The protagonist and narrator of The Stranger, to whom the novel’s title refers. Meursault is a detached figure who views and describes much of what occurs around him from a removed position. He is emotionally indifferent to others, even to his mother and his lover, Marie. He also refuses to adhere to the accepted moral order of society. After Meursault kills a man, “the Arab,” for no apparent reason, he is put on trial. However, the focus of Meursault’s murder trial quickly shifts away from the murder itself to Meursault’s attitudes and beliefs. Meursault’s atheism and his lack of outward grief at his mother’s funeral represent a serious challenge to the morals of the society in which he lives. Consequently, society brands him an outsider.
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A former co-worker of Meursault who begins an affair with him the day after his mother’s funeral. Marie is young and high-spirited, and delights in swimming and the outdoors. Meursault’s interest in Marie seems primarily the result of her physical beauty. Marie does not seem to understand Meursault, but she feels drawn to Meursault’s peculiarities nevertheless. Even when Meursault expresses indifference toward marrying her, she still wants to be his wife, and she tries to support him during his arrest and trial.
A local pimp and Meursault’s neighbor. Raymond becomes angry when he suspects his mistress is cheating on him, and in his plan to punish her, he enlists Meursault’s help. In contrast to Meursault’s calm detachment, Raymond behaves with emotion and initiative. He is also violent, and beats his mistress as well as the two Arabs on the beach, one of whom is his mistress’s brother. Raymond seems to be using Meursault, whom he can easily convince to help him in his schemes. However, that Raymond tries to help Meursault with his testimony during the trial shows that Raymond does possess some capacity for loyalty.
Madame Meursault’s death begins the action of the novel. Three years prior, Meursault sent her to an old persons’ home. Meursault identifies with his mother and believes that she shared many of his attitudes about life, including a love of nature and the capacity to become accustomed to virtually any situation or occurrence. Most important, Meursault decides that, toward the end of her life, his mother must have embraced a meaningless universe and lived for the moment, just as he does.
A priest who attends to the religious needs of condemned men, the chaplain acts as a catalyst for Meursault’s psychological and philosophical development. After Meursault is found guilty of premeditated murder and sentenced to death, he repeatedly refuses to see the chaplain. The chaplain visits Meursault anyway, and nearly demands that he take comfort in God. The chaplain seems threatened by Meursault’s stubborn atheism. Eventually, Meursault becomes enraged and angrily asserts that life is meaningless and that all men are condemned to die. This argument triggers Meursault’s final acceptance of the meaninglessness of the universe.
One of the elderly residents at the old persons’ home where Meursault’s mother lived. Before Madame Meursault’s death, she and Perez had become so inseparable that the other residents joked that he was her fiancé. Perez’s relationship with Madame Meursault is one of the few genuine emotional attachments the novel depicts. Perez, as someone who expresses his love for Madame Meursault, serves as a foil the indifferent narrator.
The magistrate questions Meursault several times after his arrest. Deeply disturbed by Meursault’s apparent lack of grief over his mother’s death, the magistrate brandishes a crucifix at Meursault and demands to know whether he believes in God. When Meursault reasserts his atheism, the magistrate states that the meaning of his own life is threatened by Meursault’s lack of belief. The magistrate represents society at large in that he is threatened by Meursault’s unusual, amoral beliefs.
A worker at the old persons’ home where Meursault’s mother spent the three years prior to her death. During the vigil Meursault holds before his mother’s funeral, the caretaker chats with Meursault in the mortuary. They drink coffee and smoke cigarettes next to the coffin, gestures that later weigh heavily against Meursault as evidence of his monstrous indifference to his mother’s death. It is peculiar that the court does not consider the caretaker’s smoking and coffee drinking in the presence of the coffin to be similarly monstrous acts.
The manager of the old persons’ home where Meursault’s mother spent her final three years. When Meursault arrives to keep vigil before his mother’s funeral, the director assures him that he should not feel guilty for having sent her to the home. However, by raising the issue, the director implies that perhaps Meursault has done something wrong. When Meursault goes on trial, the director becomes suddenly judgmental. During his testimony, he casts Meursault’s actions in a negative light.
The proprietor of a café where Meursault frequently eats lunch. Celeste remains loyal to Meursault during his murder trial. He testifies that Meursault is an honest, decent man, and he states that bad luck led Meursault to kill the Arab. Celeste’s assertion that the murder had no rational cause and was simply a case of bad luck reveals a worldview similar to Meursault’s.
One of Raymond’s friends, who invites Raymond, Meursault, and Marie to spend a Sunday at his beach house with him and his wife. It is during this ill-fated trip to Masson’s beach house that Meursault kills the Arab. Masson is a vigorous, seemingly contented figure, and he testifies to Meursault’s good character during Meursault’s trial.
The lawyer who argues against Meursault at the trial. During his closing arguments, the prosecutor characterizes Meursault as a cool, calculating monster, using Meursault’s lack of an emotional attachment to his mother as his primary evidence. He demands the death penalty for Meursault, arguing that Meursault’s moral indifference threatens all of society and therefore must be stamped out.
One of Meursault’s neighbors. Salamano owns an old dog that suffers from mange, and he frequently curses at and beats his pet. However, after Salamano loses his dog, he weeps and longs for its return. His strong grief over losing his dog contrasts with Meursault’s indifference at losing his mother.
The brother of Raymond’s mistress. On the Sunday that Raymond, Meursault, and Marie spend at Masson’s beach house, Meursault kills the Arab with Raymond’s gun. The crime is apparently motiveless—the Arab has done nothing to Meursault. The Arab’s mysteriousness as a character makes Meursault’s crime all the more strange and difficult to understand.