Summary: Chapter 4

[S]he asked me if I loved her. I told her it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so.

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The following Saturday, Meursault goes swimming again with Marie. He is intensely aroused from the first moment he sees her. After the swim, they hurry back to Meursault’s apartment to have sex. Marie spends the night and stays for lunch the following day. Meursault tells her the story of Salamano and his dog, and she laughs. Then Marie asks Meursault if he loves her. He replies that, though “it [doesn’t] mean anything, he [doesn’t] think so.” Meursault’s response makes Marie look sad.

Marie and Meursault can hear an argument in Raymond's apartment. The tenants of the building gather on the landing and listen outside the door to the sounds of Raymond beating his mistress. A police officer arrives. Raymond’s mistress informs the officer that Raymond beat her and the cop slaps Raymond in the face. He then orders Raymond to wait in his apartment until he is summoned to the police station. Later that afternoon, Raymond visits Meursault in his apartment. He asks Meursault to go to the police station to testify that his mistress had cheated on him. Meursault agrees. After an evening out, the two men return to their apartment building to find Salamano desperately searching for his dog, who ran away from him at the Parade Ground. Meursault says that if the dog is at the pound, he can pay a fee to have it returned. Salamano curses the dog when he hears this, but later that night, Meursault hears Salamano crying in his room.

Summary: Chapter 5

I said that people never change their lives, that in any case one life was as good as another and that I wasn’t dissatisfied with mine here at all.

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Raymond’s friend Masson invites Meursault and Marie to spend the following Sunday at his beach house with him, his wife, and Raymond. Meursault’s boss offers him a position in a new office he plans to open in Paris. Meursault replies that it is all the same to him, and his boss becomes angry at his lack of ambition. Meursault muses that he used to have ambition as a student, but then realized that none of it really mattered.

Marie asks Meursault if he wants to marry her. Meursault replies that it makes no difference to him. When she asks Meursault if he loves her, he again replies that though it does not mean anything, he probably does not love her. Marie thinks he is peculiar, but decides that she wants to marry him nonetheless. She tells Meursault that she cannot have dinner with him that night, and when he does not ask why she laughs. Meursault eats dinner alone at Celeste’s, where he notices a strange woman obsessively checking off radio programs listed in a magazine. He follows her briefly when she leaves.

Meursault returns home and finds Salamano waiting outside his door. Salamano says that he bought his dog in an effort to overcome the loneliness he felt after his wife died, and that he does not want to get a new dog because he is used to the old one. Salamano then expresses his condolences for the death of Madame Meursault. He mentions that some people in the neighborhood thought badly of Meursault for sending her to the home, but he himself knew that Meursault must have loved her very much. He returns to his own loss, saying that he does not know what he will do without his dog. Its loss has changed his life dramatically.

Analysis: Chapters 4–5

On the surface, Meursault appears to be an ordinary, lower middle-class French colonial in Algeria, living a typical day-to-day routine. He eats lunch in small cafés, attends films, and swims during his free time. He is diligent but not exceptional at his perfectly ordinary job. As of yet, he challenges nothing this society hands him, and it challenges nothing in him. Meursault lives his life almost unconsciously, nearly sleepwalking through a ready-made structure that his society provides him.

Read an important quote about Meursault’s complacency.

By attempting to assign meaning to the meaningless events of Meursault’s life, the people in Meursault’s social circle succumb to the same temptation that confronts us as we read The Stranger. Salamano, for example, states that he is sure that Meursault loved his mother deeply, despite the fact that Meursault offers no evidence to support such an assertion. Salamano is himself supplying the rational order that he desires to find in the world. His statement about Meursault’s love for his mother seems intended to comfort himself more than to comfort Meursault. Further, the way Salamano turns to the subject of Meursault’s love for his mother in the midst of his own discussion of his missing dog suggests that Salamano uses his discussion of Meursault and Madame Meursault to displace his own guilt. Salamano assumes that Meursault really loved his mother despite sending her to a nursing home, just as he loved his dog even though he beat it.

Read more about the irrationality of the universe and society’s absurd attempts to impose rational explanations on everything.

Raymond’s encounter with the policeman implies a lack of rational order in human life. Society deems Raymond’s slapping of his mistress for a perceived injustice an immoral act. But when the cop slaps Raymond, society in effect condones the action of slapping. Physically, both slaps are nearly identical, yet one is considered wrong, and the other, just and good. Through the policeman’s actions, Camus implicitly challenges the truth of society’s accepted moral order.

Read more about Albert Camus’ philosophy of absurdism and its influence on The Stranger.

Salamano’s description of life with his dog highlights the inevitability of physical decay. Salamano says that he initially had human companionship in his wife, but she died and he had to settle for the animal companionship of his dog. As time has passed, Salamano’s dog has become increasingly ugly and sick, until the point where it, too, has left him. Physical decay represents a marker and reminder of Camus’s philosophy of the absurd, which asserts that humans are thrust into a life that inevitably ends in death.

Read more about Salamano’s dog and the motif of decay and death.

Meursault narrates the events of his life as they occur without interpreting them as a coherent narrative. He does not relate the events of earlier chapters to the events that take place in these chapters. It becomes clear that Meursault concentrates largely on the moment in which he finds himself, with little reference to past occurrences or future consequences. This outlook perhaps explains his ambivalent attitude toward marriage with Marie. Because he does not think about what married life would be like, Meursault does not particularly care whether or not he and Marie marry. Characteristically, the emotional and sentimental aspects of marriage never enter into his mind.

Read an in-depth analysis of Meursault’s indifferent response when Marie asks if he loves her.