The Stranger

by: Albert Camus

Absurdity

1

[I]t had a queer effect, seeing all those old fellows grouped round the keeper, solemnly eying me and dandling their heads from side to side. For a moment I had an absurd impression that they had come to sit in judgment on me.

The narrator Meursault describes sitting in the mortuary with his mother’s coffin. In the morning light, ten residents of the group home where his mother had lived and died glide soundlessly into the room and take their seats. Meursault’s careful observations portray him as a man who clearly perceives situations but can’t find meaning in his reality. He rejects his idea of the old men sitting in judgment of him as absurd or irrational, but the company of men foreshadows his trial.

2

When she laughed I wanted her again. A moment later she asked me if I loved her. I said that sort of question had no meaning, really; but I supposed I didn’t.

Meursault describes his response to Maria. The two enjoy lunch together and had kissed just the day before. His assessment that Maria’s question has no meaning shows him incapable of having normal human emotions.

3

But the heat was so great that it was just as bad staying where I was, under that flood of blinding light falling from the sky. To stay, or to make a move—it came to much the same. After a moment I returned to the beach, and started walking.

Just before the murder, Meursault contemplates the arbitrary nature of his choices. The scene places him in a spotlight like a climactic turning point in a play. Whether he acts or doesn’t act makes no difference, because life has no essential purpose. This repeated idea reaches a crescendo as the heat increases, the blinding light causes a headache, and his physical discomfort motivates his fateful decision to return to the beach.

4

As for the rest of the time, I managed quite well, really. I’ve often thought that had I been compelled to live in the trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do but gaze up at the patch of sky just overhead, I’d have got used to it by degrees.

Meursault muses about being a prisoner, admitting that he believes he could get used to anything. He says he manages life, like a passenger carried along on a journey without a destination. He comes to terms with his imprisonment by diminishing the significance of the freedom he has lost. Meursault vividly imagines being encased in the trunk of a dead tree open to the sky. The image evokes a man isolated from the world’s touch, content with only a small light. His complacent observation of the minute details of his surroundings in the face of an ominous court judgment dramatizes the absurdity of his life.

5

I’d read, of course, that in jail one ends up by losing track of time. But this had never meant anything definite to me. I hadn’t grasped how days could be at once long and short . . . In fact, I never thought of days as such; only the words “yesterday” and “tomorrow” still kept some meaning.

While in prison awaiting his trial, Meursault muses on his state of mind. He analyzes his experience of isolation in context of others’ accounts of their feelings. Recalling his reading about other prisoners, he comes to fresh conclusions about his evolving concept of time. Time moves in increments of days, not hours, for him now, evoking the idea of the sun’s passage from dawn to dark. Here, Meursault articulates the absurdist notion that time has no meaning except as a human construct.