Albert Camus, The Outsider (a.k.a. The Stranger)
There are two parts to this assignment. Both parts are to be passed in on time as LATE PAPERS WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED.
Part 1: Do ONE of the following essay questions. (50%)
1. In Part I, chapter 2, Meursault almost says to Marie that his mother’s death “wasn’t my fault.” Later, in chapter 3, Raymond also makes the claim that the beating that he laid on the prostitute’s brother “wasn’t my fault.” Evaluate these claims along with the notion of “fault” or moral responsibility. What is the suggestion in both cases concerning “fault”? Discuss the similarities and differences between Meursault and Raymond.
2. Critically analyze the exchange between the priest and Meursault at the end of the novel. How are the understandings of each portrayed? Offer an explanation and assessment of each view. Which view is most acceptable to you and why?
3. Discuss the style of The Outsider (a.k.a. The Stranger). How does Meursault's language correspond to the subjects he describes? Does it evolve or change as the novel goes on? Does the stripped-down prose of the novel's first half limit its expressive power?
4. Investigate Meursault’s behaviour upon the death of his mother, and at the funeral. What does this tell us about his character? What strikes us as unsavoury about Meursault? Why? Offer a careful assessment of his personality in essay format.
5. Investigate the dramatic and symbolic significance of Salamano and his dog throughout the story. What sort of a person is Salamano? What literary purpose does his character serve in the novel? Examine Meursault’s reaction to Salamono’s character qualities. What light do these reactions throw upon our understanding of Meursault? Compare and contrast the characters of Meursault and Salamano.
6. In Part II, chapter 5, Meursault says that “nothing was more important than an execution; that, viewed from one angle, it’s the only thing that can genuinely interest a man?” Explain what he means with careful reference to the text and its overall philosophical quandaries.
7. Examine Meursault’s relationship with Raymond. Take some time in particular to investigate Raymond’s “plans” for the prostitute, and how Meursault reacts to them. What sorts of people are Meursault and Raymond? What binds them together? What distinguishes them? What does Meursault’s acquaintance with Raymond suggest about his character and why?
8. In his jail cell, Meursault finds an old newspaper article about a Czechoslovakian man who is murdered by his mother and sister. How does this article relate to Meursault's own trial for murder? How does this article expand the themes in The Stranger? How does it support Camus' philosophy of the absurd?
9. Scan the novel for references to the way in which Meursault views death. What significance does death have for Meursault in the novel? Is there an over-arching understanding of death that emerges? Does Meursault’s view of death change as the novel progresses? Explain with reference to evidence from the text. How do you evaluate Meursault’s views on the subject?
10. When Marie asks Meursault if he loves her, he replies that the question is meaningless. What could he possibly mean by saying this? Examine the view of love taken by Meursault in the novel. How is love portrayed? Is there such a thing as love, according to the experiences of Meursault? If so, what might be its ground?
11. In Part I, chapter 5, Meursault responds to his bosses inquiries about a potential “change of life” that “one never changed one’s real life,” and that “one life was as good as another.” Discuss the meaning and significance of these statements. What would it mean if Meursault were correct about change, and that all manner of living is equal? What is the underlying, moral, ethical, or philosophical significance of this statement? How is Meursault’s life in many ways a demonstration of these statements? Discuss the legitimacy or illegitimacy of this view.
12. Examine the relationship between Meursault and Marie. How is each character portrayed (character study), and what is their relationship like? What is the binding principle between them? What elements also separate them? What role does their relationship play in the development of the central idea or problem of the novel? (i.e.: What do you take to be the central idea or problem?)
13. Explain the significance of the following admission by Meursault as it pertains to the general problem or “grand question” of the novel concerning morality: “I’d have liked to have a chance of explaining to him, in a quite friendly, almost affectionate way, that I have never been able really to regret anything in all my life. I’ve always been far too much absorbed in the present moment, or the immediate future, to think back” (Part II, chapter 4).
