The Stranger Questions and Answers
by Albert Camus

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What would be a good thesis and points to talk about in an essay regarding the language Camus uses for deeper meanings in the novel The Stranger?

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In The Stranger, by Albert Camus, language choices are critical in showing the attitudes of Meursault and the author toward his subject matter. The subject matter is both the main character himself and the philosophy of existentialism.

Camus uses sensual language to evoke sensation over feeling, and he uses vague rather than specific terms to indicate detachment and lack of responsibility. Camus also employs simple, short sentences and ordinary vocabulary to indicate a lack of depth in the main character and his overall shallowness of experience.

Examples of sensual rather than emotional language can be found throughout the book, because objects and situations are often described by their outward appearance rather than by their meaning. In addition, important scenes such as the stabbing on the beach include detailed language about the sensation of the hot sun, which is blinding and stifling. Camus doesn't write about the feelings so much as the sensory experience Meursault has.

Vague descriptions abound in The Stranger, so much so that the characters seem to barely exist except as shapes in Meursault's mind. In the famous first sentence, "My mother died today, or maybe it was yesterday," the vagueness begins. Meursault seems to have little interest in accuracy—or perhaps he simply doesn't care about details. He reports on events but does not reflect on them.

The initial sentence is another good example of simple sentence structure. Ideas are presented in a straightforward way, yet they are more descriptions than ideas. Each sentence sits by itself, and long complex sentence structure isn't used. This makes the reader feel somewhat detached from the action and adds to a feeling of (nearly) plodding forward. Additionally, the simplicity of sentence structure combined with everyday vocabulary makes the story seem accessible; the deeper meaning doesn't emerge until the end of the story, with the plot resolution that occurs when the character begins to reflect on himself and his situation.

The language only presents deeper ideas at the end of the story, when Meursault finally wakes up and realizes there is meaning in life, even if it is only in his ability to think. He comments just before his execution about his sense of comfort in looking heavenward, one night, from his jail cell. He observes the "benign indifference of the stars," which is an insight into his ability to relate himself to something larger.

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(Assuming you are reading the book in English translation) The narrative character, a French expatriot in Algeria, uses language that endistances himself from his emotional surroundings; that is why the opening lines of Camus’ book are so famous:  “Mother died today.  Or maybe yesterday.” On the surface this remark simply refers to the probable delay of news traveling to a distant land, but by the use of “nitpicking details,” Camus demonstrates the character’s lack of emotional response to news that should have had a devastating effect on him.  Later on in the book, when describing the actual shooting of a stranger on the beach, the narrative character displays the same unemotional distancing and indifference to the crime itself.  Camus uses the linguistic device of understatement as a parallel to the existential concept of freedom from guilt—since there are no predetermined right or wrong human actions.  “The Stranger,” then, refers not merely to the victim, but to all of us – strangers to a universal set of laws, strangers to each other, as we form our “meaning” by our actions.