Things fall Apart: Essay Questions
1. Summarise the events of the vigil and funeral of Meursault’s mother.
The novel begins auspiciously as Meursault recounts how his mother died today, or maybe yesterday and immediately he is cast as one who is at least indifferent to the meaning of events surrounding him.
As recounted in the court case, he shows little emotion during his time at the home and is seen to endure the vigil and funeral rather than be emotionally engaged with it. He remembers barely anything of the funeral itself, noting Pérez’s fainting fit, the heat and light, and the white roots mixed with earth that covers his mother’s coffin. Although he shows no grief at this time, the readers should consider, nevertheless, if he should be condemned for this. He acts authentically, rather than hypocritically, and the narrative demands that this should not be a reason for him being condemned.
2. Consider the effect of the sun on Meursault and offer an analysis.
The glare of the sun and the unbearable heat are described in each chapter that Meursault is free and it becomes a cipher for how he (or anyone) is unable to escape the effects of nature, and the universe. He is depicted as being a victim of the unforgiving light, and this in turn highlights how he (as is anyone) an insignificant absurdist creation.
The heat of the sun is also a reminder that the setting is based in French-controlled Algeria, and Meursault’s negative reaction to it serves to emphasize how he, like other French citizen, is an outsider in this country.
3. Analyze the court case.
The court case is depicted as one that borders on farcical and if it were not for the outcome of the death penalty, it would be seen as wholly laughable. Meursault is seen to be tried for his emotionless reaction to his mother’s death rather than for the murder of an Algerian (or, an ‘Arab’ as he is always referred to) and the court is complicit in such racist views of the native citizens.
Because of this, the moral condemnation of Meursault is seen to be not only inappropriate when it does not concern the murder he has committed, but also hypocritical as those who are judging him are also shown to be guilty of moral delinquency.
4. Consider the ending of The Outsider.
It is not until the last paragraphs of the novel that Meursault reaches some kind of understanding of his life and how to live it. After venting his anger on the chaplain, who refuses to allow him to be a non-believer, he feels cleansed.
He understands now that the ‘benign indifference of the universe’ should be lived with and accepted, and life should be experienced while still possible. His death is inevitable because of his death sentence, but he also sees that we are all born to die. It is of note that he also recognizes this by remembering his mother’s relationship with Pérez as he sees that she chose to start afresh again at the very end of her existence. It is thoughts such as these that inspire him to consider the crowds at his execution as easing his loneliness as they will remind him he is still alive until the last moment.
5. Examine the philosophy underpinning the novel.
This novel is shaded with the concept of the absurd and puts into practice what has already been seen in Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus. The insignificance of humanity and the meaningless of the world are highlighted by this way of thinking, as is the understanding that despite this it is still possible to live authentically and with good faith.
Meursault embodies both of these views as he lives from moment to moment with barely any regard for the future or for those around him, but goes on to understand that this need lead to meaninglessness. He is not morally condemned for this, but nor is he praised. It is not until his epiphany in the final paragraphs that he recognizes that despite the ultimate meaningless of our existence, it is possible to have hope and to experience existence as fully as possible.