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The Stranger

  • Study Guide

Part Two: Chapters 1–2

Summary Part Two: Chapters 1–2

At the end of Part Two, Chapter 2, Meursault, staring at his reflection in the window, notes the seriousness of his face and suddenly realizes that he has been talking to himself. Meursault’s actions signal his emerging self-awareness and self-consciousness. In prison, he is growing to understand himself and his beliefs more and more. He decides that he could get used to any living situation, even living in a tree trunk, for example.

Most important, Meursault begins to gain insight into the irrational universe around him. In his mind echo the words of the nurse who speaks to him in Part One, Chapter 1, during the funeral procession. She told Meursault that he would get sunstroke if he walked too slowly, but would work up a sweat and catch a chill in church if he walked too quickly. At the time, Meursault agreed that “there was no way out,” but now he understands for the first time the full implications of these words: there is no way out of prison, and there is no way out of a life that inevitably and purposelessly ends in death. When Marie comes to visit Meursault, her hope that Meursault’s trial will end happily contrasts strongly with Meursault’s growing affirmation of an irrational universe.

The news article that Meursault studies about the Czechoslovakian man serves to comment and expand upon the themes of absurdism that Camus illustrates in The Stranger. Camus’s absurdist philosophy asserts that the events of the world have no rational order or discernible meaning. The story of the returning son murdered by his mother and sister fits perfectly into such a belief system. There is no reason for the son to have died. His terrible, ironic fate is not compatible with any logical or ordered system governing human existence. Like Meursault’s killing of the Arab, the son’s death is a purposeless, meaningless tragedy that defies rationalization or justification.