Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Stranger and The Plague by Albert Camus



Every week by Saturday morning...
* Read 100 to 150 pages.

* Write 300+ words a week in response to your reading.
* Respond analytically and personally to what you have read.
* Discuss the significance of at least one passage/quotation.
* Discuss the relationship between what you are reading and something(s) else you have read this year.
* Respond to a comment made by a peer (after the first week).

14 comments:

fenkor said...

The Stranger by Albert Camus

"The gentle indifference of the world" appears to be the main idea of the narrator (Camus 122). When the narrator's mother dies he didn't give off much of a reaction by saying "Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know" (Camus 3). This wording gives the impression that the narrator does not think that his mother’s death is all that important. A comparison could be the death of a stranger or even someone famous who you don’t really care for or know about. This might be the case for George Washington who was one of the founders of America. This famous man was born on February 22nd, 1732 and died in December 14, 1799 at the age of 67. But, if the death is for someone who used to live with you since childhood, and not in some distant century, until the person got very old and needed someone to come care for them, his comment appears to be too indifferent and vague. Though the narrator did go to the funeral where in some books and in real life there are people who wouldn't go to a funeral for their mother. There are even orphans who were too young to know their mothers.

Then at the trial where whether he would live or die was being decided, the narrator seemed to drift off and only caught certain phrases of conversation. At the end he ends up accepting and finding joy in his own way looking at the world and saying that the world is "so like a brother" (Camus123). Though this is at the very end of the book and the narrator is facing the death penalty. At this point you could say that the only choice is whether he dies with regrets or with acceptance. But, an ironic twist of being in jail is that he gives up smoking, since his cigarettes are taken away by the guards and no more are given to him during his time till the trial. This gives has him live a much healthier life with imminent death.

andrew said...

The book The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is written almost as an autobiography in that the author is a character in the book. The book is said to be “a work of fiction” but it’s “dedicated to the men of Alpha Company, and in particular to Jimmy Cross, Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Henry Dobbins, and Kiowa.” I feel that this book is based on true events since the author was in Vietnam, but I’m assuming that he has made up some of the stories that he tells.
On page 82, Mitchell Sanders describes the war in Vietnam as only a soldier would know when he says, “For the common soldier, at least, war has the feel-the spiritual texture- of a great ghostly fog, thick and permanent. There is no clarity. Everything swirls. The old rules are no longer binding, the old truths no longer true. Right spills over into wrong. Order blends into chaos, love into hate, ugliness into beauty, law into anarchy, civility into savagery. The vapors suck you in. You can’t tell where you are, or why you’re there, and the only certainty is overwhelming ambiguity. In war you lose your sense of the definite, hence your sense of truth itself, and therefore it’s safe to say that in a true war story nothing is ever absolutely true.” This quote reveals what soldiers were dealing with in Vietnam. Soldiers prior to this war were used to fighting an enemy that was clearly identifiable. The author describes the uncertainty of who the enemy is and where they are. This war seems much scarier than other wars due to the amount of land mines that lay hidden under the soil.
This book so far reminds me of Heart of Darkness based on the unnerving mood that it evokes. In Heart of Darkness most of the scenes are described as appearing foggy which gives it an eerie feel. In The Things They Carried the author recalls a story told to him by Sanders where Sanders explains how a team of soldiers becomes paralyzed with fear. On page 72, Sanders describes the creepiness of the incident when he says, “You don’t know spooky till you been there. Jungle, sort of, except it’s way up in the clouds and there’s always this fog- like rain, except it’s not raining- everything’s all wet and swirly and tangled up and you can’t see jack, you can’t find you own pecker to piss with. Like you don’t even have a body. Serious spooky. You just go with the vapors- the fog sort of takes you in…And the sounds, man. The sounds carry forever. You hear stuff nobody should ever hear.”

Francesco P said...

Sorry this is late, I wasn’t quite satisfied with what I had originally written.

