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The Stranger | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Part 1, Chapter 4 of The Stranger, how does Camus develop the themes of the physical life and detachment through the relationship between Meursault and Marie?

In Chapter 4 Marie and Meursault develop a close physical relationship. They swim together and kiss: "Her tongue cooled my lips and we tumbled in the waves for a moment." Meursault says that when they are in bed, "the summer night air flowing over [their] brown bodies [feels] good." For Marie this physical intimacy leads her to love Meursault. Yet when she asks him whether he loves her, Meursault matter-of-factly replies that he "[doesn't] think so." This response enters the scene like a splash of cold water. The contrast between Marie and Meursault emphasizes Meursault's detachment. For Meursault, his physical relationship with Marie means nothing more than a series of pleasant sensations.

In The Stranger how is Raymond's Arab mistress depicted through the eyes of Raymond and Meursault?

The first depiction of Raymond's Arab Mistress comes through Raymond's description, which—once readers find out more about him—is unreliable. He describes her as a lazy woman who spends a lot of his money and is unfaithful to him: "She wouldn't work; she just kept on telling me she couldn't make ends meet—and that's what made me realize she was cheating on me." Since Raymond is possibly a pimp "who lives off women" and abuses his mistress, his point of view is questionable. On the other hand, Meursault views the mistress as a nonentity. He has no feelings about her at all. Meursault willingly writes a letter he knows will place the mistress in a violent situation. Even when Meursault witnesses Raymond beat up his mistress, Meursault remains unaffected. The mistress asks Meursault to "go find a policeman," but he tells her he does not "like cops." Later he even serves as a character witness for Raymond. Raymond's Arab Mistress is depicted, in large part, through the eyes of two men of European descent. Through this perspective, the mistress becomes a faceless sex object or nonperson, which emphasizes the racist and sexist attitudes of both men.

At the end of Part 1, Chapter 4 of The Stranger, why does Salamano's tears over his lost dog make Meursault think of his mother?

Salamano is distraught over the loss of his dog, which insulates Salamano from the despair of loneliness. When his wife died, "he had been very lonely. So he asked a shop buddy for a dog." When Meursault places his mother in a nursing home, she "cried a lot." Her separation from her son, despite an estranged relationship, forces Maman to confront her own loneliness. In both cases, the impending sense of loneliness is heightened by old age and the proximity of death. When Salamano's dog gets sick, he treats its skin with ointment, but he laments, "The dog's real sickness was old age, and there's no cure for old age." In her own way, Maman fights old age with romance rather than ointment: Thomas Pérez and Maman were "almost inseparable. The others used to tease them and say, 'Pérez has a fiancée.'" Despite the similarities between Salamano's and Maman's situations, Meursault's lack of reflection and detachment cause him to miss the connection. He says "for some reason" he thought of Maman.

In Part 1, Chapter 5 of The Stranger, in what two ways does Camus demonstrate Meursault's passivity?

Meursault's boss offers Meursault a job working in a new Paris office that would allow Meursault "to live in Paris and to travel around for part of the year as well." Despite the appeal of such a job, Meursault expresses little interest: "One life was as good as another and ... [he] wasn't dissatisfied" with his life in Algiers. Meursault's boss accuses Meursault of having "no ambition," and Meursault does not disagree. He does not see any reason "to change [his] life." Later, as Salamano tells a heart-wrenching story about being separated from his dog, Meursault listens passively to Salamano and says, "At that point I yawned." While Meursault expresses sorrow regarding Salamano's dog, the condolence seems to stem more from common politeness than deep sympathy: "I told him ... that I was sorry about what had happened to his dog." In this instance, Meursault says that he is sorry, but he does not seem to feel sorry. In both instances, Meursault shows no engagement in the happenings of life. He listens, but he shows no inclination toward action. He is not interested in relocating to Paris despite the charm of the new job. He does not offer to help Salamano find his dog.

In Part 1, Chapter 5 of The Stranger, how is Meursault similar to and different from the "strange little woman" he observes in Céleste's restaurant?

Meursault follows a set routine. He goes to work during the week; sometimes he goes to the movies with Emmanuel in the evenings; he goes to the beach on Saturdays; and on Sundays he spends time alone in his apartment. In fact he did not visit his mother in the nursing home often because "it took up [his] Sunday." The little woman also has definite routines: "While she was waiting for her first course, she opened her bag, took out a slip of paper and a pencil, [and] added up the bill in advance." While both characters have routines, Meursault's provide structure for his meaningless life because nothing he does "really matter[s]." In contrast, the little woman infuses each routine with meaning. When the woman looks over the radio programs in a magazine, Meursault says, "One by one, and with great care, she checked off almost every program."

