Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: “Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.” That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.
Spoken by Meursault, the novel’s narrator and protagonist, these are the opening lines of the novel. They introduce Meursault’s emotional indifference, one his most important character traits. Meursault does not express any remorse upon learning of his mother’s death—he merely reports the fact in a plain and straightforward manner. His chief concern is the precise day of his mother’s death—a seemingly trivial detail.
Mersault’s comment, “That doesn’t mean anything,” has at least two possible meanings. It could be taken as part of his discussion about which day Madame Meursault died. That is, Meursault could mean that the telegram does not reveal any meaningful information about the date of his mother’s death. However, the comment could also be read more broadly, with a significance that perhaps Meursault does not consciously intend; Meursault might be implying that it does not matter that his mother died at all. This possible reading introduces the idea of the meaninglessness of human existence, a theme that resounds throughout the novel.