The Stranger by Albert Camus The Stranger by Albert Camus Introduction The by wanghonghx


									          The Stranger           by Albert Camus

The Stranger was Camus’ first book, and is perhaps his most well known, and it established him as a
philosophical novelist (for lack of a better term). His novels work within certain ideas and having a basic
sense of the ideas Camus can be helpful. Camus was born in Algeria and throughout his life he mixed his
political thinking with his art. He fought in the resistance movement against Hitler and spent time
resisting the label of existentialist. The Stranger is most often discussed critically as an existentialist
novel, but Camus argued that his real belief system had more to do with Absurdism. These two
philosophical stand points may not seem all that different at first glance, but there are some major
differences that matter and that must have mattered to Camus.

I will include some definitions of these two strands of philosophy, but I don’t want us to get too hung up
on defining them or to become overly focused on them as the only way to interpret the book. They are
useful in analyzing the book on its own, but perhaps they are more useful in comparing the book to the
other literature we have read and discussed in class. The book marks a major shift in critical human
thought over time. Compare this text with Cademan’s Hymn, or The Canterbury Tales. What has changed
for the literature as the modes of human thought have changed? Compare this book to Hamlet. Hamlet is
often put forward as an example of an existentialist. Is he? Does he compare to Meursault? How? How
does this book push forward or complicate the themes of existence and meaning in comparison to the
Wallace Stevens’ poems we have read?


As we read and discuss the book in class, I would like you to complete the following:
   1. a conceptual question for each chapter (think of each question as one you would use to guide a
       whole class discussion or as a step towards writing a paper)
   2. Answer the attached chapter questions before coming to class discussions.
   3. Write a 3-5 page MLA format paper that does one of the following:
           a. Compares/Contrasts Meursault with Hamlet.
           b. Compares Meursault with contemporary society? Does his reality make sense now? How
               has it changed?
           c. Using one of your conceptual questions as a prompt or thesis and explores the novel
               through that question.
From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: (


First published Mon Aug 23, 2004; substantive revision Sat Jan 23, 2010

Like “rationalism” and “empiricism,” “existentialism” is a term that belongs to intellectual history. Its definition is
thus to some extent one of historical convenience. The term was explicitly adopted as a self-description by Jean-Paul
Sartre, and through the wide dissemination of the postwar literary and philosophical output of Sartre and his
associates—notably Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Albert Camus—existentialism became
identified with a cultural movement that flourished in Europe in the 1940s and 1950s. Among the major
philosophers identified as existentialists (many of whom—for instance Camus and Heidegger—repudiated the label)
were Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, and Martin Buber in Germany, Jean Wahl and Gabriel Marcel in France, the
Spaniards José Ortega y Gasset and Miguel de Unamuno, and the Russians Nikolai Berdyaev and Lev Shestov. The
nineteenth century philosophers, Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, came to be seen as precursors of the
movement. Existentialism was as much a literary phenomenon as a philosophical one. Sartre's own ideas were and
are better known through his fictional works (such as Nausea and No Exit) than through his more purely
philosophical ones (such as Being and Nothingness and Critique of Dialectical Reason), and the postwar years found
a very diverse coterie of writers and artists linked under the term: retrospectively, Dostoevsky, Ibsen, and Kafka
were conscripted; in Paris there were Jean Genet, André Gide, André Malraux, and the expatriate Samuel Beckett;
the Norwegian Knut Hamsun and the Romanian Eugene Ionesco belong to the club; artists such as Alberto
Giacometti and even Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, and Willem de Kooning, and
filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard and Ingmar Bergman were understood in existential terms. By the mid 1970s
the cultural image of existentialism had become a cliché, parodized in countless books and films by Woody Allen.

