The Stranger Characters
The main characters in The Stranger are Meursault, Meursault's mother, Marie, Raymond, the Arab, the magistrate, and the prosecutor.
- Meursault is a French shipping clerk in Algiers, who is sentenced to death for killing an Arab man.
- Meursault's mother dies in a nursing home at the start of the novel.
- Marie is Meursault's girlfriend and former coworker.
- Raymond is Meursault's neighbor, who is arrested for domestic abuse after beating his Arab girlfriend.
- The Arab man is shot four times b Meursault.
- The magistrate calls Meursault "Monsieur Antichrist."
- The prosecutor thinks Meursault is a monster for putting his mother in a nursing home.
Last Updated on January 13, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 649
Meursault (mur-SOHLT) is a young clerk in a business office in Algiers, Algeria. Although not totally disengaged from humanity, Meursault, the narrator and main character, maintains only unemotional and uncommitted relationships with others, even his mother. When called to a home for the aged in Marengo, fifty miles away,...
(The entire section contains 2559 words.)
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Meursault (mur-SOHLT) is a young clerk in a business office in Algiers, Algeria. Although not totally disengaged from humanity, Meursault, the narrator and main character, maintains only unemotional and uncommitted relationships with others, even his mother. When called to a home for the aged in Marengo, fifty miles away, for his mother’s funeral, he shows no desire to view her body for the last time and shocks the other residents of the home by his seeming indifference. Though physically intimate with his Arab girlfriend, Marie, he regards her desire for marriage as a matter of no consequence. When an acquaintance named Raymond Sintes promises to be Meursault’s “pal” for life if he will help him in his own love affair, Meursault replies only that he has “no objection.” Meursault is completely but passively amoral. He sees nothing wrong with attending a comic film with Marie immediately after returning from the funeral or in assisting Raymond in the latter’s mean-spirited effort to punish his girlfriend for her refusal to submit to his domination. When Meursault and Raymond arm themselves against two Arab men, one of them the brother of the young Arab woman Raymond is attempting to dominate, it occurs to Meursault that whether he shoots or does not shoot the Arab men would amount to the same thing. When he kills one of them, he acts unconcerned.
Another feature of his character, complete resignation to the flow of events, including the consequences of the murder, emerges during his prison experience. If character is created by, and is merely the sum of, a person’s decisions, as existentialist philosophy holds, Meursault makes very few true decisions. Even the five shots that he fires into his victim seem to represent something that simply happens to him rather than any conscious choice. Later, in his cell, he contemplates his future calmly, concluding that having lived even one day in the outside world provides a prisoner with enough memories to keep him from ever being bored. He cooperates with his court-appointed lawyer only passively and does nothing to help the latter counter the general impression of callousness toward his mother that the lawyer knows the prosecution will use to sway the jury. Meursault completely lacks faith in God or in the possibility of an afterlife. He rebuffs all soul-saving attempts of the chaplain who visits him in his cell after his conviction. He possesses only the existentialist certainty of death and feels happy in the awareness that life has emptied him of any hope except the hope that his execution may draw “howls of execration” from a crowd of onlookers.
Marie, Meursault’s girlfriend, is a conventional young woman who enjoys the beach and films. She want to settle down with a husband and is willing to marry the indifferent Meursault. By visiting him in prison and attending his trial, she exhibits patient hopefulness on behalf of her hopeless companion.
Raymond Sintes is an aggressive young man who comes closest to being a friend of Meursault. He possesses mostly undesirable traits. Pugnacious and vindictive, he beats his Arab girlfriend and talks constantly of punishing her and wreaking vengeance on her brother, who appears only to be trying to protect her. It is Raymond’s aggressive attitude that draws Meursault into the situation that results in his crime.
The lawyer, unnamed, is a crafty and valiant defense attorney. He is nevertheless unable to elicit from his client the responses that might prevent the imposition of the death penalty.
The chaplain, also unnamed, is a man of faith, conscientious in his duty. He is knowledgeable about psychology but unsuccessful in his attempts to reclaim Meursault’s soul for Christianity. The fact that he is resourceful and persuasive serves to underline the extent of Meursault’s resistance to all aspects of conventional faith and hope.