In Part 1, Chapter 6 of The Stranger, how are the themes of the physical life and detachment connected?

In the first section of Part 1, Chapter 6, Meursault seems to be less detached than usual because of the positive physical sensations he experiences. When swimming with Marie, Meursault says, "We felt a closeness as we moved in unison and were happy." When he eats lunch with friends, Meursualt gets so involved in the food, wine, and conversation that he loses track of the time. Marie says, "'It's only eleven-thirty!" and Meursault adds, "We were all surprised." For Meursault, the positive sensations of physical life seem to translate into a brief emotional connection with others, which lessens his detachment. In the second section of the chapter, the harsh sensations of physical life have the opposite effect; they oppress Meursault. As he becomes immersed in these sensations, he becomes more detached from his surroundings: "All that heat was pressing down on me and making it hard for me to go on ... I wanted to ... escape the sun and the strain and the women's tears." Indeed, the Arab is not a person to him, but "a form shimmering before [Meursault's] eyes in the fiery air." When Meursault shoots the Arab, he does so, not out of rage, but because of the effect of the sun.

In Part 1, Chapter 6 of The Stranger, how does Meursault view the Arabs, and how does this view contribute to the shooting?

Because the Arabs are estranged from French colonial culture, they are undefined in Meursault's eyes. Most of their characterization focuses on group identity. While one Arab is the brother of Raymond's mistress, the Arabs are not largely individualized; they are a group. The group stares "in silence" at the bus stop, and after the first fight on the beach, they back off slowly, "without taking their eyes off us." The Arabs are the strangers or outsiders whose eyes watch the French colonials, making them feel unsafe and uncomfortable, like "dead trees." While the Arabs watch the Europeans, Meursault cannot see the Arab he kills as a person. The Arab's knife catches the sun and blinds Meursault, reducing him to a sense of feeling: "My eyes were blinded ... All I could feel were the cymbals of sunlight." Meursault's heightened response to physical sensations cause him to tense and squeeze his hand, killing the Arab.

At the end of Part 1, Chapter 6 of The Stranger, why does Meursault say, "And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness"?

After he shoots the Arab, Meursault says that he "had shattered the harmony of the day, the exceptional silence of a beach where I'd been happy." It is as if the earlier hours on the beach with Marie were a kind of vacuum that sealed off Meursault from reality. However, the first shot breaks that seal, immersing Meursault once again in the meaningless reality of his life: "In that noise, sharp and deafening at the same time, is where it all started." He fires four more shots, further killing the "exceptional silence" that lured him, for a brief time, into hoping for some kind of meaning or emotional connection in his life. When the "door of unhappiness" opens in Part 2, Meursault finds himself in prison and under the oppressive scrutiny of legal and religious authorities, where he is deprived of even the pleasant physical sensations that once made his life bearable.

In The Stranger how does Camus relate the symbol of the sun with death?

Throughout The Stranger, Camus depicts the sun as an oppressive force for Meursault, especially during three scenes characterized by death: the funeral, the beach confrontation with the Arab, and the court scene. At the funeral Meursault refers to the sun as "inhuman and oppressive." On the beach Meursault describes the sun creating a heat that "was pressing down on [him] and making it hard for [him] to go on." Later in the courtroom, Meursault describes the stifling heat caused by the sun. At one point Meursault's "head [is] spinning with heat." In the first scene, Maman has died; in the second, the Arab dies; and in the third, Meursault's death by execution is impending. The sun is a hostile external force for Meursault that will not allow him to escape from the awareness of death.

In The Stranger what causes the confrontation between the examining magistrate and Meursault to become absurd?

The confrontation between the examining magistrate and Meursault becomes absurd when the examining magistrate tries to apply his Christian values to Meursault, who does not believe in God and views life as meaningless. The scene becomes absurdly comic when the magistrate says if he were ever to doubt God, his life would become meaningless. Then he asks Meursault, "Do you want my life to be meaningless?" as if Meursault, the accused, is there to affirm the meaning of the magistrate's life rather than vice versa. The scene grows in intensity and absurdity when the magistrate thrusts a silver crucifix in Meursault's face, heightening the conflict between an earnest belief in a meaningful universe and an indifferent response to it. When Meursault shrinks from the situation, the magistrate triumphantly proclaims, "You see, you see! ... You do believe [in God]." Meursault then undercuts the magistrate's crescendo with deadpan humor: he "again [says] no."

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