It is sometimes suggested, therefore, that existentialism just is this bygone cultural movement rather than an
identifiable philosophical position; or, alternatively, that the term should be restricted to Sartre's philosophy alone.
But while a philosophical definition of existentialism may not entirely ignore the cultural fate of the term, and while
Sartre's thought must loom large in any account of existentialism, the concept does pick out a distinctive cluster of
philosophical problems and helpfully identifies a relatively distinct current of twentieth- and now twenty-first
century philosophical inquiry, one that has had significant impact on fields such as theology (through Rudolf
Bultmann, Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, and others) and psychology (from Ludwig Binswanger and Medard Boss to Otto
Rank, R. D. Laing, and Viktor Frankl). What makes this current of inquiry distinct is not its concern with
“existence” in general, but rather its claim that thinking about human existence requires new categories not found in
the conceptual repertoire of ancient or modern thought; human beings can be understood neither as substances with
fixed properties, nor as subjects interacting with a world of objects.

On the existential view, to understand what a human being is it is not enough to know all the truths that natural
science—including the science of psychology—could tell us. The dualist who holds that human beings are
composed of independent substances—“mind” and “body”—is no better off in this regard than is the physicalist,
who holds that human existence can be adequately explained in terms of the fundamental physical constituents of
the universe. Existentialism does not deny the validity of the basic categories of physics, biology, psychology, and
the other sciences (categories such as matter, causality, force, function, organism, development, motivation, and so
on). It claims only that human beings cannot be fully understood in terms of them. Nor can such an understanding be
gained by supplementing our scientific picture with a moral one. Categories of moral theory such as intention,
blame, responsibility, character, duty, virtue, and the like do capture important aspects of the human condition, but
neither moral thinking (governed by the norms of the good and the right) nor scientific thinking (governed by the
norm of truth) suffices.

“Existentialism”, therefore, may be defined as the philosophical theory which holds that a further set of categories,
governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to grasp human existence. To approach existentialism in this
categorial way may seem to conceal what is often taken to be its “heart” (Kaufmann 1968:12), namely, its character
as a gesture of protest against academic philosophy, its anti-system sensibility, its flight from the “iron cage” of
reason. But while it is true that the major existential philosophers wrote with a passion and urgency rather
uncommon in our own time, and while the idea that philosophy cannot be practiced in the disinterested manner of an
objective science is indeed central to existentialism, it is equally true that all the themes popularly associated with
existentialism—dread, boredom, alienation, the absurd, freedom, commitment, nothingness, and so on—find their
philosophical significance in the context of the search for a new categorial framework, together with its governing

Existentialist Aesthetics

First published Fri Jun 26, 2009

Many of the philosophers commonly described as “existentialist” have made original and decisive contributions to
aesthetic thinking. In most cases, a substantial involvement in artistic practice (as novelists, playwrights or
musicians) nourished their thinking on aesthetic experience. This is true already of two of the major philosophers
who inspired 20th century existentialism: Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. For reasons of space, however,
this entry is restricted to 20th century thinkers who at one point or another accepted the tag “existentialist” as an
accurate characterisation of their thinking, and who have made the most significant contributions to aesthetics:
Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Gabriel Marcel, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Existentialism owes its name to its emphasis on “existence”. For all the thinkers mentioned above, regardless of
their differences, existence indicates the special way in which human beings are in the world, in contrast with other
beings. For the existentialists, the human being is “more” than what it is: not only does the human being know that it
is but, on the basis of this fundamental knowledge, this being can choose how it will “use” its own being, and thus
how it will relate to the world. “Existence” is thus closely related to freedom in the sense of an active engagement in
the world. This metaphysical theory regarding human freedom leads into a distinct approach to ontology, i.e., the
study of the different ways of being.

This ontological aspect of existentialism ties it to aesthetic considerations. Existentialist thinkers believe that, under
certain conditions, freedom grants the human being the capacity of revealing essential features of the world and of
the beings in it. Since artistic practice is one of the prime examples of free human activity, it is therefore also one of
the privileged modes of revealing what the world is about. However, since most of the existentialists followed
Nietzsche in the conviction that “God is dead,” art's power of revelation is to a large extent devoted to expressing
the absurdity of the human condition. For the existentialists, the world is no longer hospitable to our human desire
for meaning and order.

This ontological approach to art underpins some of the most distinctive features of existentialist aesthetics. Because
it views art in terms of “revelation,” it favors representative art and is suspicious of formalist avant-gardes. And
because it grounds expressive capacity on the notion of human freedom, it demands that artistic representation be
strongly informed by ethical and political concerns. This is why at times existentialist aesthetics can appear out of
touch with the aesthetic avant-gardes of the 20th century.

