The Stranger

by: Albert Camus

Part One: Chapters 4–5

By attempting to assign meaning to the meaningless events of Meursault’s life, the people in Meursault’s social circle succumb to the same temptation that confronts us as we read The Stranger. Salamano, for example, states that he is sure that Meursault loved his mother deeply, despite the fact that Meursault offers no evidence to support such an assertion. Salamano is himself supplying the rational order that he desires to find in the world. His statement about Meursault’s love for his mother seems intended to comfort himself more than to comfort Meursault. Further, the way Salamano turns to the subject of Meursault’s love for his mother in the midst of his own discussion of his missing dog suggests that Salamano uses his discussion of Meursault and Madame Meursault to displace his own guilt. Salamano assumes that Meursault really loved his mother despite sending her to a nursing home, just as he loved his dog even though he beat it.

Raymond’s encounter with the policeman implies a lack of rational order in human life. Society deems Raymond’s slapping of his mistress for a perceived injustice an immoral act. But when the cop slaps Raymond, society in effect condones the action of slapping. Physically, both slaps are nearly identical, yet one is considered wrong, and the other, just and good. Through the policeman’s actions, Camus implicitly challenges the truth of society’s accepted moral order.

Salamano’s description of life with his dog highlights the inevitability of physical decay. Salamano says that he initially had human companionship in his wife, but she died and he had to settle for the animal companionship of his dog. As time has passed, Salamano’s dog has become increasingly ugly and sick, until the point where it, too, has left him. Physical decay represents a marker and reminder of Camus’s philosophy of the absurd, which asserts that humans are thrust into a life that inevitably ends in death.

Meursault narrates the events of his life as they occur without interpreting them as a coherent narrative. He does not relate the events of earlier chapters to the events that take place in these chapters. It becomes clear that Meursault concentrates largely on the moment in which he finds himself, with little reference to past occurrences or future consequences. This outlook perhaps explains his ambivalent attitude toward marriage with Marie. Because he does not think about what married life would be like, Meursault does not particularly care whether or not he and Marie marry. Characteristically, the emotional and sentimental aspects of marriage never enter into his mind.