Summary: Chapter 2
Meursault suddenly realizes why his boss was annoyed at his request for two days’ leave from work. Because his mother’s funeral was on a Friday, counting the weekend, Meursault essentially received four days off rather than two. Meursault goes swimming at a public beach, where he runs into Marie Cardona, a former co-worker of his. He helps her onto a float, and after admiring her beauty, he climbs up next to her on the float. He rests his head on her body, and they lie together for a while, looking at the sky. They swim happily together and flirt over the course of the afternoon, and Marie accepts Meursault’s invitation to see a movie. She is somewhat surprised to learn that Meursault’s mother was buried just a day earlier, but she quickly forgets it. After the movie, Marie spends the night with Meursault.
Marie is gone when Meursault awakes. He decides against having his usual lunch at Celeste’s because he wants to avoid the inevitable questions about his mother. He stays in bed until noon, then spends the entire afternoon on his balcony, smoking, eating, and observing the assorted people on the street as they come and go. The weather is beautiful. As evening approaches, Meursault buys some food and cooks dinner. After his meal he muses that yet another Sunday is over. His mother is buried, and he must return to work in the morning. He concludes that nothing has changed after all.
Summary: Chapter 3
The next day, Meursault goes to work. His boss is friendly and asks Meursault about his mother. Meursault and his co-worker, Emmanuel, go to Celeste’s for lunch. Celeste asks Meursault if everything is alright, but Meursault changes the subject after only a brief response. He takes a nap and then returns to work for the rest of the afternoon. After work, Meursault runs into his neighbor, Salamano, who is on the stairs with his dog. The dog suffers from mange, so its skin has the same scabby appearance as its elderly master’s. Salamano walks the dog twice a day, beating it and swearing at it all the while.
Raymond Sintes, another neighbor, invites Meursault to dinner. Raymond is widely believed to be a pimp, but when anyone asks about his occupation he replies that he is a “warehouse guard.” Over dinner, Raymond requests Meursault’s advice about something, and then asks Meursault whether he would like to be “pals.” Meursault offers no objection, so Raymond launches into his story.
Raymond tells Meursault that when he suspected that his mistress was cheating on him, he beat her, and she left him. This altercation led Raymond into a fight with his mistress’s brother, an Arab. Raymond is still attracted to his mistress, but wants to punish her for her infidelity. His idea is to write a letter to incite her guilt and make her return to him. He plans to sleep with her, and “right at the last minute,” spit in her face. Raymond then asks Meursault to write the letter, and Meursault responds that he would not mind doing it. Raymond is pleased with Meursault’s effort, so he tells Meursault that they are now “pals.” In his narrative, Meursault reflects that he “didn’t mind” being pals with Raymond. As Meursault returns to his room, he hears Salamano’s dog crying softly.
Analysis: Chapters 2–3
Meursault appears heartless for failing to express grief or even to care about his mother’s death. Yet to condemn and dismiss him risks missing much of the meaning of the novel. The Stranger, though it explores Camus’s philosophy of the absurd, is not meant to be read as a tale containing a lesson for our moral improvement. Camus’s philosophy of the absurd characterizes the world and human existence as having no rational purpose or meaning. According to Camus’s philosophy, the universe is indifferent to human struggles, and Meursault’s indifferent personality embodies this philosophy. He does not attempt to assign a rational order to the events around him, and he is largely indifferent to human activity. Because Meursault does not see his mother’s death as part of a larger structure of human existence, he can easily make a date, go to a comedy, and have sex the day after his mother’s funeral. Meursault is Camus’s example of someone who does not need a rational world view to function.
Meursault’s interactions with Marie on the beach show the importance he places on the physical aspects of existence. He reports to us almost nothing about Marie’s personality, but he carefully describes their physical interactions. The prose in his description of lying on the float with Marie and looking up at the sky is unusually warm and heartfelt. In this passage, it even seems that Meursault is happy. When he describes watching people from his balcony the following day, he again seems content.
While watching from his balcony, Meursault does not express any sort of judgment about the people he sees—he simply notices their primary characteristics. While the people he watches obviously attach great importance to their own activities, Meursault sees them as just part of another Sunday, like any other. Throughout the novel, Meursault plays this role of the detached observer. Just as he does not pass judgment on those he sees from far above on his balcony, so too does he refrain from judging the more significant characters with whom he interacts throughout the novel. Meursault will not commit to either condemning or defending Salamano’s treatment of his dog. Likewise, while he does not expressly condone Raymond’s treatment of his mistress, neither does Meursault refuse to participate in Raymond’s scheme.
Meursault and Raymond seem to display similarly indifferent responses to the world around them, but Raymond in fact serves as a foil for Meursault. In contrast with Meursault, who is amoral, meaning he does not make moral distinctions, Raymond is clearly immoral: he beats up his mistress and he fights with her brother. Moreover, Raymond’s manner of convincing Meursault to assist him in his scheme to take further revenge on his mistress seems somewhat manipulative. Raymond’s plan for revenge crystallizes the distinction between Meursault and Raymond. Raymond plans to make love to his mistress and then spit in her face. He uses the physical act of sex as a tool for humiliation and revenge. Meursault, conversely, sees his sexual affair with Marie as a source of delight, in much the same way that he responds positively to other physical aspects of life.