A major theme throughout the novel, The Stranger, is the notion of existential complacency. We get a taste of it early on enough in the book, when Meursault justifies sending his aging mother to a nursing home, “During her first few weeks at the Home she used to cry a good deal. But that was only because she hadn’t settled down.” (5). For Meursault, the events and situations in life, before his detainment, are irrelevant, as the individual eventually develops a familiarity and rhythm to their mundanity. He’s apathetic to the majority of his living reality, and bases most of his decisions and verbalizations on what is either expected, most appropriate, or what yields some other self-inclined (in stucutring his image) purpose. (As a side note, this heavily reminded me of a passage illustrating Anse in As I lay Dying in that “it ain’t the moving he hates so much as the starting and stopping” where the issues of reality come from the changes that result) Entering prison yields the same effect. He adapts to this new environment and is not even conscious of the fact that he is in prison from the lack of ‘change’.

Days carry no meaning when he maintains the same schedule day after day, filling most of his time with dreamless sleep. (This motif of sleep also reminded me of As I Lay Dying, in that Meursault uses sleep as a way of emptying himself.) Throughout the novel, heat induces a languid sleep for him, which he finds oblivion from. Sitting in a courtroom, within some stifling heat, we can see the effects that heat, and lethargy have on him, “I wiped the sweat from my face, but I was barely conscious of where or who I was.” Meursault isn’t at all restless from the notion of finding distraction, rather saying “Yet again, the whole problem was: how to kill time. (Yet another reminder: Waiting for Godot! Meursault reflects his conflict, and the conflict of existence itself, of how to live in a stance of utilizing time as a distraction towards the end. The Stranger, carries a more nihilistic tone, as Meursault conflict is killing time in anticipation for death, while Vladimir and Estragon can be said to be ‘optimistic’ in the sense that, the book suggests they are waiting for God at their ‘end’)

Francesco P said...

He brings the tangibility of the outside physical world’s details into his awareness so that he may fabricate some distraction from his placement. He’s flooded with forgotten memories, and of the minutest details of his old surroundings, although they are still empty illustrations, environments which he can surround himself in comfort, and in so bringing some form of solace to his existence, “So I learned that even after a single day’s experience of the outside world a man could easily live a hundred years in prison.” This forced self-rumination from lack of stimulus proves to be the catalyst that sparks reflection and perhaps even passion, in what was predominantly an empty, callous individual. He finally becomes aware of the fact that his liberty has been deprived from him, when he remises of the bliss of making love to Marie, and realizes that he cannot freely do so anymore. He becomes conscious of the sensations of his past as he leaves the courthouse and returns to the prison cell, feeling the familiarity of his memories and realizing “that familiar paths traced in the dusk of summer evenings may lead as well to prisons as to innocent, untroubled sleep.”(61). By the time the court deems him guilty, and condemns to the guillotine, he vehemently yearns for distractions from the anticipation of death, rather than distracting himself from life in expectance of death.

To wrap up, for I feel as if this book could yield an infinite session of my expression of it, this is a story of an unconscious man, thrown into awareness of his existence through his own means of ‘reacting to the sun in his eyes’. It’s a story of a man considering his existence, like anyone else’s, cover to cover, in that it ends with death, the pages in between, being less relevant. It’s a story about the power that perception holds over our awareness, and our emotions (or lack of). And it’s a story I would force into everyone hands so that they may be placed within the contradiction nature of the absurdity of one human’s existence.

B Shay said...

The second time reading through the book “The stranger” by Albert Camus, I was told by a friend to focus in on how Meursault was absurd. This was when I was reading the book “waiting for Godot” which is about the absurdity of life/living. First off in the book what stands out to be as absurd is how little Meursault cares about his mother at her funeral. He refuses to show any emotion whatsoever, and even decides to have a smoke which can be seen as disrespectful in a church. Most people would show some kind of emotion in this situation even if they didn’t have a relationship with the deceased. His refusal to this though is what strikes me as odd. This conceitedness continues throughout the book, where he seems to do whatever he wants whenever he pleases. What Meursault does with his time seems to be based on physical and sensory pleasure, rather than social well being. Most of his daily life is composed of the physical pleases like going to the beach or sleeping with someone, or the sensory by watching people walk by from his balcony.
The shooting scene near the middle of the book exemplifies his isolation from other people. How he is aware of everything around him, but doesn’t seem to care of his actions or the consequences of them.

