The Stranger is a novel with which Camus had his first success. It was influenced by Nietzsche and Sartre. The novel is showing us a meaningless and absurd life and how the humans drift apart from the world. Life is represented as a meaningless existence ruled by coincidences.
The questionto which Camus seeks the answer is how to justify an existence in a meaningless world, better said, how to except our helplessness in a life that is nothing but an absurd. The novel is divided into two parts: the first one is the life of Mersault when he was a free man and the other one is his life in prison.
In the novel the storyteller is Mersault. The events are stated very objectively and precise and the character talks about himself as if he was somebody else and does not try to come up with a different life that would be in line with the society at that time. He is being honest about everything. We do not have a psychological characterization of Mersaulte because he does not do many inner monologues, doesn’t care about anything.
Mersault is a young Frenchman and in the novel we can see his life from the moment he found out that his mother died till the moment he waits for his own death because he killed a man with no motive. He didn’t cry on his mothers funeral and he was thinking how she was trying to live a different life, a life she wanted. People judged him about that because his ‘’cold’’ reaction wasn’t normal for the world he was living in.
On the trial for the murder the prosecutor uses his insensitivity on his mother funeral and emphasizes that a day after the funeral Mersault found a woman. Maybe that what seems as a complete insensitivity is a true sensitivity freed from the social standards and acting. He was intelligent, cold-hearted, insensitive, cold but in reality he did not want to lie and accept the terms and conditions set for him by the society.
He was asked to repent for his crime but he said no to that because he did not want to live by the social standards and do something just because he was told to do it. He says that he felt satisfaction because of the crime and he denies to hide his feelings and thoughts that do not fit with the society. Mersault only says the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth. He exposed himself in front of the society and was named a stranger in the world of habits.
His relationship with his mother is superficial, he does not have any aspirations to have a family or closer relationships with someone. He thinks that it is normal to feel like that while the society sees that as a problem. We can see two perspectives here: a perspective of a man who met absurd and the perspective of humanity that still lives in an illusion.
When Marie asks him if he loves her she told her that he does not know which means he doesn’t care and does not think about that. He didn’t feel passion or any kind of love. He said no to a promotion because he did not want to mess with his routine. He is a passive character who does not care about anyone and does not have the need to be in a close relationship with anyone.
Mersault had a job but wasn’t really ambitious about it. He hardly ever talked to anyone, always ate in the same restaurant and mostly hanged out with Emmanuel who worked with him. The novel begins with him finding out that his mother died. She spent the last three years of her life in a nursing home because Mersault couldn’t afford her a nurse. Mersault traveled by bus to the funeral and spent the night besides his mother coffin.
He was mostly napping, drinking coffe and observing the reactions of his mothers friends. The next day, during high temperatures, the funeral began. There were only a few people there. Between them was Perez who was very fond of his mother and the doctor from the nursinghome allowed him to attend the funeral.
Mersault went back home and since he had a day off he decided to go to the seaside. At the beach he met Marie, an ex-coworker. He used to like her while they were working together. They went to see a movie and after that Marie spend the night at his place. He woke up on Sunday and spent the whole day watching the street from his balcony. On Monday he went to work and when he got back to his building he saw his neighbor who had a dog.
He was beating him all the time. Also, Raymond appears on the stairs. He is told to be a pimp and he invites Mersault to have a glass of wine with him. He was telling him the story of his fist injury. He got into a fight with the brother of his mistress. Raymond was paying her for food, clothes, apartment while she did nothing.
He thought that she was cheating on him so he beat her up. He did not think that was a punishment cruel enough so he asked Mersault to write a letter in which he is supposed to insult her and make her come back at the same time. Then Raymond would sleep with her and right in the moment he should be done he would spit in her face and make her leave.
Mersault wrote the letter and Raymond called him a friend. The next Saturday was another day with Marie. Since she spent the night at his place again they decided to have lunch together. While they were eating they heard some noise coming out of Raymonds apartment. He did what he wanted to his girlfriend but she slapped him so he beat he up again. The police came and Raymond got hit by one of the cops. Afterwards Raymond and Mersault went to have a drink together.
The next week Raymond called Mersault to spend the weekend at his friends beach house. He told his that he was being followed by a group of Arabs and between them was the brother of the women he beat up. Mersault got an offer from his boss to run the company in Paris but he said no to that. Marie asked him if he would marry her and he replied that it was all the same to him. On Sunday they went with Raymond to the beach house. Raymonds friend Masson and his wife were waiting for them.
While the men were strolling down the beach they saw two Arabs and one of them was the brother of the girl Raymond beat up. A fight broke out and Raymond got injured. After they recovered Raymond decided to fight back. He took his gun and found the Arabs. Mersault convinced him to hand him over the gun. Arabs stepped back and the two of them went back to the beach house. Mersault went back to the beach and found Raymonds enemy.
In the sun the whole picture is blurry to him. The Arab pulled out a knife and MErsault took the gun and killed him. After that he shot him four more times even though the Arab wasn’t moving anymore and he wasn’t in danger.
Mersault ended up in jail where he was questioned about the murder. His lawyer told him that the prosecutor was investigating about his personal life and most of all about his behavior on his mothers funeral. The investigator called him an antichrist and waved a cross in front of his eyes. Marie visited him but he was paying more attention to everyone else but her. She sent him a letter but he got tired of all of the attention he was getting. He thought that he was no different than other people and got used to the life in prison.
He spent his days sleeping and remembering everything. In his bed he found a piece of newspaper article that was talking about a Czech that went back to his home village with his wife and kids after 25 years. He left his family in a motel and went to another motel whose owners were his mother and sister. They didn’t recognize him. He decided to play a joke on them so he decided to get a room in their motel. They saw that he had a lot of money so they robbed him and killed him while he was sleeping. When they realized what had happened both of them killed themselves.
Months passed by and the trial began. The witnesses were the doctor from the nursing home, the doorman, old Perez, Celeste, Raymond, Marie and Masson. Mersault was observing the people and listened carefully to what the witnesses had to say about him. Everything was based on hi insensitivity – not crying when his mother died, sleeping the day after with Marie, coming up with a plan against Raymond girlfriend with him etc.
He was sentenced to death. While he was waiting for his execution he denied to talk to a priest three times but he came at the end. Mersault was listening to him up until the moment he got so angry and started stating his own mind. Why bother about anything when everything is meaningless. In the last moments of his life he realized that the anger liberated him from evil and hope and that he is wide open to the listlessness of the world and thathe was happy.
Author: Albert Camus biography