January 10, 2014
“Absurd” Definition, Sisyphus Background and “The Myth of Sisyphus”
January 10, 2014
January 14, 2014
January 14-15, 2014
January 21, 2014
January 21-21, 2014
January 27, 2014
Timed Writing Assignment
January 24, 2014: Pre-writing and planning
January 27, 2014: Writing Assignment
This reading guide is intended to guide you along the process of reading Albert Camus’ The Stranger
. As you go along in the text, the questions below will challenge your comprehension and critical thinking associated with reading the novel.
Please annotate and make notes either in a notebook with page references or using post-it notes to improve your close reading of the text, including any examples of voice, tone, theme, motif, symbol, or any other literary device we’ve addressed. In addition
, please answer the questions below for each section of the text, including textual evidence with page numbers for all responses. All of your question responses should then be typed into a new document and turned in at the end of each section (after discussion).
As you read the text, keep the following questions and ideas in mind:
How close can any opinion get to the actual meaning of the action?
Why do we choose to make judgments about others without understanding the full extent of the meaning behind their behaviors or actions?
What role does observation play in the novel? How can this motif be used to effectively understand our search for meaning and purpose in life?
1. utterly or obviously senseless, illogical, or untrue; contrary to all reason or common sense; laughablyfoolish or false: an absurd explanation.
the quality or condition of existing in a meaningless and irrational world.
Camus considers this novel to be absurdist. How do these definitions help you to think about the novel? What might you expect the novel to be about that the definitions could provide insight for you?
Sisyphus was founder and king of Corinth, or Ephyra as it was called in those days. He was notorious as the most cunning knave on earth. His greatest triumph came at the end of his life, when the god Hades came to claim him personally for the kingdom of the dead. Hades had brought along a pair of handcuffs, a comparative novelty
, and Sisyphus expressed such an interest that Hades was persuaded to demonstrate their use - on himself.
And so it came about that the high lord of the Underworld was kept locked up in a closet at Sisyphus's house for many a day, a circumstance which put the great chain of being seriously out of whack. Nobody could die. A soldier might be chopped to bits in battle and still show up at camp for dinner. Finally Hades was released and Sisyphus was ordered summarily to report to the Underworld for his eternal assignment. But the wily one had another trick up his sleeve.
He simply told his wife not to bury him and then complained to Persephone, Queen of the Dead, that he had not been accorded the proper funeral honors. What's more, as an unburied corpse he had no business on the far side of the river Styx at all - his wife hadn't placed a coin under his tongue to secure passage with Charon the ferryman. Surely her highness could see that Sisyphus must be given leave to journey back topside and put things right.
Kindly Persephone assented, and Sisyphus made his way back to the sunshine, where he promptly forgot all about funerals and such drab affairs and lived on in dissipation for another good stretch of time. But even this paramount trickster could only postpone the inevitable. Eventually he was hauled down to Hades, where his indiscretions caught up with him. For a crime against the gods - the specifics of which are variously reported - he was condemned to an eternity at hard labor. And frustrating labor at that. For his assignment was to roll a great boulder to the top of a hill. Only every time Sisyphus, by the greatest of exertion and toil, attained the summit, the darn thing rolled back down again.
The Myth of Sisyphus
By Albert Camus
The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.
If one believes Homer, Sisyphus was the wisest and most prudent of mortals. According to another tradition, however, he was disposed to practice the profession of highwayman. I see no contradiction in this. Opinions differ as to the reasons why he became the futile laborer of the underworld. To begin with, he is accused of a certain levity in regard to the gods. He stole their secrets. Egina, the daughter of Esopus, was carried off by Jupiter. The father was shocked by that disappearance and complained to Sisyphus. He, who knew of the abduction, offered to tell about it on condition that Esopus would give water to the citadel of Corinth. To the celestial thunderbolts he preferred the benediction of water. He was punished for this in the underworld. Homer tells us also that Sisyphus had put Death in chains. Pluto could not endure the sight of his deserted, silent empire. He dispatched the god of war, who liberated Death from the hands of her conqueror.
