Study Guide

The Stranger

by Albert Camus

The Stranger Summary

Overview

The Stranger

Summary of the Novel
In Part One, Meursault works as a shipping clerk in Algiers, a city in North Africa. He learns of his mother’s death, and although he is somewhat ambivalent upon hearing the news, he travels to the nursing home to attend her funeral and sit in vigil over her body. At the funeral he displays little emotion and is not interested in viewing his mother’s body.

The following day, back in Algiers, Meursault meets a young woman, Marie Cardona, and they go swimming together. Because of Meursault’s cheerful attitude, Marie is surprised to learn of his mother’s death. Later, in the evening, they see a comic film together and then return to Meursault’s apartment where they make love. Meursault spends the next day alone in his apartment, eating, and watching people pass by on the street.

The following evening, Raymond Sintes, a neighbor with a shady background, invites Meursault to his apartment for dinner. Although he doesn’t really know Meursault, Raymond asks him to write a nasty letter to his Arab girlfriend. Raymond suspects his girlfriend of seeing other men. For no particular reason, Meursault agrees to help him.

Meursault and Marie go to the beach again the next Saturday. That night they hear Raymond beating his girlfriend in his apartment. A policeman arrives and rebukes Raymond for hitting the young woman. The policeman smacks Raymond around and orders him to appear in court. Although Marie is upset over the incident, Meursault tells Raymond he will testify on his behalf.

The following Sunday, Meursault and Marie go to the beach with Raymond. At the bus stop, Raymond points out two Arab men who are following him. He tells them that one of the Arabs is the brother of his ex-girlfriend.

At the beach, Meursault and Marie meet Raymond’s friend Masson and Masson’s wife. Masson owns a cottage on the beach and the three men discuss spending the month of August there together. Later, Meursault, Raymond, and Masson walk on the beach and meet the two Arabs who have followed them from the city. The men fight and one Arab cuts Raymond with a knife before running off. After his cuts are treated, Raymond takes a revolver and searches for the Arabs. Meursault follows him and talks him out of using the gun when they again meet up with the Arabs. Meursault takes Raymond’s gun and puts it in his pocket.

Meursault and Raymond return to Masson’s beach house. Meursault walks on the beach by himself, experiencing the hot, muggy weather. Meursault wanders towards a cool stream where he meets the Arab again. With the blinding sun in his eyes, Meursault confronts the Arab and shoots him with Raymond’s gun.

In Part Two, Meursault spends almost a year in prison before his trial begins. He is interviewed many times by the examining magistrate and his own defense attorney. Meursault aggravates both men with his lack of remorse for the crime and his unfeeling attitude about his own mother’s recent death. He angers the magistrate when he reveals that he does not believe in God. The magistrate becomes convinced that Meursault is a cold-hearted criminal.

Everyone Meursault knows testifies at his trial. His lawyer conducts a weak defense, and the prosecutor portrays Meursault as an unfeeling killer. When he takes the stand, Meursault can only say that “the sun” was the reason he shot the Arab. Meursault is found guilty and sentenced to death.

In his cell, awaiting his sentence, Meursault refuses to see the prison chaplain. The chaplain insists and finally gets in to see Meursault. He tries to convince Meursault of the existence of God and an afterlife, but Meursault rejects everything he hears and becomes enraged at the chaplain.

After the chaplain leaves, Meursault finds he is exhausted by his outburst, but he feels calm, appreciating the “marvelous peace” of the summer night. He describes a “benign” and “indifferent” universe where no one cares about his fate. The book ends with Meursault hoping that he is greeted with “howls of execration” by a huge, angry crowd on the day of his execution.

The Life and Work of Albert Camus
Albert Camus was born in Monrovia, Algeria on November 7, 1913. His father, a soldier in World War I, died fighting for France during the first Battle of Marne in 1914. Although Camus never really knew his father, while he was growing up, and later as an adult, Camus was keenly aware of the circumstances of his father’s death. At an early age Camus was made painfully aware of the tragic effects of war, experiencing the consequences of political strife on a highly personal level.

Following the publication of The Stranger and several other important works, Albert Camus gained wide recognition as one of the leading French writers of his day. As he continued to produce critically acclaimed and controversial novels, plays, and essays, Camus would earn a reputation equal to other preeminent French authors of the time such as Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Andre Malraux. Camus’ work had a significant and lasting influence on a post-war generation concerned with political and philosophical issues that dealt with human alienation and the search for meaning in a troubled world.

