The Stranger

by: Albert Camus

Study Questions

1

How do we know the world of The Stranger is irrational? How do different characters react to this irrationality?

Camus demonstrates that the world of The Stranger is irrational by excluding from the text any logical explanation for the events of the novel. Meursault’s murder of the Arab is the most obvious example of an event that occurs for no apparent reason. Meursault has no reason to kill the Arab, nor does he construct one. His action is completely random and purposeless. Another occurrence that holds no rational meaning is Thomas Perez’s exhaustion at the funeral. Perez, possibly the only person who really cares about Madame Meursault’s death, ironically cannot move quickly enough to stay with her coffin. His inability to keep up with the funeral procession—to act in accordance with his feelings—frustrates him to the point of tears. A third inexplicable occurrence is the scheduling of Meursault’s trial just before the trial of a son who killed his father. The prosecutor argues that Meursault’s crime opened the door for the crime of parricide, using the random circumstance of the trial schedule to help secure Meursault’s death sentence. Had the two cases not been scheduled back-to-back, Meursault might have received a lighter sentence. Camus seems to use the extent to which each character accepts or attempts to defy the irrationality of the universe as a signal of his or her personal worth.

2

How do Meursault’s and Marie’s views of their relationship differ?

Meursault’s continual focus on Marie’s body and his lack of interest in her personality show that he sees his relationship with her as purely physical. Meursault repeatedly makes comments about Marie’s figure, usually noting how beautiful she looks. He describes little about their interaction other than their physical contact. The emotional aspects of their relationship are clearly secondary to Meursault. When she asks, he tells Marie that he probably does not love her, and he answers her questions about marriage with similar indifference. The fact that Marie asks these questions shows that she feels at least some emotional attachment to Meursault. At one point, she explicitly states that she loves Meursault for his peculiarities. After Meursault goes to jail, the differences between his and Marie’s attitudes about their relationship become even more obvious. Whereas Marie visits Meursault and genuinely misses his companionship, Meursault only misses Marie because he misses sex. Otherwise, he hardly thinks of her.

3

Compare Meursault to Raymond Sintes. How are the two neighbors different? How are they similar?

At first, it seems that Raymond and Meursault could not be more different. Whereas Raymond is active and possesses a violent temper, Meursault is passive and always calm. Raymond treats his mistress cruelly, beating and abusing her, while Meursault does not seem capable of such behavior toward women. However, Raymond holds genuine feelings for his mistress and is truly hurt when he learns that she is cheating on him. Meursault, on the contrary, seems to have very little affection for Marie, whose appeal to him is predominantly physical.

Despite their differences, Meursault and Raymond hold similar positions in relation to society. Meursault’s detached attitudes make him an outsider, a stranger to “normal” society. Raymond’s work as a pimp brings him a similar societal stigma. Like Meursault, Raymond is on the outside of society looking in. Perhaps this similarity forms the foundation of their friendship.