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.
The Stranger takes place in Algiers, the capital of Algeria, a North African country located along the Mediterranean Sea. (Algiers is a port city, and the many ships that dock there bring a broad mix of people from other countries to the bustling city.) Also, because of its close proximity to Europe, the area known today as Algeria has had contact with other cultures for centuries. In 1942, when The Stranger was published, Algeria had been a colonial possession of France for almost a hundred years. Arabs, Europeans, and pieds-noirs—people of European descent born, as Camus was, in Algeria—all lived side by side in crowded Algiers. It was a situation that naturally gave rise to the tension and unrest that is reflected in The Stranger. The climate of North Africa, with its heat, sun, and beaches, also has a powerful influence on the events and characters in Camus’ book.
In 1830, the French invaded Algeria and began to promote European colonization of the country. Settlers from Europe confiscated Muslim land, created a separate society, and imposed their own culture on the native population. France finally conquered the northern part of the country in 1847, and gradually extended its influence to the south despite fierce local resistance. More than a million European settlers—mostly French—owned the country’s principal industrial, commercial, and agricultural enterprises. The majority of the 8.5 million Muslims had low paying jobs and often worked performing menial tasks for the Europeans. The native Muslim population had little political influence and lived in relative poverty compared to their wealthy colonial rulers.
The French created Algeria’s current boundaries in 1902. While most of the people living in Algeria today are Arabs or Berbers, in the nineteenth century, Europeans comprised almost 10 percent of the total population. The European impact on Algeria was enormous, with large European-style cities standing alongside ancient villages and tiny farms.
By the early 1900s, economic conditions in Algeria began to decline steadily as its growing population became increasingly restless and resentful of foreign rule. In addition, World War I had a devastating effect on all of the countries in the region. The political and economic impact of the war was great, and the psychological repercussions were equally traumatic. New technology, developed in the war, had greatly expanded the military’s ability to kill. The aftermath was horrendous. France alone lost over one million soldiers on the battlefield, with many more wounded and maimed. Adding to France’s political troubles after the war ended, Algerian nationalist movements began to fight for independence against the French. European settlers, now firmly established in the country, bitterly resisted any efforts to grant political rights to the Algerians.
It was into this highly charged atmosphere of racial tension and political unrest that Albert Camus was born. He would spend the first half of his life in this uneasy and difficult environment. Camus’ father had died fighting for France and Camus grew up acutely aware of the wholesale slaughter that took place during the war. By the time The Stranger was published, France and the world were engaged in another costly war, this time against Germany and the Axis powers. World War II was a conflict that would exact an enormous death toll and again have a significant influence on Camus’ thinking. The certainty of death would become a major theme in all of his work.
With the publication of The Stranger, Camus received instant recognition for his achievement, although reaction to the book was controversial and opinions were divided. Some, like Jean-Paul Sartre, would embrace its existential quality, while others considered it a political work addressing the problems of French colonialism in Algeria. Many critics felt the novel dealt with atheism and religion. In discussing Camus’ writing style in The Stranger, Sartre noted that “each sentence is a present instant…sharp, distinct, and self-contained. It is separated by a void from the following one.” Sartre goes on to explain his view of the philosophical significance of Camus’ style: “The world is destroyed and reborn from sentence to sentence…We bounce from sentence to sentence, from void to void.” Camus, however, would dispute much of what was said about his novel. Ultimately, The Stranger has become an enduring work of fiction because it is concerned not only with politics and racism, but also with universal philosophical themes and the basic dilemmas of the human condition.
Master List of Characters
Meursault—The protagonist and narrator of The Stranger.
Employer—Meursault’s boss and owner of the business where Meursault works.
Celeste—Meursault’s friend and the proprietor of Meursault’s favorite neighborhood restaurant.
Doorkeeper—A small, older man who works at the Home where Meursault’s mother lived. He sits with Meursault and helps keep an all-night vigil over the mother’s body.
Old Women—A group of elderly women who live at the Home and also keep vigil over the mother’s body.
Warden—The director of the Home who helps Meursault with his mother’s funeral.
Thomas Perez—Meursault’s mother’s “special friend” at the Home who attends her funeral with Meursault.
Marie Cardona—A former typist at Meursault’s office who begins an affair with Meursault the day after his mother’s funeral.
Emmanuel—A young man, and friend of Meursault’s, who works in the Forwarding Department of Meursault’s office.
Old Salamano—A sad, cantankerous old man who lives with his mangy, mistreated dog in Meursault’s building.
Raymond Sintes—A tough, young warehouse worker, and possibly a pimp, who abuses his girlfriend. He lives in Meursault’s building and becomes Meursault’s friend.
Raymond’s Girlfriend—A young Arab woman who is beaten by Raymond.
Policeman—An irate police officer who reprimands and strikes Raymond for beating his girlfriend.
Robot Woman—An odd little woman who sits at Meursault’s table at Celeste’s.
The Arab—Raymond’s girlfriend’s brother who follows Raymond, Meursault, and Marie to the beach.
Second Arab—The Arab’s companion who helps the Arab fight Raymond and Masson on the beach.
Masson—Raymond’s slow-talking friend who owns a small bungalow on the beach.
Mme. Masson—Masson’s wife, a “plump, cheerful little woman” who likes Meursault and Marie.
Examining Magistrate—A serious man who questions Meursault about the crime after Meursault’s arrest.
The Lawyer—Meursault’s young, court-appointed defense attorney.
Chief Jailer—A friendly prison guard who is kind to Meursault.
Court Policeman—One of the officers who guards Meursault during his trial.
The Journalist—One of several reporters who is covering Meursault’s trial. He informs Meursault that his case is being covered by a newspaper in Paris.
The Public Prosecutor—A tall, thin man in a red gown who aggressively seeks a conviction and death sentence during Meursault’s trial.
The Judge—The chief justice who presides over the trial and questions Meursault on the witness stand about the crime.
Chaplain—A priest who visits Meursault in prison after his conviction and tries to convince Meursault of the existence of God.
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.
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised 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...
(The entire section is 572 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 866 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Part 1, Chapter 1: Summary and Analysis
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”
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
Marie Cardona: a former typist at Meursault’s office
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
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
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
Raymond’s Girlfriend: a young Arab woman
Policeman: a police officer who reprimands Raymond
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
Robot Woman: a woman who sits at Meursault’s table at Celeste’s
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
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
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
Examining Magistrate: a court representative who interrogates Meursault
The Lawyer: Meursault’s young, court-appointed defense attorney
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
Chief Jailer: a prison guard
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
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
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
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
Chaplain: a priest who talks to Meursault in his cell
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.)