“I shook off the sweat and sun. I knew that I had shattered the harmony of the day, the exceptional science of a beach where I’d been happy. Then I fired four more times at the motionless body where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace. And it was like knocking four quick times on the door o unhappiness.” (59)

In this quote Meursault is more interested in how the gun shots are disturbing the peace and quiet of the beach, than him actually killing a person. He could of just left it at once shot, but instead she shot four more times. This gave the man possibly a bit of satisfaction, the sound of the gun excited him. Or possibly he was mad for the disruption of his day, but why disturb it anymore by shooting again? You could say that Meursault is a absurdity because of his inability to have feelings, use logic, follow whatever social norms he is supposed to follow. Yet again shooting a person who really has nothing to do with you in the first place is quite absurd. Meursault is a grotesque of a human behavior, cultivated to be absurd to the third party.

andrew said...

The narrator, in The Stranger by Albert Camus, is possibly a sociopath due to his acute observations of others and his surroundings, which are a result of his inability to process human emotions. When the narrator is at his mother’s vigil, he seems too preoccupied and invested with the older people around him mourning to realize the immense tragedy that has affected him. He appears annoyed during this time, especially when he notices one women crying and responds by saying on page 10, “She was in the second row, hidden behind one of her companions, and I couldn’t see her very well. She was crying softly, steadily, in little sobs. I thought she’d never stop. The others seemed not to hear her. They sat there hunched up, gloomy and silent.” This entire quote reveals the lacks of feeling he has for his mother. It’s as if he doesn’t know that his mother has died, and all he is focusing on is a bothersome woman who is crying. By saying how the older people “sat there hunched up, gloomy and silent”, the narrator comes across callous and cold since he is unable to understand what human feelings are. Fenkor’s suggestion that “The gentle indifference of the world” is the main idea of the narrator is quite true since it appears that the narrator is no more than a robot, because like a robot he lacks all emotion and is simply unresponsive to serious situations. When the narrator reflects on his dead mother to a lawyer, he says on page 65, “I probably did love Maman, but that didn’t mean anything. At one time of another all normal people have wished their loved ones were dead.” The word “probably” implies that the narrator might not have ever felt love toward his mother, because he’s not sure what love is.
The narrator not only lacks feeling toward his mother but to everyone that he comes across. When the narrator and Marie hear screaming coming from Raymond’s apartment, and come to realize that Raymond is beating his girlfriend up, the narrator reacts inhuman. Instead of calling the cops like Marie suggests on page 36, he stands calmly and says nothing. He chooses not to call the police because as he says to Marie on page 36, “I told her I didn’t like cops”. This scene is unnerving because the narrator won’t defend another in danger or call for help because he doesn’t like cops. He cannot compute the situation and it’s severity, and additionally lacks any care toward the girl’s condition, that he chooses not to help.
The narrator is similar to Darl in As I Lay Dying because after the narrator kills the Arab man, there is no evidence of remorse; similarly, Darl shows no remorse when he burns the cabin down with his mother’s coffin inside. This lack of remorse is revealed in the Judge’s and the narrator’s conversation during court, when the Judge asks the narrator on page 70, “if I was sorry for what I had done” and the narrator replies, “that more than sorry I felt kind of annoyed.” The fact that the narrator is more annoyed than sorry indicates that the narrator truly feels nothing for human suffering. Instead of being filled with regret, the narrator is annoyed that he is being questioned. The narrator along with Darl can be both classified as sociopaths because they are unable to distinguish and express human emotions.

