a.k.a. "The Stranger"?
"The Outsider" or "The Stranger" as it is more popularly known, is set in Algeria, primarily in the capitol of Algiers. The main character is Meursault, a Frenchman, who is accused of killing a native Arab. The setting is significant because it reinforces the idea that Meursault is truly an outsider. The French ruled Algeria as a colony at the time the novel was written and Meursault is a Frenchman, a member of the "ruling class" who is accused of murdering an native Arab. He is also separated by cultural barriers, because his low-key reactions clash with the Arabs expections of how a person should react at the death of one's mother. Even though he is sad at her death, he looks unemotional, as is appropriate in many European countries. The native Arabs, on the other hand, cry and cough and even faint--as is traditional in their culture. So Meursalt is convicted more on his reactions--or lack of reactions-- at his mother's funeral-than he is on the real evidence of the crime. Had the novel been set in France, Meursalt would probably been treated much differently.

What is symbolic of Thomas Perez in The Stranger? as in why even include him in the novel? what is Camus trying to say?
Thomas Perez serves two very important functions. First, he is the moral opposite of Meursault. While Meursault is bothered, inconvenienced, and bored by his mother's funeral, Thomas Perez is emotionally affected. He shows us how one should behave given the circumstances. He punctuates Meursault's apathy and indifference. Secondly, Thomas Perez is a catalyst in terms of finding Meursault "guilty" of murder. After we observe Perez's disgust of Meursault, we begin to understand just how strange Meursault truly is. Perhaps he is symbolic of human emotion and passion - which is what the existentialists seek to achieve in life.
What are some of the basics of a psychoanalytic approach to The Stranger? What irony does Camus use?
Everything is meaningless to Meursault. Neither religion nor fate can offer an explanation for the senseless acts of humans, such as murder and war. The alternative is absurdity, the "truth" that life is meaningless. Meursault is convicted not only for murder but also for his psychological indifference, his selfish behavior, and his uncaring insensitivity to his mother's death. He dies because others hold on to their illusions. He says, "...I was sure of myself, sure about everything,...sure of my present life and of the death that was coming. That, no doubt, was all I had."
The protagonist, Meursault, refuses to justify himself to the other characters and the reader. By narrating the story through Meursault's indifference, the reader is drawn into his point of view, feeling the absurdity of the events. The structure of the story also adds to the theme of absurdity. In the first part, Meursault's normal routine disrupts into chaos when he kills the Arab. The second part shows how the law brings back order through Meursault's death.
Camus also shows that human life is meaningless because the only sure thing in life is death. Meursault realizes that the universe is indifferent to him because he will die and have no other importance. The irony is that Meursault is able to be happy only after understanding the meaninglessness of his life. He's now free to make the most of his remaining days. He accepts the reality of his impending death.


Virginia Ober said...

Thanks, Renee, and Night Group for looking at the ending so intensely and exploring whether he "something", either God or himself. It provides some closure. It would be interesting to see if there are other blogs from groups or individuals who have read it.

Here's to next month and WILD NIGHTS!

VA said...

Our 1:00 session was the best we have ever had! We had a 75 minute discussion of THE STRANGER. We thought Mersault was possibly autistic given his child-like behavior with no social skills or emotional connection. If he was an Existentialist, he chose the specific things he wanted as opposed to embracing the overall philosophy. There was argument with Moseley's description of him as "an average Joe only a little removed" and we wondered what kind of "heroism he came to." Why has this book become a classic - perhaps because it reveals the anxieties of its time. We read the passages at the end of his reflections, particularly his "feeling ready to live it all again" - why would he wish for the large crowd of spectators to greet him with cries of hate - was he showing remorse at the end? Certainly the oppressive heat was a powerful influence. He was only a detached observer, even in recalling memories of his life - nothing personal. We could not understand the significance of the strange, little jerky woman at Celeste's restaurant and why she was at the trial. When asked what was an abiding memory of the book, we agreed it was the opportunity to have discussed it with other people.

Monica said...

heard an interview on Diane Rehm this am...a new biography of Camus. The author, a woman whose name I can't recall (Elizabeth Hawes), said the most important thing about him was his moral compass, hsi morality vis-a-vis Algiers, his many writing styles, his brilliance and contemporry relevance. I was shocked that some seemingly literate callers didn't know his name. B&N probably has the book.