Last Updated on January 14, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 306
Meursault, the protagonist, is a character who is ostensibly without awareness, except for immediate physical sensations. He is an “outsider,” as the title sometimes appears in English, who refuses to play the game of society. There is a gap between what he feels and what goes on around him, and he constantly vacillates between total comprehension and total skepticism. Although he does not understand the people around him, he keeps on trying. He is unable to create a real relationship with other people. His attraction to Marie is purely physical; when she wants to marry him, he replies with his usual "It doesn't matter." His neighbor Raymond Sintes requests his help; he writes the requested letter mechanically. However, one has the impression that he keeps trying to enter into the world around him but that he is too much of an "outsider" to succeed. His name suggests mer, the sea, and soleil, the sun, which summarizes his contact with primitive physical sensations only.
Other characters are represented through Meursault's eyes, since the story is narrated in the first person. Marie appears as any woman, physically attractive, described often through her hair, her clothing, her body. One might doubt her commitment to Meursault, until she comes to visit him in prison and is still interested in marrying him. Meursault’s two neighbors, Salamano and Raymond, are described humorously. Salamano looks like his dog, whom he constantly insults. Yet when the dog disappears, he is inconsolable. Raymond Sintes has a doubtful profession, a cluttered room, and a mistress on whom he wants revenge. Meursault is amused by them but not overly involved. On the other hand, the judge of instruction, the lawyer, and the chaplain are presented ironically, in keeping with the parody of justice, the depersonalization of Meursault, and his refusal to believe in a future life.
Last Updated on January 14, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1604
Formerly a typist in the same office as Meursault, Marie Cardona happens to be swimming at the same place as Meursault the day after his mother’s funeral. She likes Meursault, and their meeting sparks a relationship. She asks if he loves her, but he tells her honestly that he doesn’t think so. Still, he agrees to marry her, but then he is arrested.
Marie represents the happy life Meursault desires to live. In fact, she is the only reason he even considers regretting his crime. Meursault sees Marie’s face in the prison wall—but the image fades after a time. Marie, for Meursault, was a comfort representing a life of “normality” that he might have lived. However, it did not happen. Instead he becomes certain only of life and death and is executed.
The caretaker takes a keen interest in Meursault. He stays by him throughout the vigil and provides him with explanations and introductions. He also tries to justify his life to Meursault. He explains that he has been to Paris and only became a caretaker when fate made him destitute.
It is the caretaker who provides the most damaging testimony at the trial. The caretaker testifies that Meursault “hadn’t wanted to see Maman, that [he] had smoked and slept some, and that [he] had had some coffee.” The prosecutor dwells on the caretaker’s testimony and asks him to repeat the part about having a coffee and a cigarette with Meursault. It is during this testimony that Meursault “for the first time . . . realized that [he] was guilty.”
Céleste owns the cafe at which Meursault customarily dines. He is called as a witness at Meursault’s trial. His theory on Meursault’s crime is that it was bad luck. He seems to be a fatalist, believing that one is more the victim of chance than a free agent.
The Defense Counsel
The lawyer represents Meursault to the best of his ability. He seems to be the only person who understands the silliness of the trial and the difficulties for someone like Meursault. After the examination of Pérez on the witness stand, he says, “Here we have a perfect reflection of this entire trial: everything is true, and nothing is true!” Unconsciously, the lawyer has just sided with Meursault— the truth of the court is arbitrary and meaningless.
The Director of the Home
The director of the nursing home where Meursault’s mother lived is a very matter-of-fact man. Death in his community means taking care of ceremony and keeping, as much as possible, the other patients from being too much on edge. Consequently, everything is done “as usual” so that while a funeral is a stress to the community, it is also a habitual ritual. The director accompanies the funeral procession to the gravesite and offers Meursault information about his mother’s life at the home, but Meursault is not very interested.
The Examining Magistrate
The magistrate, as an investigator, is interested in what other people think. This makes him the exact opposite of Meursault in psychological makeup. He examines Meursault’s testimony for the insights they might provide about Meursault’s mind, rather than making an effort to establish the facts of the murder. He tells Meursault that with God’s help, he will try to “do something” for him. The magistrate asks Meursault if he loved his mother before asking about the five shots. Thus, the connection between Meursault’s behavior at his mother’s funeral and his act of murder is made concrete. The magistrate then presents Meursault with a Bible and crucifix, hoping to save Meursault’s soul.
The ruse backfires because Meursault refuses to see the relevance of religion to the state’s case against him. Having failed to “do something for him,” the magistrate never brings up the matter again.