Andrew Ryan said...

Meursault’s bewildering indifference to life continues even after he murders an Arab man and is sentenced to prison. It is only when he is sentenced to execution by a guillotine that Meursault starts to ponder his surroundings and his future. Prior to this, Meursault seems apathetic to killing an Arab man, and having his mother gone. Nothing seems to phase him, for example when he is laying on his cot reading a story about how a mother, and sister unknowingly murdered their son/brother, Meursault responds by saying on page 80, “Anyway, I thought the traveler pretty much deserved what he got and that you should never play games.” His reasoning is that the man should not have been flaunting his money around. He feels no sorrow for the deceased or the family at all. He does not think of what his family will carry for the rest of their lives. He is only capable of thinking of the present. The first instance where Meursault thinks of his future is when he is pondering about death in his cell. As he says on page 114 “Since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter. Therefore I had to accept the rejection of my appeal.” This shows that Meursault is not only living, he is beginning to think of his life and himself. I agree with Brendan Shay’s comment that The Stranger is like the book Waiting for Godot because this book is also absurd especially in how Meursault reacts to serious situations. His reactions are ridiculous. The fact that he thinks that a man deserved to be killed for flaunting his money is silly. No person unless they are a sociopath would think this.

Andrew Ryan said...

Meursault’s bewildering indifference to life continues even after he murders an Arab man and is sentenced to prison. It is only when he is sentenced to execution by a guillotine that Meursault starts to ponder his surroundings and his future. Prior to this, Meursault seems apathetic to killing an Arab man, and having his mother gone. Nothing seems to phase him, for example when he is laying on his cot reading a story about how a mother, and sister unknowingly murdered their son/brother, Meursault responds by saying on page 80, “Anyway, I thought the traveler pretty much deserved what he got and that you should never play games.” His reasoning is that the man should not have been flaunting his money around. He feels no sorrow for the deceased or the family at all. He does not think of what his family will carry for the rest of their lives. He is only capable of thinking of the present. The first instance where Meursault thinks of his future is when he is pondering about death in his cell. As he says on page 114 “Since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter. Therefore I had to accept the rejection of my appeal.” This shows that Meursault is not only living, he is beginning to think of his life and himself. I agree with Brendan Shay’s comment that The Stranger is like the book Waiting for Godot because this book is also absurd especially in how Meursault reacts to serious situations. His reactions are ridiculous. The fact that he thinks that a man deserved to be killed for flaunting his money is silly. No person unless they are a sociopath would think this.

Nick B said...

Albert Camus’ book The Stranger is a confounding tale of a seemingly callous and immoral man’s journey through an uncomprehending world. Meursault, the protagonist, bounces from idea to idea, and situation to situation, not caring of the outcome of any of it. He begins the story by narrating his emotionless attendance of his mother’s funeral. He detachedly recounts his taking work off, standing a night-long vigil over the coffin with coffee and cigarettes, and the ridiculously hot walk to the graveyard. Throughout the ordeal he never shows remorse over his mother’s death, or guilt that she died relatively alone in a Home. He ridicules the feebleness of Perez, his mother’s fiancée of late from the Home, though Perez was probably much better to her than Meursault had ever been. After uncaringly displaying his lack of emotion to everyone he interacts with, Meursault returns home and carries on with his mundane life like nothing ever happened.

A quote that really exemplifies his dreary and somewhat pessimistic view of the world came in response to a nurse’s comment on the walk to the graveyard on page 21. She advises him that, “If you go too slowly there’s the risk of a heatstroke. But, if you go too fast, you perspire, and the cold air in the church gives you a chill.” This seems like a bit of friendly advice, one which should be especially meaningful to someone who has just lost their mother and could really use some kindness. Rather than taking it in that way, however, Meursault states, “I saw her point; either way one was in for it.” That’s probably the most depressing and negative way one could possibly take that bit of friendly advice, and yet he reacts to it without being distressed. He merely takes it in stride, like everything else in his life, and shows no sadness at her supposed negative outlook. Meursault is a man who feels almost no emotion over anything, good or bad, doesn’t care to soften any hard truth, and until this point really doesn’t care what happens in his life.

