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.