After his father’s death, Camus, his mother, and older brother moved to Belcourt, a suburb of Algiers where they lived in poverty for many years. In 1930, while a high school student, Camus contracted tuberculosis and barely survived. When he recovered, Camus’ excellent grades in school helped get him admitted to the University of Algiers where he studied theater and wrote plays, essays, and fiction. Camus’ illness, however, was another significant event in his life and it gave him a new perspective on death and awareness of his own existence. While he also began to develop the political outlook and personal philosophy that would form the basis of all of his later work, the inevitability of death would become an important theme in Camus’ work, one he would explore in much of his writing.

While he was attending the University of Algiers, Camus supported himself by working at a number of odd, part-time jobs, including one with the French Algerian civil service where he processed auto registrations and driver’s licenses. This dull, routine job made an impression on Camus; later he would incorporate elements of the experience in his writing of The Stranger.

In 1937, Camus’ first book The Wrong Side and the Right Side (L’Envers et l’endroit) was published in Algiers. It described his life growing up in Belcourt. In 1938, Camus was hired by Alge-Republicain, an anti-colonialist newspaper, where he took on a variety of editorial tasks, wrote literary reviews, covered local meetings, and wrote articles concerning the desperate conditions of impoverished Arabs living under French rule in Algeria. Of particular note was his description of the famine in Kabylia. In his article, Camus described the devastation within some Arab families where only two out of 10 children survived.

With the outbreak of World War II, Camus joined an underground anti-Nazi group based in Paris and became editor of the group’s resistance newspaper Combat. It was during this time that Camus wrote some of his most important work, including The Stranger (1942), and developed his theory of the absurd, which declared that life is essentially meaningless because of the inevitability of death. Camus, however, was never satisfied with the absurdist attitude of moral indifference. His experiences in occupied France, and other political events he witnessed, caused him to develop opinions on moral responsibility. Some of these ideas are contained in his Letters to a German Friend (1945), and in the essays included in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death (1960).

The Stranger is a striking example of Camus’ belief that “a novel is a philosophy put into images.” He believed that the highest art should contain elements of diversity and complexity, while maintaining a style that is balanced, uniform, and straightforward. Sartre immediately recognized the existential quality of The Stranger, although his opinion about the novel and its relation to existentialism would later prove to be controversial.

Other works by Camus that explore his philosophical and political ideas include Caligula (1944); The Plague (1947), a novel; the long, controversial essay, The Rebel (1951); and a third novel, The Fall published in 1957. His famous essay The Myth of Sisyphus, published in 1942, concerns Sisyphus, a Greek mythological figure who was condemned by the gods to spend an eternal, meaningless existence pushing a huge boulder up and over a hill, and then back again from the other side.

Following the publication of The Fall, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. During his career, Camus became well known for his political views and activism. Although an anti-communist, he was an outspoken critic of capitalism, and he remained a proponent of democratic socialism and nonviolent confrontation. He believed in the principle of le juste milieu which recognized that the solution to human problems is not usually found in absolute strategies or ideas.

In 1960, Camus died suddenly in an automobile accident. Camus’ work, and the political, religious, and ethical issues it deals with, remains controversial, but his writing endures because it expresses Camus’ profound concern for human suffering and the philosophical and moral dilemmas faced by all individuals.

Estimated Reading Time

The average reader should be able to read The Stranger in four or five hours. The book could be read in one or two sessions. The novel is a quick read and is divided into two equal sections: Part One with six chapters, and Part Two with five chapters. The sentences are short and easy to understand and Camus’ style is clear and distinct. The translation used here is by Stuart Gilbert and contains 154 pages.

The Stranger Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Stranger offers one of the most striking openings in modern fiction: “Mama died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.” Immediately introduced is a character, Meursault, so disconnected from chronology and other human beings that he is one of twentieth century literature’s most memorable embodiments of alienation, of an absurdist world where social bonds are a sham. The British edition of Camus’s first published novel translates the title as The Outsider, and Meursault indeed finds himself a marginal figure in a decentered universe where private and immediate sensations have displaced objective norms.

Meursault, an employee of a shipping company, participates in the rituals of his mother’s funeral and, though he realizes he is supposed to be playing the role of bereaved son, cannot feel anything for the old woman’s corpse. Shortly after returning to Algiers, Meursault goes to the beach, picks up a woman, Marie Cardona, and takes her to the movies and then to bed.

