At Boston Latin, getting to know Meursault

By Pat Tomaino

Boston Latin, circa 1920.

I learned in high school English that it’s always one of three things: man versus man, man versus society or man versus himself. On their first day as seniors at Boston Latin School, students have to reckon with all three.

Every year, Lynn Burke assigns an English translation of L’Étranger for summer reading. Camus’s classic, which is at the heart of our show this week, is a mainstay of late high school and early college. But it’s heavy stuff; in only one way does it really qualify as “beach reading.”

When her students arrive, however, Ms. Burke says they’re ready to lead her into existential depths. They’re also ready to hear out Camus’s young, anomic protagonist. I wonder if, every September, Ms. Burke feels as happily unnerved as I did. It’s strange talking with four kids so good and poised, and yet so eager to confront meaninglessness.

Graduation was last month, and Isabelle, Anna, Sean, and Edwood are fanning out to colleges after one last Boston summer — this one probably Camus-free.

But Meursault is staying with them. What could they see in this guy and his strange conclusions? It’s not really that he helps the students confront evil, isolation, and meaningless. There will be time for all of that, and they have more immediate concerns. After a few years of explaining themselves — to parents, to teachers, this year to colleges — some of them like the idea of a man without an answer.


Many thanks to English department chair Susan Moran, English teacher Lynn Burke, and new BLS grads Isabelle DeSisto, Anna Jaysing, Edwood Brice, and Sean Cheatum.

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