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The Stranger | Discussion Questions 31 - 40

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What is the significance of the silence that follows the prosecutor's final argument in Part 2, Chapter 4 of The Stranger?

In Part 2, Chapter 4, after the prosecutor gives his final argument, "there was a rather long silence." It is as if the courtroom, made up mostly of people who find Meursault's behavior repulsive, have already condemned him to death, before hearing the defense lawyer's statement. If Meursault can find the defense lawyer's arguments ridiculous and long-winded, the people in the courtroom are sure to react in the same way. Since they represent various aspects of European colonial society—policemen, reporters, spectators, and witnesses—they have already made up their minds. In fact, a similar silence greets Meursault after he returns to the dock to hear the jury's decision that sentences him to death.

In Part 2, Chapter 4 of The Stranger, what rhetorical strategies does the prosecutor use to escalate the severity of Meursault's crime?

The prosecutor uses several rhetorical strategies to escalate the severity of Meursault's crime. First he uses logic, calling the facts of the crime as clear as daylight and stressing Meursault's intelligence. He then compares it with the trial to come the following day: "the most monstrous of crimes: the murder of a father." The prosecutor associates this crime with Meursault's treatment of his mother, accusing Meursault of being "morally guilty of killing his mother" through his indifference and detachment toward her. Finally, the prosecutor carefully chooses language to describe Meursault, calling him "a criminal devoid of the least spark of human feeling."

In Part 2, Chapter 4 of The Stranger, how is the prosecutor's argument that Meursault's crime is premeditated both reasonable and unconvincing?

The prosecutor presents the series of events regarding the murder of the Arab in such a way that even Meursault admits there is "a certain consistency" to the logic. The prosecutor states that Meursault willingly wrote the letter to Raymond's mistress, knowing the content would put her in danger; willingly helped provoke the Arabs at the beach; asked Raymond for the gun; returned to the scene on the beach alone; and fired at the Arab five times, four shots coming after the fatal shot. In addition to the "blinding clarity of [these] facts," the prosecutor argues that Meursault has a "criminal soul" due to the detached behavior he displays regarding his mother's funeral. However, the prosecutor's argument ignores some crucial facts about Meursault. Because Meursault views life as meaningless, he does not reflect on the motives or consequences of any of the actions he commits. He also views all these actions as equal, none of them more right or wrong than any other. With this perspective, his premeditation of any action is impossible.

In The Stranger how does physical touch play a role in Meursault's detachment?

Throughout the novel, Meursault rarely touches people except when he swims with Marie and engages in sexual intercourse with her. This physical contact with Marie yields Meursault's one moment of happiness in the novel: "we moved in unison and were happy." By moving in unison, Meursault experiences a moment of attachment to another human being. In his prison cell, Meursualt has no physical contact with people until the chaplain visits. When Meursault becomes enraged at the chaplain, he grabs the priest "by the collar of his cassock." Later, the guards have to tear the chaplain from Meursault's grip. While this physical contact is motivated by rage rather than desire, it has the same effect on Meursault as touching Marie does. He forms an emotional bond of hate with the chaplain that allows him to break through his detachment: "I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really."

In Part 2, Chapter 5 of The Stranger, how does Meursault come to terms with the inescapability of death?

At first Meursault finds the random facts concerning his sentence, such as the time of day the verdict was announced, to be absurd in relation to the seriousness of the sentence. Later Meursault realizes that the guillotine provides no chance of escaping death: "the trouble with the guillotine was that you had no chance at all, absolutely none." Then when Meursault confronts the chaplain, he asserts that all people, including himself, will one day be condemned to death: "We're all elected by the same fate." In the end, Meursault accepts his death as he accepts the world's indifference to him. The spectators he anticipates, who will cry with hate at his execution, will do so because they cannot accept Meursault's truth: "sure of the death I had waiting for me."

Near the end of Part 2, Chapter 5 of The Stranger, how does Meursault's calling the world his "brother" relate to his lack of a family?

Part of Meursault's detachment comes from a lack of connection to family. There is no mention of any father or siblings, and Meursault has no emotional attachment to his mother. However, when Meursault recognizes a commonality between his indifference and the indifference of the world, he calls the world his "brother." At the same time, Meursault reclaims his mother: "For the first time in a long time I thought about Maman. I felt as if I understood why at the end of her life ... she had played at beginning again." Meursault's detachment falls away as he builds this symbolic family for himself, a brother and a mother who each understand as he does that life and death must be experienced without the quest for meaning.

When Meursualt imagines being a free man in Part 2, Chapter 5 of The Stranger, why does he feel a "wave of poisoned joy"?

Meursault's joy is poisoned because he realizes it stems from false hope. Meursault knows he will not get out of prison and, as a result, he will be executed. His impending death is inescapable. Because of this knowledge, he says, "It was a mistake to let myself get carried away by such imaginings." When this hope is replaced by the reality of the situation, Meursault's response is physical, as if the loss of his false joy has poisoned him: "I would get so cold that I would curl up into a ball under my blanket and my teeth would be chattering and I couldn't make them stop."

In The Stranger in what ways might Meursault be viewed as an unreliable narrator?

The term unreliable narrator refers to a narrator whose credibility is in doubt. In Part 2, Chapter 1, Meursault admits, "I had pretty much lost the habit of analyzing myself." This admission might call Meursault's credibility into question. If Meursault does not analyze himself, then he is unaware of the motivations for his actions. He says that he kills the Arab "because of the sun." However, since he lacks the ability to reflect on the action, there may be other reasons for the murder of which Meursault is unaware. Meursault's view of the world as meaningless may also compromise his ability to narrate a story that is meaningful.

In The Stranger in what ways can Meursault be viewed as both a Christ figure and an anti-Christian person?

Camus famously suggested that Meursault is the only Christ figure modern humans deserve. Like Jesus, Meursault tells his version of the truth without apology, and he is willing to accept the consequences of his beliefs rather than compromise them to avoid an early death. When society condemns Meursault for his differences, rather than his crime, he accepts their sin of judgment by stepping to his death without fear, reservation, or the desire for escape. However, unlike Jesus, Meursault's version of the truth is that the world is godless and meaningless and cannot be defined by self-imposed notions of morality. The magistrate in Part 2, Chapter 1 calls him "Monsieur Antichrist," but he is not, in fact, an evil figure who falsely claims to be Christ. Rather, he is anti-Christian because he denies the existence of God and lives outside of the boundaries of Christian society.

What does Camus's decision to divide The Stranger into two parts show about Meursault's detached way of living?

Part 1 takes Meursault from his mother's funeral to his shooting of the Arab. Part 2 covers the period from his arrest to his realization, as he awaits execution, of the world's indifference to his fate. In addition to the obvious distinction that the first part of the book shows him at liberty and the second, in prison, the two parts show how he can and cannot exist in society given his detachment. In Part 1 Meursault is able to work successfully, have a lover, and find ways to enjoy his life despite his detached attitude. However, he is successful only when things go his way. After he murders the Arab, he is judged and condemned to death for his detachment.

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