The following Sunday, Meursault and Marie are invited by Raymond Sintès, a raffish neighbor, to spend the day at the beach. During the outing, they are trailed and menaced by two Arab men who are apparently resentful of the way in which Raymond has abused a woman. During a solitary walk along the shore, Meursault encounters one of the Arabs again. It is oppressively hot, and the knife that the Arab wields glistens blindingly in the sun. Without premeditation or reflection, Meursault takes the gun that Raymond has given him and fires five shots into the stranger.

Narrated in Meursault’s own affectless voice, The Stranger consists of two sections. The first recounts the events leading up to the fatal shooting, and the second reports its aftermath—Meursault’s imprisonment, trial, conviction, and impending execution. Part 2 is in effect a commentary on part 1, an attempt to find coherence in one man’s random actions. Marie, Raymond, the owner of the café that Meursault frequents, his mother’s elderly friend, and others testify in court about the events in part 1. Both attorneys attempt to find some pattern. In the story that Meursault’s lawyer tells, all the details paint the portrait of an innocent man acting in self-defense.

Yet the prosecutor finds a different design. For him, Meursault’s callousness about his mother’s death is symptomatic of a cold-blooded murderer, and it is that reading that the jury accepts when it sentences Meursault to death by guillotine. Meursault, however, rejects the specious patterns that both attorneys impose on events. He also refuses consolation from the prison chaplain, who offers him a kind of cosmic narrative in which everything is linked to a vast providential scheme.

Alone in his cell, Meursault realizes that despite the lies people tell to camouflage the truth, all are condemned to death. Uncomfortable with the florid rhetoric that distracts a reader from stark realities, he becomes a champion of candor. In his spare, honest style and his recognition that life is gratuitous and resistant to human attempts to catalog and rationalize it, Meursault is prepared to face extinction liberated from all illusions. He is, wrote Camus in 1955, “not a piece of social wreckage, but a poor and naked man enamored of a sun that leaves no shadows. Far from being bereft of all feeling, he is animated by a passion that is deep because it is stubborn, a passion for the absolute and for truth.”

The Stranger Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

When Meursault is notified of his mother’s death, he leaves immediately for Marengo, where she was living in the Home for Aged Persons. He is taken to the room where her coffin is placed and casually declines the doorkeeper’s offer to unscrew the lid so he can look at her. Meursault spends the night there, drinking coffee, smoking, and chatting with the doorkeeper. The next day, a Friday, he attends the funeral and leaves immediately afterward to return to Algiers.

Saturday morning, Meursault goes for a swim and runs into Marie Cardona, a girl who formerly worked in his office. He invites her to a movie and later takes her to bed.

Meursault spends Sunday lounging on the balcony of his flat, smoking and watching people on the street below. The next day, returning home from work, Meursault comes upon Raymond Sintes, a young man who lives on the same floor. Raymond, who calls himself a warehouseman but is reputed to be a pimp, was just in a fight with the brother of a Moorish girl he is seeing. Believing that the girl is cheating on him, he beat her up, and her brother accosted him, seeking revenge. Raymond asks Meursault to draft a letter to entice the girl back so he can humiliate her, and Meursault agrees to help.

One afternoon, Meursault is in his room with Marie when they hear Raymond beating the girl again. A police officer is summoned. Later, Raymond asks Meursault to testify to his own knowledge that the girl was false to Raymond. Again, Meursault agrees to help, and he and Raymond go out to a café. Upon returning, they encounter another neighbor, an old man named Salamano, whose dog ran off. Although he abused the animal mercilessly, he is weeping and fearful of what will become of him without his longtime companion.

That Sunday, Meursault and Marie accompany Raymond to the beach, where they encounter two Arabs who were following Raymond for some time. A fight breaks out, and Raymond is cut before the Arabs slip away. Later, with his wounds patched, Raymond goes walking and comes upon the Arabs again. This time, Raymond pulls a gun, but Meursault, who followed, offers to hold it to ensure a fair fight. Almost immediately, however, the Arabs vanish.

Raymond goes back to the bungalow, but Meursault—Raymond’s pistol still in his pocket—stays out in the blazing afternoon sunlight and soon comes upon the Arab who stabbed Raymond. Meursault steps forward and, seeing the flash of a knife blade in a blur of light and heat, pulls the trigger. He pumps four more bullets into the Arab’s inert body.

