At a Glance
- Meursault is both the narrator and protagonist of The Stranger. From his first-person point of view, the reader sees what Meursault sees but has very little, if any, access to his inner thoughts and feelings. Meursault himself doesn't seem to have that access, which gives his narrative voice a stilted, matter-of-fact quality. He doesn't dwell on anything, preferring to think of everyone and everything as absurd.
- Camus set The Stranger in Algeria in the 1940s, at a time when the country was still under French colonial rule. Colonialism resulted in tensions between Algerian natives and French colonists, and these tensions were in turn fueled by racism. Both the domestic abuse Raymond perpetrates and the murder Meursault commits are racially charged because their victims are both Arabs.
- Camus uses foreshadowing in Part I of the novel, when Meursault sits vigil for his dead mother. During the vigil, Meursault gets the "ridiculous feeling that [the other mourners] were there to judge me." This foreshadows the trial in Part II, during which Meursault is criticized for his behavior at the vigil in Part I.
*Algiers. Coastal capital of Algeria, a country in North Africa. Although not specifically described, Algiers serves as a general backdrop not only to the main action but above all to Meursault’s struggle with the collective forces of nature arrayed against him.
Beach. Outside Algiers, where Raymond, Meursault’s friend, has a bungalow. When the sun beats down on Meursault, the reflecting light gouges into his eyes, the lazy sea waves turn him lethargic, the fiery beach presses him forward, and the cloudless sky pours a sheet of flame on him. Under this onslaught, he has no other choice but to react in self-defense, first, by erasing the source of the attack (the Arab and his shining knife) and then by firing four additional shots for the four elements of nature.
Prison. Tiny cell in which Meursault awaits his execution. Only a confined space can allow him to concentrate on the essential and to think philosophical thoughts, unmolested by outside distractions and pointless discussions. After his final metaphysical revolt he is ultimately at peace, as evidenced by the stars shining on his face like a celestial projector, instead of the relentless and punishing sun, and by the heat now being replaced by the refreshingly cool night breeze on his cheeks. This Meursault calls “the benign indifference of the universe.”
*Marengo. Retirement home and cemetery located some fifty miles west of Algiers. Before and during his mother’s funeral Meursault shows a strange callousness and lack of sorrow about her death. The unbearable heat and the blinding glare of the sun further aggravate this insensitivity, as he matter-of-factly attends the ceremony. Apparently unmoved by the occasion, he also observes the arid landscape around him, noting the green cypresses, the red soil, the humming insects, the rustling grass, and the various smells.
Swimming pool. Part of the harbor complex. Rather than mourn over his mother’s death, he spends the next day with a female former coworker at the pool. The two then go to a movie theater to see a comedy and lastly to his apartment, where they spend the night together.
Detention center. Jail in which Meursault is held before his trial. He and his court-appointed lawyer discuss his defense, which given his general apathy, does not look promising. Progressively, as he understands the purpose of his imprisonment, he adapts to his new environment by killing time and by sleeping.
Courtroom. Room in which Meursault’s trial takes place. Again, the heat is stifling, increased by the hour of the day and the large crowd of spectators and reporters. Again he responds and reacts in an all-too-aloof and unconcerned manner. This is why he is considered a “stranger,” quickly found guilty, and sentenced to death.
Examining magistrate’s office
Examining magistrate’s office. The first time Meursault is formally interrogated, the nondescript, ordinary room is so hot, with flies buzzing around, that he nods to any statement, from accepting Christ as his personal savior to being vexed over having shot a man.
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bree, Germaine, ed. Camus: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962. An early collection of essays by outstanding critics. Includes a translation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s influential “Explication of The Stranger.”
Ellison, David R. Understanding Albert Camus. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. An overview of the development of Camus’ themes and writing style. Focuses on Camus as a literary man whose works embody a consistent philosophical outlook. Especially useful for first-time readers of Camus.
King, Adele, ed. L’Étranger: Fifty Years On. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. Twenty original essays by leading Camus scholars. Offers a variety of viewpoints and provides a valuable companion to a study of the novel.
McCarthy, Patrick. Albert Camus: The Stranger. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the novel. McCarthy is especially good on the novel’s political aspects and on how Camus manages to transform an unsympathetic protagonist into an Everyman.
Rhein, Phillip H. Albert Camus. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1989. Relates The Stranger to the whole of Camus’ philosophy and focuses on the novel as a reflection of that philosophy. Provides an enlightening companion volume to Ellison’s Understanding Albert Camus.