It is said that Sisyphus, being near to death, rashly wanted to test his wife's love. He ordered her to cast his unburied body into the middle of the public square. Sisyphus woke up in the underworld. And there, annoyed by an obedience so contrary to human love, he obtained from Pluto permission to return to earth in order to chastise his wife. But when he had seen again the face of this world, enjoyed water and sun, warm stones and the sea, he no longer wanted to go back to the infernal darkness. Recalls, signs of anger, warnings were of no avail. Many years more he lived facing the curve of the gulf, the sparkling sea, and the smiles of earth. A decree of the gods was necessary. Mercury came and seized the impudent man by the collar and, snatching him from his joys, lead him forcibly back to the underworld, where his rock was ready for him.
You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth. Nothing is told us about Sisyphus in the underworld. Myths are made for the imagination to breathe life into them. As for this myth, one sees merely the whole effort of a body straining to raise the huge stone, to roll it, and push it up a slope a hundred times over; one sees the face screwed up, the cheek tight against the stone, the shoulder bracing the clay-covered mass, the foot wedging it, the fresh start with arms outstretched, the wholly human security of two earth-clotted hands. At the very end of his long effort measured by skyless space and time without depth, the purpose is achieved. Then Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments toward that lower world whence he will have to push it up again toward the summit. He goes back down to the plain.
It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.
If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works everyday in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that can not be surmounted by scorn.
If the descent is thus sometimes performed in sorrow, it can also take place in joy. This word is not too much. Again I fancy Sisyphus returning toward his rock, and the sorrow was in the beginning. When the images of earth cling too tightly to memory, when the call of happiness becomes too insistent, it happens that melancholy arises in man's heart: this is the rock's victory, this is the rock itself. The boundless grief is too heavy to bear. These are our nights of Gethsemane. But crushing truths perish from being acknowledged. Thus, Edipus at the outset obeys fate without knowing it. But from the moment he knows, his tragedy begins. Yet at the same moment, blind and desperate, he realizes that the only bond linking him to the world is the cool hand of a girl. Then a tremendous remark rings out: "Despite so many ordeals, my advanced age and the nobility of my soul make me conclude that all is well." Sophocles' Edipus, like Dostoevsky's Kirilov, thus gives the recipe for the absurd victory. Ancient wisdom confirms modern heroism.
One does not discover the absurd without being tempted to write a manual of happiness. "What!---by such narrow ways--?" There is but one world, however. Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable. It would be a mistake to say that happiness necessarily springs from the absurd. discovery. It happens as well that the felling of the absurd springs from happiness. "I conclude that all is well," says Edipus, and that remark is sacred. It echoes in the wild and limited universe of man. It teaches that all is not, has not been, exhausted. It drives out of this world a god who had come into it with dissatisfaction and a preference for futile suffering. It makes of fate a human matter, which must be settled among men.
All Sisyphus' silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is a thing Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols. In the universe suddenly restored to its silence, the myriad wondering little voices of the earth rise up. Unconscious, secret calls, invitations from all the faces, they are the necessary reverse and price of victory. There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his efforts will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is, but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which become his fate, created by him, combined under his memory's eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
Why did the gods condemn Sisyphus to roll the rock up the mountain?
[ii] In the myth
, why didn’t Sisyphus want to return to the underworld?
Why is Sisyphus the “absurd hero”?
As a result of Sisyphus’ passions, what was his punishment?
What moment of Sisyphus’ labor particularly interests Camus? Why?
Why is Sisyphus’ consciousness important?
Why is Sisyphus’ torture paradoxical?
What is the “absurd victory”?
In what sense does Oedipus’ comment “…makes me conclude that all is well” make fate a “human matter”?
In what sense does Camus “imagine Sisyphus happy”?
Provide textual evidence in your responses to all questions. Remember to type your notes and responses to be turned in on January 10, 2014!
Before reading the novel, answer the questions below. Mark a plus (+) if you agree with a statement. Mark a minus (-) if you disagree with a statement. Finally, mark a question mark (?) if you are unsure of your belief.