Meursault is arrested and questioned by the examining magistrate for the next eleven months, usually with a court-appointed lawyer present. The questions focus on two things: his apparent callousness at his mother’s funeral and the fact that he hesitated after his first shot and then fired four more times. At one point, the magistrate displays a small silver crucifix and asks Meursault whether he believes in God. When Meursault replies matter-of-factly that he does not, the magistrate is visibly upset.

Meursault is held in prison, where he is visited by Marie, who holds out hope for his acquittal. He soon becomes accustomed to prison life, although small privations occasionally upset him, most of all, the fact that he is not allowed to smoke. He begins to sleep sixteen to eighteen hours a day. Soon, six months pass, and he begins talking to himself without realizing it.

In June, his trial begins. One of the first witnesses called, the warden of the Home for Aged Persons in Marengo, testifies that Meursault’s mother complained about her son’s conduct toward her and that on the day of the funeral Meursault neither cried nor lingered by the grave. The doorkeeper is called to testify that Meursault did not want to view his mother’s body. When Marie takes the stand, the prosecutor maneuvers her into admitting that her affair with Meursault began the day after his mother’s funeral and that they first went to the movies to see a comedy. When Raymond attempts to exonerate his friend, he is exposed as a criminal and a pimp.

After a trial that seems almost to exclude him from its proceedings, Meursault is pronounced guilty and sentenced to death by decapitation. Meursault refuses repeatedly to see the chaplain, but one day the chaplain enters the cell without his permission and tries to talk to him about God. Meursault is patient at first, but then, becoming bored and annoyed, lashes out, cursing the chaplain and pointing out that all his supposed certainty amounts to nothing in the end. Hearing the commotion, the guards rush in to rescue the priest, leaving Meursault to drop off to sleep, exhausted.

When he awakens, he finds himself awash in a strange feeling of peace and resignation, devoid of hope and accepting of what he describes as “the benign indifference of the universe.” He is content to await his execution and, in fact, hopes that it will be witnessed by a large crowd of spectators cursing him.

The Stranger Summary

Part One
The Stranger opens with the narrator, Meursault, receiving a telegram telling him his mother has died. Departing on...

(The entire section is 1478 words.)

The Stranger Summary and Analysis

Part 1, Chapter 1: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Meursault: the narrator of the story

The Employer: Meursault’s boss

Celeste: owner of Meursault’s favorite restaurant

Doorkeeper: resident and employee of the nursing home

Warden: the director of the nursing home

Old Women: residents of the nursing home

Thomas Perez: Meursault’s mother’s “special friend”

Summary
Meursault, a shipping clerk, lives in Algiers, a city in North Africa. He receives a telegram from a nursing home telling him that his mother has died. Meursault is somewhat interested in learning the details of her death but does not feel especially saddened by the news. His employer is...

(The entire section is 718 words.)

Part 1, Chapter 2: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Marie Cardona: a former typist at Meursault’s office

Summary
On Saturday, the day after his mother’s funeral, Meursault wakes up feeling exhausted from his trip to the nursing home. He decides to go swimming, and at the local pool he meets Marie Cardona, a young woman who used to work at Meursault’s office. Meursault and Marie enjoy swimming together and playing in the water. Meursault is attracted to Marie. He falls asleep on a raft, his head resting on her lap.

Later, Meursault asks Marie to go to a movie with him. They agree to see a comedy starring Fernandel, a French actor. Marie notices Meursault’s black tie, and he casually mentions that his mother just...

(The entire section is 596 words.)

Part 1, Chapter 3: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Emmanuel: a young man who works at Meursault’s office

Old Salamano: an old man who lives in Meursault’s building

Raymond Sintes: a tough young man who lives in Meursault’s building

Summary
Meursault returns to work on Monday morning. His employer, acting more concerned now, asks Meursault if he feels all right and inquires about the funeral. He asks Meursault how old his mother was when she died, but Meursault doesn’t know her exact age. Meursault finds it odd that his employer would care.

As he begins his work day, Meursault notes that he enjoys washing his hands at work, at least until the end of the day when the towel in the...

(The entire section is 735 words.)

Part 1, Chapter 4: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Raymond’s Girlfriend: a young Arab woman

Policeman: a police officer who reprimands Raymond

Summary
Meursault has a busy week at work. Raymond informs Meursault that he has mailed the letter. Meursault and Emmanuel go to see two movies together.

On Saturday, Meursault goes to the beach with Marie. Meursault is attracted to Marie. He likes being with her and looking at her. They enjoy baking in the sun and swimming in the cool sea water. They return to Meursault’s apartment where they make love by an open window, savoring the feeling of the cool night air on their sunburned skin.