14. Examine the symbolic significance of the title of the novel (Pick ONE: The Stranger OR The Outsider). What is makes Meursault a stranger or an outsider? What does the figure of the stranger OR the outsider represent. What problem is presented to Camus’ readers in this character type? Explain with reference to the text.
15. In Part I, chapter 6, when Raymond and Meursault encounter the Arabs for the second time, Meursault thinks to himself: “just then it crossed my mind that one might fire, or not fire – and it would come to absolutely the same thing.” What does he mean? What does his remark here suggest about morality, or matters of good and evil?
16. Carefully examine the events of the murder at the end of Part I. What evidence can you gather as to the precise nature of the homicide? (i.e. What was Meursault’s intent? Was there intent? What factors led up to the slaying? What does Meursault say about what was happening and why he acted the way he did?) How might this information be used to evaluate the justice or injustice of Meursault’s trial and punishment?
17. What might be the significance of Meursault’s remarks that his mother’s death was not his fault, coupled with his statement to his lawyer that “all normal people ... had more or less desired the death of those they loved, at some time or another” (Part II, chapter 1)? What is Meursault’s point here, and how does it connect with the larger questions or problems being investigated in the novel? (i.e. What are these problems?)
18. Offer some statement of explanation concerning what you understand to be Meursault’s “philosophy” or his understanding of the world. Trace the development of Meursault's philosophy. How does he come to open himself to “the gentle indifference of the world”? What does this phrase mean? What spurs his revelation? How do earlier events in the novel prepare us to expect it?
19. What is suggested about guilt and responsibility when Meursault tells his lawyer in Part II, chapter 1 that “my physical condition at any given moment often influenced my feelings”? Offer some explanation of the particular incident of this admission and its significance, as well as the “grand” meaning of this statement when applied to our notions of morality in general.
20. Is Meursault really a threat to his society? Does he deserve the death penalty? Is he more or less dangerous than a criminal who commits a crime with clear motive? Develop an argument in essay form using careful textual analysis.
21. Carefully investigate the exchange between Meursault and the Magistrate in Part II, chapter 1. What does the Magistrate expect from Meursault and why are his expectations unfulfilled? Explain the significance of their discussion of the status of guilt and regret. What is guilt? Why is it important to the Magistrate, and why is guilt a problematic concept for Meursault? What is the “grand” significance of the manner in which guilt is portrayed here for understanding the meaning of the novel as a whole? (That is, what general problem or idea is the novel addressing, and how does this dramatic episode of dialogue contribute to the development of that problem?)
22. Compare and contrast the relationship between Salamano and his dog with the relationship between Meursault and his mother. What are the similarities? Which is more loving?
23. Examine the tensions between the views and experiences of Meursault on the one hand and the societal expectations (particularly in their religious foundations) on the other hand. What are the general characteristics of each of these views? (i.e. What assumptions are made in each case, and how might these assumptions be grounded in experience?) What makes these two views irreconcilable? As part of your evidentiary work, compare and contrast the ideas of the Magistrate and the priest on the one hand with those of Meursault on the other.
24. The prosecution at Meursault’s trial refers to him as “an inhuman monster wholly without moral sense” (Part II, chapter 3). Is this evaluation of Meursault’s character accurate? Why or why not? Support your argument with textual references and analysis.
25. Analyze the passages describing Meursault's walk down the beach before he kills the Arab. How does Camus build tension in the passage? How is it different from the passages preceding it? Meursault says at his trial that he killed the Arab because of the sun. Is this explanation at all valid? Discuss using careful textual analysis.
26. Investigate the meaning of the word “criminal” in the novel. What is the societal/moral understanding of this term, and why is this commonly accepted view of criminality challenged by Meursault’s actions, as well as by his understanding and his views?
27. The idea of hope is examined in Camus’ novel from two different angles. On the one hand, Meursault comments about the possibility of hope in Marie’s “silky shoulders” (Part II, chapter 2). Later in the novel, Meursault speaks of his fantasy that “new laws” might be framed for prisoners on death row in order to give them hope (Part II, chapter 5). On the other hand, the priest contends that without repentance there can be no hope for Meursault (Part II, chapter 5). Examine each of these claims about hope. How is hope understood differently in each case? How is the view of hope offered by the priest challenged by Meursault in the jail cell prior to his execution?
28. Examine the manner in which freedom is portrayed in the novel. What does Meursault learn about freedom and how does this insight relate with his understanding of human action and responsibility? What is particularly controversial about Meursault’s understanding of freedom when it is contrasted with commonplace understanding?
29. We see characters in the book solely through Meursault's eyes, but Meursault typically tells us very little. Using the information that Meursault provides, analyze a character such as Marie or Raymond. What level of insight does Meursault provide into these characters' personalities?
30. Gather together the various bits of advice that Meursault has remembered from his mother. Explain each “insight,” and how recollecting these insights shapes Meursault’s understanding while in prison. (i.e. What does he learn from his mother?)
31. Upon receiving Marie’s letter in Part I, chapter 2, Meursault says that “it was then that the things I’ve never liked to talk about began.” At the end of the chapter, he also refers to “the nameless hour” of which “I’d rather not speak.” What is it that Meursault has never liked to talk about in each case? Given what you know about his character, his understanding, and his emotional life, why do you think he would never have liked to speak of such things? What does this tell us about Meursault?
32. Examine the story of the Czech in Part II, chapter 3. What dramatic/symbolic purpose does this story serve in the larger context of the novel, and why does Meursault find the story so interesting? What questions does the story raise for the reader?
33. Intermittent throughout the novel we find various images of self-scrutiny and judgement. Read back through the novel thoroughly and find each instance. In essay form, offer up an analysis of each instance of these images, and having done so, offer up an interpretation of the manner in which judgment as a whole is portrayed in the novel.
34. Analyze the court proceedings in Part II. Do you think that Meursault received a fair trial? Be sure to investigate the manner in which each of the prosecution and the defence presented their case. Also consider whether either side actually understands how Meursault experienced the event, and what he says about each side.
35. Scour the novel for textual references to Meursault’s emotional life. When does he admit to having been moved by another human being, an event, or an experience? How does Mersault experience the world? How might we use an investigation of such instances to come to some sort of understanding of Meursault’s views on the world and his existence in it? What is Meursault’s understanding?
36. Using evidence from the novel, critique the prosecution’s claim that “it is quite impossible to assume that, when he [Meursault] committed the crime, he was unaware what he was doing” (Part II, chapter 4).
37. Investigate and analyze the parakeet image as it is used in Part I, chapter 1. What symbolic significance might it have? What might its use by Mersault to describe the old people at the funeral serve to indicate about his character?
38. Meursault feels alienated from his own trial in Part II. “Justice” is described as a “machine” in Part II, book 5. The quality of “efficiency” is important in the administration of justic in the novel, and the image of justice culminates in the apparatus of the guillotine. Examine critically this portrayal of justice in the novel. What implicit criticism of justice is being made by Camus throughout?
39. Despite recognizing his ability to turn away from the Arab and thus avoiding the shooting, Meursault experiences his life as a march of events that are fated over which he has little or no control. In other words, after a certain point, he feels locked into events. Given this perceived restriction of his own personal agency, develop a critique of the notion that Meursault could ever rightfully be held responsible, or guilty, for his actions.
40. Meursault imagines watching executions like his father, and this leaves him feeling “exalted” (Part II, chapter 5). Explain why he would feel this way, and how this feeling relates to his overall understanding of things in The Outsider.
41. Scour the novel for references to bodily experiences and cite each of them. Having carefully catalogued, referenced, and explained each instance, develop a theory concerning what significance the body has in the novel. What role does the body play in re-interpreting the grounds for belief in justice and morality in The Outsider?
42. Compare and contrast Meursault with how the priest describes other prisoners act or behave when they are faced with execution. What about Meursault’s understanding of the world and human agency makes him different from the other prisoners?
43. Review analytically the different views of justice purported by the priest and by Meursault. In particular, discuss the following exchange:
He said he felt convince my appeal would succeed, but I was saddled with a load of guilt, of which I must get rid. In his view man’s justice was a vain thing; only God’s justice mattered. I pointed out that the former had condemned me. Yes, he agreed, but it hadn’t absolved me from my sin. I told him that I wasn’t conscious of any ‘sin’; all I knew was that I’d been guilty of a criminal offence. Well, I was paying the penalty of that offence, and no one had the right to expect anything more of me” (Part II, chapter 5).
Part 2: Do ONE of the following projects. (50%)
1. Compose and perform a piece of music that portrays the philosophical standpoint taken by Meursault in The Outsider.
2. In a mock trial, organize your group into a prosecution team and a defence team. Re-work the trial of Meursault in front of the class, and let the class be the judge. You may reproduce the arguments offered in the novel by both sides, or change them according to your taste.
3. Divide your group into two positions for Meursault’s courtroom judgment. One side will argue for first degree murder; the other will argue for second degree murder. Present each of your cases to the class and let them decide which set of arguments is most persuasive.
4. Research Albert Camus’ so-called “philosophy of the absurd.” Offer an explanation of this idea to the class, and then demonstrate how this understanding is illustrated in the novel. End your presentation with an evaluation of the theory, as well as a statement about any questions that the theory presents.
5. Investigate the meaning of the term “nihilism.” How does Albert Camus’ Outsider speak to the problem of nihilism? Explain your research as it pertains to the novel to the class in presentation form.
6. Read through various samples of “prison literature.” See if you can discover some common experiences, observations, and conclusions about existence that result from the experience of prison life, and relate these comparatively to Meursault’s account of his prison experience in The Outsider.
7. Develop a dramatization of the argumentative dialogue between Meursault and the priest. Present your work to the class.
8. Read some comic book copies of “Howard the Duck.” The author of the series, Steve Gerber, says that Meursault was the principle influence for Howard’s character. Develop a presentation for the class that exposes the similarities as they unfold in the parallel dramas.
9. Investigate the lyrics to songs inspired by (or related in some fashion thematically to) The Outsider (some examples include: The Cure’s "Killing an Arab", A Perfect Circle’s “Outsider,” John Frusciante’s "Head (Beach Arab)," The Lawrence Arms, "Asa Phelps Is Dead," or Titus Andronicus, "No Future Part Two: The Day After No Future"). Play the song for the class. Supply the lyrics for everyone and discuss.
10. Investigate the theme of the absurd as it arises in visual art. Include at least three artworks that you have researched. Provide the visuals for the class, and offer up you interpretation of each.
11. Do a movie review of the 2001 Turkish version of the novel, Yasgi (directed by Zeki Demirkubuz). In your review, make sure you tell the class what you liked about the movie as well as what you did not enjoy. Also, enumerate any changes to the original novel, such as what was added as well as what was left out. End your review with an evaluation of the movie on a scale of 1 to 10.
12. Do a movie review of the 1967 Italian version of the novel, Lo Straniero (directed by Luchino Visconti). In your review, make sure you tell the class what you liked about the movie as well as what you did not enjoy. Also, enumerate any changes to the original novel, such as what was added as well as what was left out. End your review with an evaluation of the movie on a scale of 1 to 10.
13. Investigate absurdist theatre and explain its central tenets to the class. Then write and perform your own absurdist theatre piece.
14. What is nihilism and how is it portrayed in Camus’ novel? What challenges does nihilism pose for characters in the novel? Is there a critique of nihilism or a defence of nihilism that is implicit in Camus’ novel? Next, watch the Coen Brothers’ film, The Big Lebowski. How is nihilism portrayed in this film? What challenges does nihilism pose for characters in the film? Is there a critique of nihilism or a defence of nihilism that is implicit in the film? Compare and contrast the two artistic portrayals/statements concerning nihilism.