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The Stranger | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In Part 2, Chapter 1 of The Stranger, why does Meursault compare his first interrogation with the examining magistrate to a game?

Early in Part 2, Chapter 1, Meursault describes a lamp shining on the chair where he sits while the examining magistrate remains in shadows. The dramatic setting makes Meursault think of "scenes like these in books." Because of this comparison, Meursault feels as if he is playing a game. Games have rules and players, winners and losers. Court proceedings, too, are based on rules, social roles, and winners and losers. The trouble with this game is that Meursault has difficulty remembering his role. He assesses the examining magistrate to be reasonable and pleasant and has the urge to shake the magistrate's hand before Meursault remembers that he is there because he killed a man. Games, too, often provide players with a means to escape reality. Yet, this scene serves the opposite goal. The lamp, which takes the place of the sun in other scenes, draws attention to Meursault's crimes and his impending trial, which will end in death. The physical sensations that, at times, allow Meursault to escape a consciousness of death, have been completely stripped away in the glaring light of interrogation. For Meursault, this game is deadly.

How do the views of the prison's stone walls expressed by the chaplain and Meursault in Part 2, Chapter 5 of The Stranger illuminate the differences between the two characters?

In Part 2, Chapter 5, the chaplain says that the stone walls of the prison are "steeped in human suffering" and that even the most wretched prisoner can sometimes see "a divine face" in the walls. Meursault's response to the chaplain's image is to tell him that he cannot see any face in the walls; he knows because he has tried to see Marie's in them. The chaplain is referring to seeing God in the midst of suffering, while Meursault's response is consistent with his lack of belief in God or an afterlife. In fact, Meursault has previously referred to stone as an image of death. In Part 1, Chapter 6, he says the Arabs stared at Raymond and him as if they were "blocks of stone or dead trees." Being forced to confront his own mortality only makes him more certain "of the death that was coming," a certainty that he can "get [his] teeth into—just as it [has] got its teeth" into him.

In The Stranger how does Camus portray noise and silence in the scenes of the Arab's murder and the prison visiting room?

In these scenes, silence yields clarity, while noise serves as a barrier to human connection. When Meursault shoots the Arab, he laments that he "shattered ... the exceptional silence of a beach where I'd been happy." Later in the novel, Camus contrasts the noise of the prison visiting room to the silence of his cell. When Meursault enters the visiting room, he notes, "My cell was quieter and darker. It took me a few seconds to adjust." As Meursault attempts to communicate with Marie above the loud din of the visiting room, he notices a young man and old woman staring at each other. Meursault likens them to an "oasis of silence" in the deafening room. Meursault and Marie are unable to reestablish their earlier connection, which is based on physical sensation, not words, in the noise of the visiting room. Their connection has been shattered by the earlier noise of the gunshot.

In Part 2, Chapter 2 of The Stranger, how is the visiting room reflective of colonized Algerian society?

The prison visiting room reflects the repressed presence of Arabs within the colonized Algerian society. Arabs dominate the prison population: "There were about ten prisoners, most of them Arabs." Their body language is subservient: "Most of the Arab prisoners and their families had squatted down." By squatting, the Arabs take a subservient position to the standing European Algerians. The Arabs speak more softly than the European Algerians: "They weren't shouting ... Their subdued murmuring ... formed a kind of bass accompaniment to the conversations crossing above their heads." Even so, the Arabs seem to communicate more effectively: "They were managing to make themselves heard by talking in very low voices." In contrast, the European Algerians seem to be competing with each other to be heard.

In Part 2, Chapter 2 of The Stranger, how does imprisonment alter Meursault's methods for coping with his existential angst?

Before he is arrested, Meursault's life is controlled by his experience of pleasant sensations, such as swimming, smoking, and kissing Marie. He immerses himself in the pleasures of physical life to escape the feelings of loneliness brought on by the understanding that life is meaningless. However, he rarely reflects on his life or his motives. In fact, Meursault's inner life is rather sparse while at home. In his prison cell, Meursault is denied these physical pleasures and instead comes to have "prisoner's thoughts." He begins to cultivate his inner life by flexing his imagination. He fantasizes about women and remembers details about his apartment. This shift away from denial and toward self-reflection will eventually help Meursault come to terms with his impending death.

