Albert Camus

Albert Camus
The Stranger
Albert Camus (1913-1960)
• Born in Algeria to a working class
colonial family
Father was killed in WWI
Mother: mute, illiterate, supported
family by cleaning houses
Was able to study due to
Joined the Communist party in
1934 (left it two years later)
Established the Theater for the
Worker in Algiers
Took part in Resistance in France
Later edited journal Combat
Nobel prize in 1957
Died in a car accident in 1960
Principal works:
• The Stranger (1942)
• The Myth of Sisyphus (1942)
• Caligula (1944)
• The Plague (1947)
• The Fall (1956)
• Exile and the Kingdom (1957)
Questions surrounding The
• Is it a novel of ideas, does it contain a thesis,
and what has the author set out to prove?
Is it a psychological study of a pathological case,
or is this case merely a symbol behind which are
hidden larger meanings?
Is it a philosophical novel, and if so, does Camus
propose any solutions, or are his theories only
negative and destructive?
How are we to read the colonial system
inscribed in the text, and the attitude toward
Arabs and women it projects?
The Absurd
• “…in a universe suddenly deprived of illusions and
enlightenment, man feels himself a stranger. This exile is
without remedy since he is deprived of memories of a
lost country or of hope for a promised land” (Myth of
Man facing the world and realizing the gap between the
eternal nature of the universe and his own finite nature
and the futility of his efforts
If nothing makes sense, then everything is permitted. All
scales of values disappear. All experiences become
equivalent and are to be measured quantitatively
Where do we see the absurd in The
Lives neither in past nor in the future
Present is nothing but an eternal void
Nothing has meaning, there is no aim
Perfectly passive
Does not perceive causal links
Emphasis on the “loneliness of each moment”: an
interminable succession of voids
• Believes that the world judges him, though he does not
know why
• Apathetic, taciturn
• Does not feel anything emotionally
• “One may be strongly ‘affected’ by an outer or inner
event and yet give no more than a second’s attention to
what one is feeling… When this occurs, affects may be
split within their own particular structure in such a way
that the psychic pole is divorced from the somatic pole
and the affect is reduced to a purely physiological
expression…In this case the emotion cannot be used as
a signal to the mind, and its message can be dealt with
neither by thought nor by action, leaving the subject
open to the danger that the soma may ‘think’ its own
solution to the event”
What are some examples of
Meursault’s purely physical
responses/sensitivity and lack of
Other signs of this disorder:
• An impoverished fantasy life, a paucity of dreams
• In the face of stressful situations, person has no
recourse other than to attack any perceptions that risk
arousing emotion
What other people expect or request makes no sense
An avoidance of emotional references
The world and people become devitalized, and the
exchange with others is meaningless
When the defense breaks down, the body enacts
primitive thoughts and feelings on a purely physical level
From this perspective, the murder
can be seen as:
• “a lifetime of unfelt feelings that enact
themselves. A longing for intimate contact,
a wish to be cared about, a need to be
something a father could truly be
interested in, combined with an enormous
pent up rage, an urge to kill in revenge for
having been emotionally murdered himself
as a child.”
The colonial system
• What is Meursault’s attitude toward Arabs?
• Toward women?
• Ambiguity of the first person narration.
Part II
• Forum responses: how and why does
Meursault change in the second part?
– He begins to have emotions
• Kristen
• Embriette
• Katie V.
– He makes an effort to understand: Chelsea
– He begins to understand: Tiffany
– Other ideas?
Camus’ concepts of existence and
• Existence: makes humans different from things
– The power within us to be free
– Power to understand
– Ability to feel passion
• Things:
Can be pushed by forces around them
Are in bondage to their environment
Cannot understand
Are passionless
They are, they do not exist
• When we give up liberty, lucidity and
passionate involvement with the world, we
become a mere thing
• The movement from “thinghood” to full
– Rock-like somnolence
– A shock or crisis during which the absurdity of the
world around us becomes clear and inescapable
– Free choice of a reaction or attitude toward this
– The use of our freedom to act (to do something about
this absurdidity)
• Where do we see these phases in The Stranger?
Forum responses
• Interpretation of last line
– Kalli: in his isolation, an angry mob is the only thing
he could hope for
– Katie M.: The only thing that matters in life is death
– Gena: death as the great equalizer
– Lindsey: relationship with existentialist philosophy, no
universal justice
– Danielle: having others around him, crying with hate
would mean that he actually did something
• “Camus repeatedly affirms that after
recognizing the “absurd” and revolting
against it, his Meursault is a kind of moral
suicide victim – a man not merely
condemned to death by his judges, but
one actively engaged in carrying out his
own death sentence which has been
pronounced by the very society to which
he is a “stranger”
The trial
• Novel moves from the absurdity of nature (the
symbol of the sun) to an exposition of an absurd
social order
– The writing out of the actual murder of the Arab
(collective racist attitude)
– Meursault condemned for parricide and matricide
– Things happen without his participation
– His lawyer speaks for him in first person
• Is he a monster as the prosecutor says?
Camus on Meursault:
• “I have sometimes said, and always
paradoxically, that I tried to give an
image, through my character, of the only
Christ we deserve. It is clear that I said it
without any intention of blasphemy and
only with the slight ironic affection that an
artist has the right to feel towards the
characters he creates”