The Stranger Summary

The Stranger by Albert Camus

     The Stranger, written by Albert Camus is a fictional novel set in Algiers in the early 1940's. The first-person narrator, Mr. Meursault, describes his life in a memoir-like fashion beginning the day after his mother died. In part one he begins by attending his mother's vigil and burial, during which time he never cries, refuses to see her body, and acts very indifferent about the entire process. His lack of empathy is highlighted when the following day he goes on a date with a girl named Marie who used to work in his office. They go swimming then see a comedy movie. Throughout their subsequent dates, Marie tries to elicit feelings from Meursault, but he refuses to acknowledge he has any. He won't tell her that he loves her. When asked if he wants to marry her, he agrees but admits he would have agreed to any number of women. Nonetheless, Marie stays faithful.

     Meursault's neighbors seem to be fairly despicable people as Salamano abuses his dog, and Raymond abuses the prostitutes who work for him, yet Meursault doesn't mind being friendly with these men. Ray even invites Meursault and Marie to come to his friend's beach house with him. They all go and enjoy the water, but Raymond is wary of an Arab whose sister Raymond beat up. When Raymond, Meursault, and Masson first run into the Arab and his friend at the beach, Masson knocks one guy out while Raymond tries to hit the other, but ultimately Raymond is slashed on the arm and the mouth with a knife before they all scatter. After Raymond heads off to get stitches, Meursault returns to the beach, still carrying Raymond's gun from earlier, and runs into the same Arab who is sitting in the shady spot that Meursault hoped to occupy. Under tremendous heat and when the sun hits his eyes, Meursault fires the weapon five times and kills the Arab to end part one.

     In part two Meursault is in jail awaiting trial. He is questioned about his lack of feelings regarding events, such as his mother's and the Arab's deaths. Meursault's only justification seems to be that physical problems inhibit his ability to feel emotions. Eleven months later at his trial, the prosecutor makes Meursault appear to be a cold, heartless killer. Despite wanting to defend himself, he is often hushed by his lawyer or receives laughter from the crowd when he finally tries to explain himself. Society does not understand how someone could care so little about the world.

     The reason Meursault doesn't care is because basically he is an existentialist. He is focused on the present, knows he will die, and, therefore, feels nothing that he does matters. It is silly for him to become attached to things (like his mother) whom he knows will die too. He isn't interested in discussing things that he doesn't care about (such as God), so he becomes agitated with people who try to have religious discussions with him. Ultimately, the jury sentences him to death by beheading.

     His time in jail does prove cathartic for Meursault as he shows more emotions than he ever did previously. Some fear escapes him as a magistrate attacks him with a crucifix, and he considers the certainty of the guillotine. He also shows frustration with his trial and his lawyer. Finally, anger emerges as he snaps at the chaplain who wants Meursault to call him "my father" when Meursault never knew his actual father. Therefore, despite the inclination to diagnose Meursault with a disorder which may cause him to behave the way he does, these behaviors change by the end, proving a diagnosis impossible. Part of the purpose of the book, therefore, may have been for Camus to show that some things don't have rational explanations and that society shouldn't try to fit everyone into neat little categories. Meursault was happy with his life. He didn't need to fit into society's expectations to feel fulfilled. Even if he remained a stranger to everyone around him, including the reader who never even learns his first name, Meursault felt content with his life and his death.

Related Links:

The Stranger Quiz
The Stranger Quotes
The Stranger Part I Chapters 1 and 2 Summary
The Stranger Part I Chapters 1 and 2 Quiz
The Stranger Part I Chapters 3 and 4 Quiz
The Stranger Part I Chapters 5 and 6 Quiz
The Stranger Part II Chapters 1 and 2 Quiz
The Stranger Part II Chapters 3 and 5 Quiz
The Stranger Part I Chapters 3 and 4 Summary
The Stranger Part I Chapters 5 and 6 Summary
The Stranger Part II Chapters 1 and 2 Summary
The Stranger Part II Chapters 3 and 5 Summary
The Stranger Important Characters
Literature Summaries
Albert Camus Facts

To link to this The Stranger Summary page, copy the following code to your site: