Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.See Important Quotations Explained
Meursault, the novel’s narrator and protagonist, receives a telegram telling him that his mother has died. She had been living in an old persons’ home in Marengo, outside of Algiers. Meursault asks his boss for two days’ leave from work to attend the funeral. His boss grudgingly grants the request, and makes Meursault feel almost guilty for asking. Meursault catches the two o’clock bus to Marengo, and sleeps for nearly the entire trip.
When Meursault arrives, he meets with the director of the old persons’ home, who assures Meursault that he should not feel bad for having sent his mother there. The director asserts that it was the best decision Meursault could have made, given his modest salary. He tells Meursault that a religious funeral has been planned for his mother, but Meursault knows that his mother never cared about religion. After the brief conversation, the director takes Meursault to the small mortuary where his mother’s coffin has been placed.
Alone, Meursault sees that the coffin has already been sealed. The caretaker rushes in and offers to open the casket, but Meursault tells him not to bother. To Meursault’s annoyance, the caretaker then stays in the room, chatting idly about his life and about how funeral vigils are shorter in the countryside because bodies decompose more quickly in the heat. Meursault thinks this information is “interesting and [makes] sense.”
Meursault spends the night keeping vigil over his mother’s body. The caretaker offers him a cup of coffee, and, in turn, Meursault gives the caretaker a cigarette. Meursault finds the atmosphere in the mortuary pleasant and he dozes off. He is awakened by the sound of his mother’s friends from the old persons’ home shuffling into the mortuary. One of the women cries mournfully, annoying Meursault. Eventually he falls back asleep, as do nearly all of his mother’s friends.
The next morning, the day of the funeral, Meursault again meets with the director of the old persons’ home. The director asks Meursault if he wants to see his mother one last time before the coffin is sealed permanently, but Meursault declines. The director tells Meursault about Thomas Perez, the only resident of the home who will be allowed to attend the funeral. Perez and Meursault’s mother had become nearly inseparable before she died. Other residents had joked that he was her fiancé.
The funeral procession slowly makes its way toward the village. When one of the undertaker’s assistants asks Meursault if his mother was old, Meursault responds vaguely because he does not know her exact age. The oppressive heat weighs heavily on him during the long walk. He notices that Thomas Perez cannot keep up, and keeps falling behind the procession. A nurse tells Meursault that he will get sunstroke if he walks too slowly, but will work up a sweat and catch a chill in church if he walks too quickly. Meursault agrees, thinking, “There was no way out.” He remembers little of the funeral, aside from Perez’s tear-soaked face and the fact that the old man fainted from the heat. As he rides home on the bus to Algiers, Meursault is filled with joy at the prospect of a good night’s sleep.