Nick B said...

The Stranger, by Albert Camus, is an uncommon book in that the protagonist is, for the most part, neither likeable or a good person. Meursault is indifferent to the world, though his apparent rudeness is really just realism. He takes realism to an extreme; he’s never concerned with softening the truth or holding his tongue, he says and does it how he sees it, regardless of the circumstances. Though this way of life seems miserable to the average person, the straightforwardness is actually somewhat admirable. He takes the noble idea of doing what one thinks is best to an extreme, and unfortunately suffers because of it.

The reason he suffers, however, is more due to the disparity between his attitude and society’s than to any flaw of his. Meursault’s character is almost wholly static, yet he somehow never fails to fascinate the reader. Camus manages this by, instead of changing the protagonist, changing the surroundings. In this case it’s how the surroundings view the protagonist and his uncommon ways, and what they do in response. Throughout the course of the book Camus contrasts Meursault with his boss, his neighborhood, the Home, Marie, the chaplain, the judge, the jury, his lawyer, and even his dead mother. Though his character is static, the reader’s understanding of it develops from witnessing the reactions of these various characters. I really don’t know of any book that parallel’s Camus’ strange method of character development, though I do see the connection Brendan and Andrew made to Waiting for Godot. Both books are ridiculously absurd, and hard for readers to identify with, but The Stranger is still singular in its oxymoronic development of a static character.

B Shay said...

Plague 1

“It was as if the earth on which our house stood were being purged of its secreted humors; thrusting up to the surface the abscesses and pus-clots that had been forming in its entrails” (15). This sentence is used to describe the rats that are coming out of their holes and dying in the streets from the plague. Its imagery is extremely vivid and is trying to connect something that is is equally as disturbing as the rats to the human body. At the beginning of the book, the city of Oran is described as a very boring, dry, and dull place to live. Albert Camus uses this sentence to bring life to an otherwise stagnant city. Life which would have stayed hidden for who knows how long, it if were not for the purging.
I’m not sure if its irony, but from the writing the city seems a livelier place with the plague around, then it was before the outbreak. The people seem more attentive and attuned to their sorroundings than before when everyone carried out their daily tasks keeping their thoughts within themselves. Though the tension of possibly contracting the plague keeps many in their homes, extending this isolation, many see this as an opportunity. Since Oran has been quarantined, they know they cannot get out, so they offer their services to those who are suffering from the plague. This kindness was not apparent in the pre-plagued city of Oran. An example of this would be Rambert who gives up trying to reach his wife and instead sides with Rieux the doctor to help the plague stricken patients he is caring for.
Again this livelihood that is starting to emerge in the city is mirrored by the sentence “It was if…entrails”. Instead of seeing deaths of the rats, I see the life of the city.

B Shay said...

Plague 2

When most people think about the plague (as in the disease) it sparks fear because of that it is capable of. Albert Camus though creates a set of characters that are either are not visibly affected by this disease or are actually better off with the epidemic than they were before. This of course does not reflect the thoughts of the entire plague stricken city; most people are very scared and express that fear publicly. For example the depressing vow of science from Oran every time they daily death tolls are read off on the intercoms. The unaffected few are created by the author to show the different perspectives on the plague.
Cottard’s life was going down the tubes before the plague started to spread, he committed a crime and tried to kill himself in response to the incoming punishment. When the plague struck Oran, Cottard could not have been a happier person. The police were too busy with the disease now and totally forgot about catching him for his petty crime. Corrard’s life was turned around, he started a business, and all the depression he once had (suicide) seemed to be subsided. This man was truly better off in this time of terror than most of the city, if not all.
The next person, Grand, seems to not be affected by the disease whatsoever. Three months after the plague strikes down and he's going about his daily life like he was three years ago. Every time you see him there’s a smile on his face and all he can think about is the book he is writing. This just goes to show you that not everyone is easily overcome by the spreading fear of the plague.
Cottard and Grand did not let the fear take them, and that is why Camus puts so much effort in telling the reader their back stories rather than their possible demise. When the plague finally subsides is when the two break. The fear of the police taking Cottard and the stress of actually having the publish Grand’s book takes them both.

