The Stranger

by: Albert Camus

Meursault

I had to run to catch the bus. I suppose it was my hurrying like that, what with the glare off the road and from the sky, the reek of gasoline, and the jolts, that made me feel so drowsy.

Meursault describes his physical reactions to details he notices in the world around him. Sights, smells, and motion combine to cause a change in consciousness that he can neither identify nor understand. However, readers learn that while he notices sensual details, he fails to notice human emotions. These moments of heat, glare, and sleepiness foreshadow what will happen later in the novel on the beach with the Arab: The sun causes Meursault to momentarily lose track of himself, which, in the latter case, results in catastrophe.

There’s no need to excuse yourself, my boy. I’ve looked up the record and obviously you weren’t in a position to see that she was properly cared for. She needed someone to be with her all the time, and young men in jobs like yours don’t get too much pay.

The director of the home where Meursault’s mother lived responds to Meursault’s feelings of guilt regarding his mother’s situation. The director kindly explains that he understands Meursault’s decision to put his mother into the institution. He remarks on Meursault’s failure to provide for the full-time caretaker she needed but reassures him that she had many friends there. The conversation prompts Meursault to admit to the reader that he seldom visited his mother in the last year as he found it an inconvenient waste of his day off.

Marie said, wasn’t it horrible! I didn’t answer anything. Then she asked me to go and fetch a policeman, but I told her I didn’t like policemen.

Meursault describes his and Marie’s responses after they witness Raymond beating the Moor woman who has been unfaithful to him. Marie asks Meursault to find and bring a policeman, but he refuses for purely selfish reasons. The reader will appreciate the dramatic irony in Meursault’s statement that he does not like policemen, as he will soon be forced to deal with not only policemen but prison and the legal system as a result of his own violent acts.

I told him I was quite prepared to go; but really I didn’t care much one way or the other. He then asked if a “change of life,” as he called it, didn’t appeal to me, and I answered that one never changed his way of life; one life was as good as another, and my present one suited me quite well.

Meursault explains his response to his employer who offers to transfer him to Paris. Readers imagine that the employer might be hurt by Meursault’s completely ambivalent response to such an offer as he accuses Meursault of lacking ambition, a grave defect for a businessman. However, Meursault makes it clear that such criticism doesn’t bother him at all.

He referred to her as “your poor mother,” and was afraid I must be feeling her death terribly. When I said nothing he added hastily and with a rather embarrassed air that some of the people in the street said nasty things about me because I’d sent my mother to the Home.

Meursault recounts a conversation with Salamano, who visits him to tell him that he has lost his dog. During this talk, Salamano mentions that Meursault’s mother had been fond of the dog, which leads to a brief conversation about the narrator’s mother. When Salamano says that he must be feeling his mother’s death terribly, he makes no response because has no feelings that he can report. It is only when Salamano recounts the criticism the neighbors felt when Meursault sent his mother to an institution that he defends himself. His reasoning shows a longstanding lack of empathy for and interest in his mother.

“Listen,” I said to Raymond. “You take on the fellow on the right, and give me your revolver. If the other one starts making trouble or gets out his knife, I’ll shoot.”

When Meursault, Masson, and Raymond return to the beach to confront the Arabs a second time, Meursault asks for Raymond’s gun. This moment marks the beginning of Meursault’s undoing as he later uses that gun to murder one of the Arabs. Presently, however, the Arabs have vanished, and the three men find an empty beach. They decide to return to the bungalow but along the way, Meursault becomes befuddled, overcome by the sun’s red glare, and decides to take a walk on the beach alone.

The heat was beginning to scorch my cheeks; beads of sweat were gathering in my eyebrows. It was just the same sort of heat as at my mother’s funeral, and I had the same disagreeable sensations—especially in my forehead, where all the veins seemed to be bursting through the skin.

Meursault describes how his physical sensations affect his mental state. Every muscle and nerve responds to the blinding, oppressive heat on the beach. Sadly, he takes his next step forward toward the Arab, not away and out of the sun. When he becomes blinded by the sweat that washes into his eyes, the flash of light from the Arab’s knife, and the cymbals of pain clashing in his head—he shoots the Arab dead.

Neither of the two men, at these times, showed the least hostility toward me, and everything went so smoothly, so amiably, that I had an absurd impression of being “one of the family.”

Meursault shows his oblivious estimation of the magistrate and his lawyer as they handle him after his arrest. They treat him with respect and without malice, which lulls him into believing that they are his friends. The magistrate breaks this self-delusion when he escorts him to the door, calls him Mr. Antichrist, and hands him back to his jailers. Meursault repeatedly reveals a lack of a sense of reality.

Still, to my mind he overdid it, and I’d have liked to have a chance of explaining to him, in a quite friendly, almost affectionate way, that I have never been able really to regret anything in all my life. I’ve always been far too much absorbed in the present moment, or the immediate future, to think back.

Meursault reacts to the Prosecutor’s closing argument that he did not show the least bit of regret for his actions. He will soon hear the Prosecutor say that, unlike normal men, he has no soul. Meursault expresses a tenet of existentialism here: Each individual possesses only the present moment in which to act. The concepts of past and future are essentially irrelevant to meaning.

And I, too, felt ready to start life all over again. It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.

The novel ends with Meursault’s epiphany that quickly follows his burst of anger at the chaplain. Meursault’s anger resulted in a kind of baptism that cleared away his confusion. He lets go of any expectations for life and accepts the universe’s indifference. He embraces meaninglessness as a kindness.