The following Sunday, Meursault has difficulty waking up. Marie has to shake him and shout at him. He finally awakens and the two go downstairs. On the way down they call Raymond out of his room, and the three of them prepare to take a bus to Masson’s beach house. As they head for the bus, they notice a group of Arabs, including Raymond’s mistress’s brother—whom Meursault refers to as “the Arab”—staring at them. Raymond is relieved when the Arabs do not board the bus. As the bus leaves, Meursault looks back and sees that the Arabs are still staring blankly at the same spot.
Masson’s beach house is a small wooden bungalow. Meursault meets Masson’s wife, and for the first time thinks about what marrying Marie will be like. Masson, Meursault, and Marie swim until lunchtime. Marie and Meursault swim in tandem, enjoying themselves greatly. After lunch, Masson, Raymond, and Meursault take a walk while the two women clean the dishes. The heat on the beach is nearly unbearable for Meursault. The three men notice two Arabs, one of whom is the brother of Raymond’s mistress, following them. A fight quickly breaks out. Raymond and Masson have the advantage until Raymond’s adversary produces a knife. Meursault tries to warn Raymond, but it is too late. The Arab slashes Raymond’s arm and mouth before retreating with his friend. Masson and Meursault help the wounded Raymond back to the bungalow. Marie looks very frightened, and Madame Masson cries when she sees Raymond’s injuries. Masson takes Raymond to a nearby doctor. Meursault does not feel like explaining what happened, so he smokes cigarettes and watches the sea.
Raymond returns to the bungalow later that afternoon, wrapped in bandages. He descends to the beach, and, against Raymond’s wishes, Meursault follows along. Raymond finds the two Arabs lying down beside a spring. Raymond has a gun in his pocket, which he fingers nervously as the two Arabs stare at him. Meursault tries to convince Raymond not to shoot, and eventually talks him into handing over the gun. The Arabs then sneak away behind a rock, so Meursault and Raymond leave.
Meursault accompanies Raymond back to the beach house. The intense heat has worn Meursault out, so the prospect of walking up the stairs to face the women seems just as tiring as continuing to walk on the hot beach. Meursault chooses to stay on the beach. The heat is oppressive and Meursault has a headache, so he walks back to the spring to cool off. When Meursault reaches the spring, he sees that the brother of Raymond’s mistress has returned as well. Meursault puts his hand on the gun. When Meursault steps toward the cool water of the spring, the Arab draws his knife. The sunlight reflects off the blade and directly into Meursault’s eyes, which are already stinging with sweat and heat. Meursault fires the gun once. He pauses and then fires four more times into the Arab’s motionless body. Meursault has killed the Arab.
At the beginning of the novel, the indifference Meursault feels is located exclusively within himself, in his own heart and mind. By this point, however, Meursault has come to realize how similar the universe—or at least Camus’s conception of it—is to his own personality. He begins to understand that not only does he not care what happens, but that the world does not care either. Reflecting on the moment when Raymond gave him the gun, Meursault says, “It was then that I realized you could either shoot or not shoot.” His comment implies that no difference exists between the two alternatives.
This chapter represents the climax of the first part of the book. Since his return from his mother’s funeral, everything that Meursault has done in the narrative up to this point—meeting Marie, meeting Raymond, and becoming involved in the affair with Raymond’s mistress—has led him to the beach house. Yet Meursault’s murder of the Arab comes as a complete surprise—nothing in The Stranger has prepared us for it. The feeling of abruptness that accompanies this shift in the plot is intentional on Camus’s part. He wants the murder to happen unexpectedly and to strike us as bizarre.
Inevitably, the first question that the killing provokes is, “Why?” But nothing in Meursault’s narrative answers this question. Camus’s philosophy of absurdism emphasizes the futility of man’s inevitable attempts to find order and meaning in life. The “absurd” refers to the feeling man experiences when he tries to find or fabricate order in an irrational universe. Cleverly, Camus coaxes us into just such an attempt—he lures us into trying to determine the reason for Meursault’s killing of the Arab, when in fact Meursault has no reason. Camus forces us to confront the fact that any rational explanation we try to offer would be based on a consciousness that we create for Meursault, an order that we impose onto his mind.
In this chapter, we once again see the profound effect nature has on Meursault. Early in the chapter, Meursault notes nature’s benefits. The sun soothes his headache, and the cool water provides an opportunity for him and Marie to swim and play happily together. Later in the chapter, however, nature becomes a negative force on Meursault. As at his mother’s funeral, the heat oppresses him. Camus’s language intensifies to describe the sun’s harshness, particularly in the passages just before Meursault commits the murder. His prose becomes increasingly ornate, featuring such rhetorical devices as personification and metaphor, and contrasting strongly with the spare, simple descriptions that Meursault usually offers.