Please read the following sections from The Stranger, and answer the questions below:  "On waking I understood why my employer had looked rather cross when I asked for my two days off; it’s...

Please read the following sections from The Stranger, and answer the questions below: 

"On waking I understood why my employer had looked rather cross when I asked for my two days off; it’s a Saturday today. I hadn’t thought of this at the time; it only struck me when I was getting out of bed. Obviously he had seen that it would mean my getting four days’ holiday straight off, and one couldn’t expect him to like that. Still, for one thing, it wasn’t my fault if Mother was buried yesterday and not today; and then, again, I’d have had my Saturday and Sunday off in any case. But naturally this didn’t prevent me from seeing my employer’s point."

"When we had dressed, she stared at my black tie and asked if I was in mourning. I explained that my mother had died. “When?” she asked, and I said, “Yesterday.” She made no remark, though I thought she shrank away a little. I was just going to explain to her that it wasn’t my fault, but I checked myself, as I remembered having said the same thing to my employer, and realizing then it sounded rather foolish. Still, foolish or not, somehow one can’t help feeling a bit guilty, I suppose."

"I’d intended to smoke another cigarette at my window, but the night had turned rather chilly and I decided against it. As I was coming back, after shutting the window, I glanced at the mirror and saw reflected in it a corner of my table with my spirit lamp and some bits of bread beside it. It occurred to me that somehow I’d got through another Sunday, that Mother now was buried, and tomorrow I’d be going back to work as usual. Really, nothing in my life had changed."

  • Explain how these passages reflect the character of Meursault. Base your answer on the other events from the novel. 
  • Explain the bold phrases and their contribution to the view of the implications (meanings) of the work.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Albert Camus's L'Etranger (The Stranger) is a notable example of the author's belief that “a novel is a philosophy put into images.” At the time of his writing of this work, Camus held with Absurdism, which is a belief that there is a conflict between the human mind and the universe; and, because of this conflict, the efforts of man to find meaning in life will fail. For, man's search for meaning is up against the unreasonableness of the world. In The Stranger, the character of Mersault seems alienated, even passive and amoral at times.

  • In the first selection from Part I, Chapter 2, Meursault seems disengaged as he discusses his employer's dislike of his having four day's off, adding dispassionately, "it wasn't my fault if Mother was buried...." The tone of this statement indicates Meursault's passive acceptance of the inevitability of death, although he does mention in the next paragraph that he "was exhausted by the previous day's experiences." 

Not unlike many who seek distraction from tragic events, Mersault decides further in this same chapter to "spend his morning" with Marie whom he fondles and swims with after meeting her at the harbor. While they dry themselves at the edge of the pool, he invites Marie to the movies, and she accepts. After he dresses, she asks him about his black tie, and he almost reiterates his thoughts of the other day.

  • "...it wasn't my fault" is repeated in Meursault's thoughts, underscoring the inevitability of death against which man can take no action.  His later remark, "Still, foolish or not, somehow one can’t help feeling a bit guilty, I suppose," suggests man's innate emotions that arise regardless of their absurdity in the face of such an indifferent universe--underscoring the conflict between the human personality and the world, as mentioned above. But Meursault rejects these feelings.

This passage also reflects Meursault's lack of personal awareness throughout the narrative. Here, he is uncertain about his feelings, expressing this uncertainty as "guilt."

  • At the end of Chapter 2, after having sat at his window watching the panoply of people and weather that he has first described as "cloudless" but emitting a soft light," he watches over the people returning from the movies or Sunday afternoon walks, who "seemed languid and exhausted." Meursault later observes, 

Soon after, the sky clouded over, and I thought a summer storm was coming. However, the clouds gradually lifted. All the same, they had left in the street a sort of threat of rain, which made it darker. I stayed watching the sky for quite a while.

Although Meursault's descriptions are in an dispassionate, journalistic style, there is a suggestion that his spirit has been in some turmoil throughout the narrative and his emotions are repressed and alienated from his mind because he feels that they serve him not in such an absurd world. For, he remarks, "Really nothing in my life had changed."

___________________

 It is interesting to note that the main character's name seems a derivative of the French verb mourir, which means "to die." In its present tense conjugation the spelling is very close to the first person, "I die": Je [I] meurs. The last part of his name, sault, may suggest the word salut, an informal greeting. Perhaps, then, there is the foreshadowing of the protagonist's death at the end as well as his spiritual death in his taking an amoral attitude toward his actions. In the end, Meursault remains disaffected--just as he has prohibited himself from expressing his grief over his mother's death--because he feels that life is absurd since it inevitably ends in death. These are the last lines of the novel:

To feel it [the existential certainty of death and absurdity of life] so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I’d been happy, and that I was happy still. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.

One critic of The Stranger writes that Meursault offers himself as a "martyr to the truth" of the meaningless of life.

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