Some of the existentialists wrote substantial analyses about different art forms and how they can be compared,
elaborating something like a “system of the arts” similar to that of classical aesthetics. All the existentialist thinkers,
with the exception of Merleau-Ponty, thought that the form that best enabled the revelatory potential of art was the
theatre, followed by the novel.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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For the literary genre, see Absurdist fiction.
This article is about the philosophy. For absurdist humor, see surreal humour.

Absurdism is a philosophy stating that the efforts of humanity to find meaning in the universe ultimately fail (and
hence are absurd), because no such meaning exists, at least in relation to the individual. "The Absurd", therefore, is
commonly used in philosophical discourse to refer to the clash between the human search for meaning and the
human inability to find any. In this context absurd does not mean "logically impossible," but rather "humanly

Absurdism is very closely related to existentialism and nihilism and has its origins in the 19th century Danish
philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, who chose to confront the crisis humans faced with the Absurd by developing
existential philosophy. Absurdism as a belief system was born of the European existentialist movement that ensued,
specifically when the French Algerian philosopher and writer Albert Camus rejected certain aspects from that
philosophical line of thought[2] and published his manuscript The Myth of Sisyphus. The aftermath of World War II
provided the social environment that stimulated absurdist views and allowed for their popular development,
especially in the devastated country of France.
Chapter Questions

Chapter 1.

1. How does Camus set up Meursault's personality -- how does Meursault respond to others' conversation,
to ordinary social situations, and to the death of his mother?

2. On page 10, Meursault says that at the viewing of his mother, he felt as if the elderly people there were
judging him. Offer a conjecture about why he might have had that feeling. (It is worth paying attention to
such references to "judgment" because they occur several times throughout the work.)

3. From 14-18, how does Meursault describe the funeral procession -- why was it a difficult experience
for him? How does he say he felt after the burial was concluded? Do his reactions strike you as odd?

Chapter 2.

1. Meursault meets his old flame Marie Cardona. What happens between them, and why might it be
considered inappropriate? Does Meursault seem to consider his behavior with Marie wrong? Explain.

2. How does this chapter deal with Meursault's experience of time's passage after the death of his mother?
How does the chapter also convey a sense of emptiness?

3. What reflections does Meursault offer at the end of the chapter?

Chapter 3.

1. What is the point of Camus' including a chapter of this sort -- one in which we are introduced to several
of Meursault's friends and acquaintances?

2. From 26-28 top, Meursault describes his meeting with Salamano and his old dog. What is Salamano's
relationship with his dog? How does that relationship contrast with the way Meursault lives his life?

3. From 28-33, Meursault describes his friendship with Raymond Sintes. What explanation does Sintes
give for the fight he has had with an Arab man -- what isn't quite honest about the order in which he tells
his story? How does Meursault react to the story and to Sintes' offer of friendship?

Chapter 4.
1. How do you connect the main episodes in this chapter -- Sintes' trouble with his girlfriend and
Salamano's lamentation over his lost dog -- with Meursault's way of experiencing or perceiving the things
that happen in his life? What contrasts between Meursault and these other characters does this chapter

Chapter 5.

1. What changes are offered Meursault in this chapter? How does he react to them?

2. On page 40, how does Meursault introduce the trip that will prove fatal to him? Explain how this
reference is characteristic of Camus' handling of events, of "experience," in The Stranger.

3. On page 43, what is the purpose of the episode in which a rather perky woman joins Meursault for
dinner and then promptly leaves?

Chapter 6.

1. What role does the sun play in the unfolding of this chapter's events, especially Meursault's shooting of
the Arab man on the beach? How do references to the sun obscure our understanding of the shooting?
What other possible explanations does the sun's constant presence undercut?

2. How does Meursault refer to his Algerian Arab opponents throughout this chapter? How much can one
understand about them -- their motives, their character, whether or not they started the fight, et cetera?

Part Two

Chapter 1.