As you embark on your reading of this piece existential literature, understand that the meaning of the text may not be as apparent as you may think. Rather, this novel examines our ever-present desire to seek out meaning and purpose in life. While we as humans feel we have a responsibility to public opinion, the main character, Meursault, will test that ideology. Meursault will often ruffle your feathers as a reader. His inability to provide reasons for his actions, essentially being unable to answer why he did what he did, will often become increasingly frustrating as you read. It is important to clear your mind of judgment as you read this short text. Save your judgment of the main character until the end of the novel when you will be able to define your own reasoning for Meursault’s actions and behaviors.
What does the reference to "a soldier" tell you about the time period of the story?
After Meursault arranged for his mother to live in a nursing home, why did he visit her so infrequently?
Why was it odd that Madam Meursault desired a religious burial?
Does Meursault give an explanation for wanting/not wanting to see the open casket? Why would someone respond in this way? In your opinion, is this normal behavior?
Describe Meursault’s dream-like experience beginning on page 9. What is happening?
What is Thomas Perez’s relationship with Maman?
What are three (3) of Meursault’s last thoughts of the burial?
How does the funeral impact Meursault, and does he think it has impacted him?
Who does Meursault meet the day after his mother is buried?
On page 21, what hint is the reader given as to where Meursault lives?
What does Meursault choose to do on Sunday? What does this demonstrate about his character/personality?
What does Meursault mean when he says
, "It occurred to me....really, nothing had changed." (See last sentence on page 24 for clarification).
We are introduced to Marie in Chapter 2. This chapter definitively contrasts the funeral in Chapter 1. Compare the two chapters and attempt to come to a conclusion as to why Camus would have chosen to juxtapose these two chapters next to one another.
What is your opinion on Meursault’s compulsion to wash his hands?
In your opinion, offer an explanation for why Meursault takes a “flying leap” onto a truck with Emmanuel.
Who is Raymond Sintes? What is “the word around the neighborhood” regarding Raymond?
What prompted Raymond’s fight with “the man”?
What prompted Raymond to beat his girlfriend “till she bled”?
What does Meursault do for Raymond to have Ray say, “Now you’re a pal, Meursault.”
Salamano regularly beats his ugly dog. What is Meursault’s response to this? What does Meursault think of the dog and his owner? What do you think was Camus’ purpose behind including the story of Salamano and his dog?
What ethnicity is Marie?
What opportunity does Meursault’s boss offer?
What offer does Marie propose?
In your opinion, is Meursault’s behavior normal regarding his job and his girlfriend? Why/why not?
What explanation can you offer as to why Meursault follows the woman from Celeste’s?
What two places does Salamano check for his missing dog?
During a brief discussion between Salamano and Meursault, what new information does Salamano convey about Meursault’s Maman?
How has Salamano’s loss brought out his humanitarianism? Give one example.
When leaving for the beach, whom do Ray, Meursault, and Marie see across the street?
Who is Masson? How often is he here?
When they first arrive at their destination, what do Marie, Meursault, and Masson embark upon?
On page 53, what is symbolic about Meursault’s statement, “The blazing sand looked red to me now.”
What happens to Raymond?
On the second trip to the beach, where do the three men find the two Arabs?
Do the Arabs seem frightened by the approach? Why/why not?
What does Raymond consider doing to the Arabs?
Why don’t the Arabs react to this discussion unfolding directly in front of them?
On page 57, Meursault returns to the beach by himself. Camus uses symbolism when he states “There was the same dazzling red glare,” and “With every blade of light....” In your opinion, what is being inferred?
When Meursault encounters the lone Arab, he is once again overcome by the sun’s heat. What event does the heat force him to recall?
What occurs to “shatter the harmony” of Meursault’s day?
Why does Meursault feel threatened and consequently pull out a gun?
On page 59 (last sentence), what is meant by “it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness.” Explain briefly.
How does Meursault end up on the beach with a gun? What kind of impact do you think Meursault’s actions will have on the second part of the story? How do his actions influence your opinion of Meursault?
Provide textual evidence in your responses to all questions. Remember to type your notes and responses to be turned in on January 14, 2014!