The magistrate is an important character in the story as the representative of society’s law. He fails in his attempt to make Meursault acknowledge either the authority of law or that of religion. The magistrate is entirely unable to understand Meursault and after a few sessions speaks only to his lawyer.
Masson is the owner of the beach house to which Raymond takes Meursault and Marie for the day. Masson is an obese, carefree fellow who wants them all to live there in the vacation month of August and share expenses. He believes that lunchtime is when one is hungry and that it is good to do things when one wants and not according to schedule. Thus he is simply a man who likes to live well and to be happy.
Meursault is a French Algerian clerk who learns that his mother has died. He attends the funeral and, on the following day, goes to the beach. There, he meets Marie, with whom he begins a relationship. A neighbor invites him to the beach, where they encounter some Arab men. Meursault shoots one of the men for no apparent reason. He is arrested, tried, and executed. Until the moment when the judge pronounces him guilty, Meursault is annoyingly indifferent to the activities of the real world. The judgment jars him into an examination of life, at the end of which he concludes that life is absurd. He finds peace and happiness in this acknowledgment. This conclusion of his analysis, Meursault discovers, is liberating.
The Stranger is the manifestation or incarnation of Camus’s theory of the “absurd” man. Meursault reveals Camus’s theory through his actions. That is, the protagonist, Meursault, possesses a curious psychology whose activity is of more interest than the fact of his crime. Meursault is an “outsider”—a person who lives in his own private world and maintains no interest in anyone else, least of all in how they view him. However, he is not unaware of others. Several crucial moments demonstrate this: at the opening, Meursault is aware that his boss shows him no sympathy upon hearing of his mother’s death. Next, he is aware that one is expected to mourn the dead, which he refuses to do. He knows he could say he loved Marie and that she would accept his love, but he does not. Lastly, he is aware, throughout his own trial, that he ought to say certain things, but he does not.
Finally, as Camus himself said, Meursault is a Christ figure who dies for everyone who misunderstands him. Meursault becomes aware of the meaninglessness with which society pursues its notions of propriety, and, in the case of the prison chaplain, its dogmas. Meursault is convicted as much for his psychological indifference, his selfish and asocial behavior, and his lack of mourning for his mother as for his crime. His position is not without logic. For example, when the magistrate tries to persuade him to believe in God so that he might be forgiven, Meursault asks what difference that makes when it is the state that will find him guilty and then execute him—not God.
It is before the priest, however, that he finally explodes: “none of [the priest’s] certainties was worth one strand of a woman’s hair. Living as he did, like a corpse, he couldn’t even be sure of being alive. It might look as if my hands were empty. Actually, I was sure of myself, sure about everything, far surer than he; sure of my present life and of the death that was coming. That, no doubt, was all I had.” Meursault dies because he knows this truth—he is killed because the others cling to their illusions.
Monsieur Thomas Pérez
Pérez is an old man who was a friend of Meursault’s mother at the nursing home. He insists on attending the burial. Because of a limp and his age, Pérez falls behind the procession but still manages to attend. He is called as a witness at the trial and is unable to say whether or not he had seen Meursault cry.
Raymond is a neighbor who asks Meursault to write a letter for him. Meursault agrees to do so because it is easier than saying no. Consequently, they become friends, and Meursault even testifies to the police that Raymond’s girlfriend was cheating on him. In response, the police let Raymond off (for beating her) with a warning. However, the girlfriend’s brother is not so benevolent, and, along with a group of Arab men, starts following Raymond. A showdown takes place when Raymond and Meursault visit Masson’s beach house. A fight ensues, and Raymond is cut. Shortly after this, Meursault shoots one of the Arab men.
Raymond represents the small-minded man who views things in terms of possession—he beats a woman for not being solely his; he insists that Meursault is his friend because he agreed to write the letter. Relationships, for Raymond, are his certainties and life fills in around them. It is Raymond, contrary to the evidence, who unquestioningly believes that Salamano’s dog will return.
Salamano is a disgusting older man who beats his dog. His routine walk with his spaniel and his muttering give Meursault daily amusement. This routine is part of the general rhythm of tedium that is Meursault’s universe. Sadly, the dog goes missing, and Salamano comes to Meursault for help. Meursault offers him none, and Salamano acknowledges that his whole life has changed. The disruption of routine caused by the loss of the dog is one of many signs that Meursault’s tedious universe has collapsed.