1. What does the magistrate want to hear from Meursault? Why is he upset with Meursault's responses?

2. What difficulties does Meursault have in responding to the magistrate the way he is expected to? Why
do the expectations annoy him?

Chapter 2.

1. What strategies does Meursault employ to habituate himself to life in prison while he awaits trial? Does
he change as a result of prison confinement? Explain.

Chapter 3.

1. Why is the "jury trial" a good vehicle for Camus in showing the absurdity of the various attempts made
to interpret why Meursault has committed his crime? That is, what things matter most during a trial -- the
evidence, or other factors? Explain.

2. How do Meursault's friends and acquaintances explain his actions? What "spin" is the prosecutor able
to give to their explanations, and why is it difficult to undo the damage the prosecutor has done to
Meursault's prospects for acquittal?
Chapter 4.

1. What is Meursault's complaint about the trial proceedings and especially about both the defense lawyer
and the prosecuting attorney?

2. If you were a jury member -- and therefore were not a reader of Meursault's own narration of his
behavior -- would you find the prosecutor's story about Meursault convincing? Would you buy his
defense attorney's story? Explain.

3. The prosecuting attorney describes Meursault's heart as "an abyss threatening to swallow up society"
(101), and on 102 he even accuses Meursault of the parricide supposedly committed by the next defendant
to be tried in the same courtroom. How do you interpret these strange claims -- what threat might
Meursault be said to pose to "civilized society" even beyond the rather common crime he has committed?

Chapter 5.

1. On page 109, Meursault says after his death sentence has been pronounced that there "really was
something ridiculously out of proportion between the verdict such certainty was based on and the
imperturbable march of events from the moment the verdict was announced." How does this comment
address the strong need manifested in social and legal institutions to attain certainty about people and

2. Why does Meursault become so upset with the priest who comes to visit him in his cell? What is the
priest trying to make him do?

3. To what extent does Meursault accept his fate? How does he arrive at his final understanding of his
situation, and how would you describe that understanding?
                                    AP Literature: the Universal Rubric

8-9 Effective: papers respond to the assignment clearly, directly, and fully. These papers approach the
text analytically and illustrate their points with numerous textual references and/or quotations. They
show subtlety in their use of text, and their own style indicates stylistic flexibility and mastery. These
writers read with perception and express their ideas with clarity and skill. They need not, however, be
free of errors.

6-7Competent: papers respond to the assignment clearly and directly but with less development than 8-
9 papers. They indicate a good understanding of the text and support their points with appropriate
textual references and/or quotations. While their approach is analytic, the analysis is less precise than in
8-9 papers, and the use of text is competent but not subtle. The writing in these papers is forceful and
clear, but need not be free from errors.

5 Adequate: papers typically address the assigned question intelligently but do not answer it fully and
specifically. They are characterized by a good but general grasp of the text and by the ability to use the
text to frame an apt but imprecise response to the assignment. They may use textual references and
quotations sparingly or without clearly enough supporting their points. The style of 5 essays is
characterized by adequate clarity and organizational divisions, but may be mechanical or banal.

3-4Inadequate: papers fail in some important way to fulfill the assignment. They may omit some part of
the question, fail to analyze adequately, fail to provide minimum textual support for their points, or base
their analysis on a misreading of some part of the text. Nevertheless, these essays normally present one
or more incisive points among others of less value. The writing may be similarly uneven in development,
with lapses in organization or clarity and/or weak control of elements of style and grammar.

1-2Little Success papers commonly combine two or more serious failures: they may not address the
actual question; or they may indicate serious misreading of the text. They may not use textual support,
or may use it in a way that suggests failure to understand the text; they may be unclear, badly written or
unacceptably brief. The style of these papers is usually marked by egregious errors or by abruptness that
suggests the student did not finish. These papers may be inexact, vacuous, ill organized, illogically argues
and/or mechanically unsound. Some, however, may be smoothly written, though devoid of content.

0 papers are responses with no more than a reference to the task or a simple restating of the prompt.


9 = 100     8= 94       7 = 90       6 = 84      5 = 80      4 = 74       3 = 70      2 = 64       1 = 60

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