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The Stranger | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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In The Stranger how does Camus employ blood as part of Meursault's physical experience of the world?

Meursault repeatedly references his blood pounding or surging within him, which often clouds his rational thinking. At the funeral, Meursault mentions "the blood pounding in my temples." After this, Meursault loses track of what happens at the funeral, except for the nurse speaking to him. At the end of Part 1, Chapter 3, as Meursault exits Raymond's apartment after eating blood sausage and writing the letter, Meursault describes "the blood pounding in my ears," which blocks all sound with the exception of Salamano's dog. In Part 2, Chapter 5, he describes having "to cool the hot blood that would suddenly surge through [his] body and sting [his] eyes with delirious joy" when he allows himself to foolishly imagine a pardon. In all cases, the blood represents life and Meursault's conflict regarding the acceptance of death. He is overcome by blood when he places Raymond's mistress in danger, buries his mother, and tries to imagine his own escape from death. It is as if his physical being and the blood that gives it life protest the inevitability of death.

How does Camus develop Meursault as a kind of existential hero over the course of The Stranger?

Early in the novel, Meursault is a character who views life as meaningless, but he occasionally follows conventions rather than his personal standards. For example, at the vigil for his mother's funeral Meursault hesitates to smoke a cigarette because doing so might be considered inappropriate. However, as Part 1 develops, these twinges of guilt disappear. For instance, Meursault has no qualms about telling Marie that he probably does not love her. In Part 2 Meursault for a time holds out false hope about his ability to survive. However, at the end of the novel, Meursault breaks through his detachment by confronting the chaplain and taking full responsibility for his life and impending death.

How is The Stranger similar to and different from The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka?

The Stranger and The Metamorphosis both address the theme of detachment. However, the methods used to convey this detachment differ. In The Metamorphosis the main character, Gregor Samsa, transforms into a giant insect. Because of this metamorphosis, his family isolates him in his room, and he feels detached from them and from society. Through the description of Gregor's strange experience, Kafka imbues the fantastical situation with a sense of reality. In contrast The Stranger does not include any seemingly impossible occurrence. Instead, Meursault is a kind of everyman. He works at a steady job; he has a girlfriend; and he often eats at a favorite restaurant. It is Meursault's belief that life is meaningless that estranges him from society. In the end, the protagonists of both The Metamorphosis and The Stranger face death because society cannot accept their differences. Gregor dies because he knows his family wants to get rid of him, and he does not want to burden them. Meursault is sentenced to death because society cannot accept his view of life.

How does Camus develop Marie Cardona's character in The Stranger?

In contrast to Meursault, Marie Cardona approaches life with vitality. She often laughs and enjoys swimming with Meursault and talking with friends. At the beginning of Part 1, Chapter 6, Meursault describes her as a person who was "jumping with joy and kept on saying what a beautiful day it was." Marie also places traditional meanings on experiences. For example, when she enjoys a day with Meursault, Marie realizes she is falling in love him and wonders whether he loves her. In Part 2 Marie transforms into a person who desperately clings to her hopes although their outcome is dubious. When she visits Meursault in prison, he describes her face as being "pressed against the bars with the same sad, forced smile on it." When the prosecutor twists her words, she becomes confused and sad. Yet Meursault envisions that life goes on for Marie despite his death: "Marie now offered her lips to a new Meursault." Her vitality will allow her to survive her loss of him.

In The Stranger how does Camus develop the character of Meursault's dead mother?

Meursault's mother develops slowly as a character as Meursault and other characters reveal more and more about her. Early in the novel Meursault describes her as a person who has lost touch with her son: "Maman used to spend her time following me with her eyes, not saying a thing." However, the caretaker mentions that Maman formed a close relationship with Thomas Pérez, so she was apparently capable of forming close emotional bonds with others. Then, Meursault says that Maman cried a lot when Meursault first put her in a nursing home, which suggests that Maman may have had a strong connection with her son that Meursault did not recognize. In Part 2 Meursault mentions how adaptable his mother was to new situations. His mother often used to say, "After a while you could get used to anything." At the end of the novel, Meursault understands why his mother took a "fiancé" near the end of her life. She seems to have accepted her death and thus felt free to live. This understanding provides him with a role model for resolving his conflict over his death sentence.