B Shay said...

Plague 3

The agreement of the city (as in the people) of Oran was that the plague was something that could leave just as fast as it came. If you hid out in your homes then eventually you would walk out of the epidemic unharmed. Months pass and the populations trust in their gut starts to waver. They all one by one start to give in to the plague, that it is what ran their lives now.
“Plague was for them am un-welcomed visitant, bound to take its leave one day as unexpectedly as it had come. Alarmed, but far from desperate, they hadn’t yet reached the phase when plague would seem to them the very tissue of their existence; when they forgot the lives that until now it had been given them to lead”
This is when everyone started to latch onto things, Paneleaux’s religious sermon, or the death tolls read on the intercoms every night. Anything to remind them that there was hope, that they were human and weren’t destined to die or be controlled by this plague. Though this was the time for people to show the world who they are, most cowered in fear of what was to come. That tells us a lot about human nature under times of pressure and fear.
This passage is a milestone in the book for me because of its uncovering of the city’s (as a whole) feelings for the plague. Up until now the deaths, were literally ignored. It brings a thought to my mind how Gloucester would react if it was ever quarantined for a deadly disease such as the plague. I’d like to think that people would work together harmoniously helping out the wounded and attempting to stem the time of the sickness. Albert Camus’s imagination is sadly nothing but the truth. People will be scared, hide, and do nothing about it until it is too late.

more coming soon.

nFrye said...

Nancy F.
The Stranger

Albert Camus' "The Stranger" explores the mind of a young man who lives his life as if within a fog. Nothing truly matters to him. He is a person that allows life to just happen to him as opposed to taking control of a situation and creating a life for himself.

His relationships with other people emphasize his passivity. In the case of Marie, he waits until she approaches him and even then he does not take charge. Rather, things flow along as the protagonist floats in a haze of semi-consciousness. To emphasize the protagonist's deviation from the norm, Camus introduces Marie's request to marry the main character. Camus thus explores the gender roles and turns them on their head for, while it is not forbidden that a woman propose to a man, it is a common idea that the man should propose. Thus Camus places the protagonist in a "woman's" place and thus "weakens" him. (Keeping in mind of course that the belief of the times was that women were not as strong as men, and were definitely more passive.)

Camus also uses this proposal to exemplify the main character's lack of interest in life. "That evening Marie came by to see me and asked me if I wanted to marry her. I said it didn't make any difference to me and that we could if she wanted to," (41). Since he has no love for life, the main character cannot bring himself to love anything involved with living, including other people. When his mother died, he felt nothing, and even when Marie wished to love and marry him, he could bring himself to feel no love or emotions. It is not until the end of the book that any interest in life is aroused by his impending doom. It is then that he reflects upon the things that he should have appreciated during his lifetime. "How had I not seen that there was nothing more important than and execution, and that when you come right down to it, it was the only thing a man could truly be interested in?" (110). It seems that it was impossible for the young man to see through the fog that had for so long clouded his life until there was so little left to see.

I agree with Brendan in that "The Stranger" is certainly and absurd book. To look at the reason that the protagonist was losing his life is to begin the realization of complete absurdity. If one is to review the main character's reason for shooting the man, one realizes that he shot the man because the sun was in his eyes. A crime committed for no reason. How would killing the man have stopped the pain of the reflected sun? Instead, it initiated the painful process of coming out of a fog of indifference, only to be confronted with death.