In the morning, Marie wants to know if Meursault loves her....

(The entire section is 933 words.)

Part 1, Chapter 5: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Robot Woman: a woman who sits at Meursault’s table at Celeste’s

Summary
Raymond telephones Meursault at the office. He invites Meursault and Marie to go to the beach with him on Sunday. He mentions that some Arabs have been following him, and one of them is the brother of his ex-girlfriend. Raymond asks Meursault to watch out for the Arabs and to tell him if he sees them.

The employer calls Meursault into his office to inform him that a branch office is opening in Paris. He asks Meursault if he’d like a job there. The move would be a promotion and the employer thinks he is doing Meursault a favor. Meursault, however, has no interest in moving to Paris; he’s...

(The entire section is 1034 words.)

Part 1, Chapter 6: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
The Arab: Raymond’s girlfriend’s brother

Second Arab: The Arab’s companion

Masson: Raymond’s friend who owns a small bungalow on the beach

Mme. Masson: Masson’s wife

Summary
When Meursault wakes up on Sunday he doesn’t feel well, but he’s agreed to go out with Marie and Raymond. Marie tries to cheer Meursault up and jokes that he looks like a “mourner at a funeral.” Meursault admits to feeling “limp.”

Standing outside on the street, the sun glares into Meursault’s eyes. Marie is in good spirits, however, and soon Meursault is feeling better. Raymond arrives wearing a straw hat, looking very dapper, but...

(The entire section is 1125 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 1: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Examining Magistrate: a court representative who interrogates Meursault

The Lawyer: Meursault’s young, court-appointed defense attorney

Summary
Following the murder of the Arab, Meursault has been arrested. He describes how he was questioned several times, first by the police and then by the examining magistrate.

Alone in his cell, Meursault recalls meeting the magistrate who asks him if he has a lawyer. Meursault replies no, he didn’t think it was necessary and hadn’t really thought about it. He assumed that his case would be “very simple.” However, the magistrate tells him that they must abide by the law and the Court will appoint an attorney...

(The entire section is 1431 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 2: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Chief Jailer: a prison guard

Summary
Meursault describes his life in prison. He explains that at first he felt reluctant to talk about this period of his life. Marie is not allowed in to see him, because she is not a relative. Meursault begins to understand that from now on, the prison will be his home.

When Meursault is first arrested he is put in a large cell with several other men, mostly Arabs. The men ask what he did to get arrested and Meursault tells them he killed an Arab. The men keep silent for a while, but soon they become friendlier and help him adjust to prison life. After a few days Meursault is moved to a small cell by himself. The cell has a tiny...

(The entire section is 1126 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 3: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Court Policeman: the officer guarding Meursault in court

Journalist: a reporter covering Meursault’s trial

The Public Prosecutor: the attorney who aggressively seeks Meursault’s conviction

The Judge: the chief justice who presides over the trial

Summary
Meursault’s trial begins. His lawyer tells him the case won’t take longer than two or three days because another, more important trial is scheduled to begin when Meursault’s concludes. The other trial is a case of parricide—a son has been arrested for killing his father—and there has been much publicity surrounding it.

As Meursault awaits the start of his trial, he...

(The entire section is 1644 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 4: Summary and Analysis

Summary
The trial continues. For a while, Meursault is interested in listening to other people talk about him. For once, he is tempted to speak in his own defense, but his lawyer advises him not to say anything. Gradually, he begins to lose interest in what the judges and lawyers are saying about him.

When the prosecutor delivers his closing argument, Meursault grows weary of listening to him. The only thing that interests him are the man’s elaborate gestures and occasional loud tirades. The prosecutor describes Meursault’s background, his relationships with Marie and Raymond, and calls Meursault an intelligent man. He says Meursault knew what he was doing and never showed remorse for his crime....

(The entire section is 894 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 5: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Chaplain: a priest who talks to Meursault in his cell

Summary
Meursault lies in his cell awaiting execution. He refuses to see the prison chaplain and he spends his time staring at the sky through his window. He fantasizes about escape, although he realizes that the possibility is highly unlikely. He wishes he had read more about executions and other escape attempts. He has difficulty accepting the finality of his situation.

Meursault recalls a story his mother once told him about his father. His father had attended an execution and had become “violently sick.” At the time, Meursault says, he found his father’s conduct “disgusting,” but now he realizes that...

(The entire section is 1349 words.)