Consider this part of the novel Camus’ attempt to rationalize the behaviors of Meursault and create meaning for the reader. Ultimately, there is an attempt to make meaning of Meursault’s behaviors as a result of the trial being held. However, there is no meaning to be had. This is what Camus calls “the absurd.” Part of Camus’ purpose in writing
The Stranger was to allow for readers to examine their own existence, thus attempting to construct an idea of their own mortality. As you may have noticed, Meursault’s behaviors, mannerisms, and actions seem strange and create a strange rational order. Throughout Part 1 of
The Stranger Camus creates an environment where Meursault is perceived as emotionless, and this creates a sense of insecurity for you as a reader. Meursault’s lack of emotional connection leads to his “absurd” decisions.
Part 2 examines Meursault’s actions through the lens of others. Camus creates a reading environment where both the characters and the readers choose to impart their judgments on Meursault.
The Stranger can be perceived as a commentary on society’s ability to always offer an opinion. The fact that there is no shortage of opinions present leads to our reading of the second part of the novel. Keep the following question in mind while you’re reading the second part: What is the reason behind Meursault’s decision to shoot the Arab? What opinions were formed by others as to define meaning and reason for Meursault’s actions? What opinion do you have of Meursault and his actions and behaviors?
Why is Meursault on trial? Is there more to his crime than what he is currently on trial for?
Is he taking his circumstances seriously? Give an example.
What question does the attorney feel compelled to ask?
What explanation does Meursault give regarding his "nature"?
What’s the BIG question the magistrate finally asks Meursault?
On p. 70, Meursault says, “I thought about it for a minute and said that more than sorry I felt kind of annoyed.” Does Meursault have a conscience? Why or why not?
In your opinion, does Meursault feel complemented when referred to as Monsieur Antichrist?
What item was more difficult for Meursault to lose than his freedom?
On p. 79, Meursault states that having “a memory” is “an advantage.” Briefly explain.
The last sentences on p. 81 refer to Meursault’s mother’s funeral and to what nights in prison are like. In your opinion, is there a connection between the two?
What clues is the reader given to show that the Algerian court system is different than the U.S. Judicial System?
A previous incident occurred between the caretaker and Meursault
, which is briefly discussed during the trial. This leads to Camus’ title of the novel. What is the incident?
When Celeste, the fourth witness, is called to testify, how does he show support for Meursault?
How does the prosecutor attempt to prove that Meursault has no conscience?
What is the prosecutor implying when he questions Raymond? (refers to “chance” numerous times.)
Explain what Meursault means when he says, “it was back to my cell...sleep of the innocent.” (p.97)
On p. 100, Meursault reveals the key to his character/personality. What is this?
What penalty does the prosecutor ask of the jury?
Imagism is used on p. 104. “left me with the impression.... Was making me dizzy.” In your opinion, what is Meursault feeling at this point?
Why can’t Meursault return Marie’s smile in the courtroom?
What is Meursault’s sentence? In your opinion, is his reaction normal?
According to Meursault, why is witnessing an execution so important?
What is ironic about this when compared to how Meursault originally got into this predicament?
When Meursault’s situation finally “sinks in,” what are the two things he always thinks about?
What is Meursault’s pessimistic view on life and living?
What does the priest mean when he says, "your heart is blind."
In the last few paragraphs, how does Meursault finally relate to Maman?
Why does Meursault wish that a large crowd of spectators greet him with cries of hate at his execution?
What evidence can you find that proves Meursault is guilty? What evidence proves him not guilty?
How do other characters view Meursault and his crime(s)?
What are Meursault’s last thoughts? Why would Camus choose to conclude the novel in this way?
Do you think Meursault ever felt remorse for his crime?
How does the setting (Algeria) impact the novel? How would it have been different had the novel taken place in Paris?
What role does the sun play throughout the novel?
Is Meursault a reliable narrator?
As an outsider looking in on Meursault
, what reasons for the events that occurred in the novel do you see? Why do you think events unfolded as they did? Provide textual evidence from the novel to support your reasoning for Meursault’s actions and behaviors and how they contributed to how the events of this novel unraveled.
How does Sisyphus’ happiness relate to Meursault in The Stranger?
Provide textual evidence in your responses to all questions. Remember to type your notes and responses to be turned in on January 21, 2014!
After reading the novel, answer the questions below. Mark a plus (+) if you agree with a statement. Mark a minus (-) if you disagree with a statement. Finally, mark a question mark (?) if you are unsure of your belief.