In Part 2 of The Stranger, how does Camus create dramatic irony?

Dramatic irony occurs in a situation when the audience is aware of information that the characters are not. In the courtroom scenes, the legal authorities interpret Meursault's actions through the social lenses of law and religion. As a result they come to view Meursault as a criminal who premeditated the killing of the Arab. The reader, though, knows that this view is false and thus ironic. Meursault was not even thinking of the Arab before he met him on the beach. Rather, Meursault was trying to escape the oppressive heat by "thinking of the cool spring," where he accidentally meets the Arab. Dramatic irony also occurs when Marie visits Meursault in prison. For Marie, the experience is highly emotional. For Meursault, while he likes seeing Marie, the experience does not have a strong emotional effect on him. In fact at one point he mentions, "I was feeling a little sick and I'd have liked to leave."

How does The Stranger reflect the historical event of the Nazis taking control of Europe?

In The Stranger Camus shows how a dominant social ideology like that of the Nazi Party can be used to oppress people through the character Meursault. The legal and religious authorities interpret Meursault's actions through their view of morality, unjustly accusing him of motives of their own invention. Also, the legal and religious authorities condemn Meursault for his difference rather than his crime, similar to the way the Nazis condemned groups of people, such as Roma and Jews, based on their ethnic identities rather than specific crimes. The Nazis' actions contributed to Camus's belief in nihilism, the rejection of moral principles on the basis of the meaningless of life, a view shared by the character Meursault. Yet the character is similar to the Nazis in one way; he is linked to colonial Algeria through his racist view of Arabs. He is, like the Nazis, able to kill someone he views as an "other" without compassion.

In The Stranger how are the three deaths in the novel linked by the characters of Maman and Raymond's mistress?

The novel opens with Meursault's detached approach to his mother's death. Later he is unable to cry at her funeral, and when he returns to work after burying her he thinks, "nothing had changed." Yet it is through his growing understanding of Maman's philosophy of life while he is in prison that he is able to accept the fact that he, too, will die. Meursault is similarly unable to see Raymond's Arab mistress as a person with rights and feelings; rather, he willingly cooperates in writing a letter that will hurt her. Yet, as the sister of the Arab Meursault kills, she indirectly leads Meursault toward the Arab and so contributes to her brother's death and Meursault's own. It is as if the women whose value Meursault cannot appreciate nonetheless assert themselves as important catalysts in his life.

In what ways is Meursault's murder of the Arab the climax of The Stranger?

In literature, the climax occurs at the point of highest drama, when the character is forced to act to bring about a change. When Meursault kills the Arab, his life changes dramatically. Before this event, Meursault lives a relatively normal life. He goes to work, gets a girlfriend, spends Sunday alone in his room, eats at his favorite restaurant, and occasionally goes to the movies. Meursault's relationship with Raymond, who is having trouble with his Arab mistress, develops, but seems inconsequential until Part 1, Chapter 6. However, after Meursault kills the Arab, his life and his beliefs come under scrutiny from religious and legal authorities. He is no longer in control as they try him in court and convict him; rather, he is a passive participant in the courtroom drama that plays out in Part 2.

In what ways can The Stranger be viewed as a satire?

A satire is a literary work that uses humor, irony, or hyperbole to criticize contemporary people or society. The Stranger satirizes the legal and religious establishments of French Algeria. When the examining magistrate wildly waves the crucifix at Meursault and spouts platitudes, he becomes ridiculous, saying, "I am a Christian. I ask Him to forgive your sins." Meursault's response creates the humor in the scene as he thinks, "I was struck by how sincere he seemed, but I had had enough." Later, during the legal proceedings, the prosecutor seems equally ridiculous as he concocts a case to convict Meursault based on behaviors that have nothing to do with his crime, murder. Even Meursault's lawyer asks, "Come now, is my client on trial for burying his mother or for killing a man?"

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