In Part 2, Chapter 2 of The Stranger, how does Camus use the prison setting to develop the theme of detachment?

In his prison cell, Meursault smiles at his reflection in a tin plate, but his reflection does not smile back. Meursault says, "I smiled and it still had the same sad, stern expression." The pronouns are telling: I smile, but it does not. The reflection is not a projection of Meursault, but some separate it. Also, Meursault hears the sound of his own voice and realizes it is the same sound he has been hearing for many months. Meursault has been talking to himself while unaware of the habit. Meursault has become detached from himself, and there is "no way out ... no one can imagine what nights in prison are like." At the same time, he is able to recognize his detachment, a step toward the self-awareness he gains at the end of the novel.

In Part 2, Chapter 2 of The Stranger, why does Meursault say that the Czechoslovakian news article is both natural and unlikely?

The Czechoslovakian news article is unlikely because the plot is contrived. It is unlikely that both the mother and the sister would fail to recognize the man. Also, there is nothing in the story, including the man's prior knowledge of his family, to suggest that the women would suddenly behave as heartless robbers and murderers. However, the resolution is natural. The women's despair over their actions is a believable motive for their suicides: "The mother hanged herself. The sister threw herself down a well." In the end, Meursault condemns the man's game-playing rather than the actions of the women. The women act out of greed, but the man acts out of dishonesty in service of a joke. Meursault, who always tells the truth as he understands it, thinks the man deserves an early death because a life of game-playing suggests that there are rules that govern the universe. In Meursault's view this idea is absurd.

In Part 2, Chapter 3 of The Stranger, how is Meursault's view of himself as the entertainment at the trial an example of dramatic irony?

Meursault's first impression of the crowd in the courtroom is that they are staring at him "in the hope of finding something in your appearance to amuse them." He admits to himself that this is "an absurd comparison," that the people are looking for signs of his criminality. But in an example of dramatic irony they are, in fact, looking to be entertained. The journalist who speaks to Meursault says that his paper has been featuring Meursault frequently because they are short of story material. He adds that another correspondent has been asked to cover the trial, and Meursault is inclined to say that this was good of the newspaper, as if he should appreciate the opportunity to entertain others. The trial is, in fact, merely a show, as the prosecutor tries Meursault for his detached behavior, not his crime. Meursault's first impression of the court is correct.

In Part 2, Chapter 3 of The Stranger, how does Meursault show his inability to play the legal game?

Meursault answers questions from the judge and prosecutor based on the truth as he understands it, even though these responses do not help him toward a favorable verdict. For example, the judge asks Meursault whether the decision to place his mother in a home was a difficult one. Rather than answer in a way that might gain the sympathy of the jury, Meursault admits that he and his mother did not expect anything from each other "or from anyone else either, and [they] had both gotten used to [their] new lives." Thus, the decision was not difficult. Such a reply makes Meursault appear detached and heartless, as well as guilty of poor character.

How do the trial witnesses inThe Stranger support the idea that Meursault is being tried for his beliefs rather than for murder?

The witnesses include many of the significant people in Meursault's life, yet few have any direct connection with the crime. For example, the director and caretaker of the home had not spoken to Meursault for more than a week before the crime and have no connection with the Arabs. They testify only about Meursault's behavior at Maman's funeral: Meursault "smoked and slept some, and ... had some coffee." With the exceptions of Raymond, Masson, and Marie, the other witnesses also have no connection to the crime. Thomas Pérez has no information to offer at all: "I was too sad. So I didn't see anything." The glaring lack of questioning and information about the Arab is replaced with a focus on Meursault's treatment of Maman, suggesting that the trial is about Meursault's beliefs, not the murder.

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