The Stranger Study Guide

The Stranger

The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Stranger is an existentialist novel by Albert Camus about Meursault, an apathetic man who impulsively kills another man without reason or remorse. After helping his friend Raymond exact revenge on his girlfriend, the girlfriend's friend accosts Meursault on the beach and Meursault shoots him. Meursault shows no remorse at the trial, is sentenced to public decapitation and, in the end, rejecting a chaplain's attempts to redeem him through Christianity in a cathartic outburst, declaring the absurdity of existence, the illegitimacy of judgment and the indifference of the universe.

Part one

Meursault learns of his mother's death. At her funeral, he expresses none of the expected emotions of grief. When asked if he wishes to view the body, he says no, and, instead, smokes and drinks coffee in front of the coffin. Rather than expressing his feelings, he comments to the reader only about the attendees at the funeral.

He later encounters Marie, a former employee of his firm. The two become re-acquainted, go swimming, watch a comedy film, and begin to have a sexual relationship, a day after his mother's funeral. In the next few days, he helps his friend and neighbour, Raymond Sint├Ęs, take revenge on a Moorish girlfriend suspected of infidelity. For Raymond, Meursault agrees to write a letter to his girlfriend, with the sole purpose of inviting her over so that Raymond can have sex with her but spit in her face at the last minute as emotional revenge. Meursault sees no reason not to help him, and it pleases Raymond. He does not express concern that Raymond's girlfriend is going to be emotionally hurt, as he believes Raymond's story that she has been unfaithful. While listening to Raymond, he is both somewhat drunk and characteristically unfazed by any feelings of empathy. In general, he considers other people either interesting or annoying, or feels nothing of them at all.

The letter works: the girlfriend returns, but the situation escalates when she slaps Raymond after he tries to kick her out, and he beats her. Raymond is taken to court where Meursault testifies that she had been unfaithful, and Raymond is let off with a warning. After this, the girlfriend's brother and several Arab friends begin trailing Raymond. Raymond invites Meursault and Marie to a friend's beach house for the weekend. There they encounter the spurned girlfriend's brother and an Arab friend; these two confront Raymond and wound him with a knife during a fist fight. Later, Meursault walks back along the beach alone, now armed with a revolver which he took from Raymond to prevent him from acting rashly. Meursault encounters the brother of Raymond's Arab girlfriend. Disoriented and on the edge of heatstroke, Meursault shoots when the Arab flashes his knife at him. It is a fatal shot, but Meursault shoots the man four more times. He does not divulge to the reader any specific reason for his crime or what he feels, other than being bothered by the heat and intensely bright sunlight.

Part two

Meursault is incarcerated, and explains his arrest, time in prison, and upcoming trial. His general detachment makes living in prison very tolerable, especially after he gets used to the idea of being restricted and unable to have sex with Marie. He passes the time sleeping, or mentally listing the objects he owned in his apartment. At the trial, the prosecuting attorney portrays Meursault's quietness and passivity as demonstrating guilt and a lack of remorse. The prosecutor tells the jury more about Meursault's inability or unwillingness to cry at his mother's funeral than the murder. He pushes Meursault to tell the truth, but the man resists. Later, on his own, Meursault tells the reader that he simply was never able to feel any remorse or personal emotions for any of his actions in life. The dramatic prosecutor denounces Meursault, claiming that he must be a soulless monster, incapable of remorse, and thus deserves to die for his crime. Although Meursault's attorney defends him and later tells Meursault that he expects the sentence to be light, Meursault is alarmed when the judge informs him of the final decision: that he will be publicly guillotined.

In prison, while awaiting execution of his death sentence, Meursault meets with a chaplain, but rejects his proffered opportunity of turning to God. The prisoner says that God is a waste of his time. Although the chaplain persists in trying to lead Meursault from his atheism (or, perhaps more precisely, his apatheism), Meursault finally accosts him in a rage. He has an outburst about his frustrations and the absurdity of the human condition, and his personal anguish without respite at the meaninglessness of his existence. He expresses anger about others, saying that they have no right to judge him for his actions or for who he is, that no one has the right to judge another. Meursault grasps the universe's indifference towards humankind, and prepares for his execution.

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