Introduction of The Stranger
The Stranger was written by Albert Camus, one of the most popular stories published in 1942. It was published in French as L’ Etranger. Later it was published in England and the United States as The Outsider and The Stranger respectively. The story runs around Meursault in a first-person narrative that announces the death of his mother and highlights his relationships with different people. The book sheds light on the predicament of existentialism and absurdism that Camus has presented in most of his literary pieces.
Summary of The Stranger
The story of the novel presents a young Algerian who gets information through telegram about the sad demise of his mother. He seeks permission from his boss for two days’ leave to visit the funeral. After the boss approves curmudgeonly, he sets on to journey in a bus where for most of the time he sleeps. . When he reaches Morengo where his mother used to live in an old home, he speaks to the director and sees the body of his mother. However, he does not accept the offer of the caretaker to watch her face by opening the coffin which was sealed because he didn’t want to be a bother. After spending his entire night there, he still does not show his emotions when smoking, drinking a cup of coffee, and dozing a bit at the old home. The director, then, informs him the next morning to meet the friend of his mother, Thomas Perez whom the members of the old age home jokingly referred as her fiance, wants to attend her burial rites to which Meursault agrees.
Finally, the coffin is sent to the small village where the old lady is to be handed over to her grave. However, Perez becomes unconscious due to hot weather, all this while Meursault gets upset over the hot weather but shows no remorse about his mother’s death. After the burial rites, he realizes why his boss was so disappointed in approving him to leave since it would grant him 4 days as his mother’s funeral was on Friday. Thinking this Meursault enjoys going for a swim in a public beach where he meets his former co-worker Marie Cardona and amuses her beauty. He, then, suggests going to a comedy movie and a dinner later. This astonishes Marie that it’s the same guy that has participated in his own mother’s funeral a day ago but quickly forgets and accepts the date. . When Marie leaves him at night, he again finds himself free to kill his time. The next day he meets his friend Emmanuel and spends his time at work. Then he goes to dinner with his neighbor, Raymond Sintes, who is involved in a vendetta with his girlfriend since she has been receiving gifts from other gentlemen which arises suspicions in him that she has been cheating on him and asks Meursault to write her a letter to return, so when she comes after receiving the apology letter he wants to humiliate, spit on her face and kick her out of the house. Meursault agrees to write the letter because ‘he didn’t mind it’.
When the next day Marie visits him, he again becomes almost heartless as he does not express his love for her despite her inquiries. Meanwhile, they hear shouts from Raymond’s apartment and see the police entering. When, however, Meursault testifies on his behalf, the police leave him. The next day when Marie visits him, she inquires his intention of marrying her and at the same time his employer asks him if he’d like to go work in a different branch in Paris, to both he states that ‘he doesn’t have strong feelings but wouldn’t mind doing it if it pleases the other party’. Then one day they go to the beach with Raymond but comes across Arabs who stab Raymond. When they come to the beach again after dressing of the wounds of Raymond, Raymond hands over his pistol to Meursault to shot the Arab if he attacks. Afterward, Meursault shoots the Arab who instantly dies, while the police arrest Meursault. All this while Meursault neither denies the act of murder nor shows any regret.
When it comes to his confession, the government provides him a lawyer but the lawyer becomes disgusted due to his coldness and frigidity on account of his lack of emotions on the death of his mother. While talking to The magistrate and was asked why he shot the Arab four times after he was dead and if he believed in God. He complained that the Sun was too hot that day and he didn’t believe in the existence of God. The magistrate, then, ironically takes his atheism as the reason for his criminality and titles him as “Monsieur Antichrist.” He becomes so much alone when even Marie stops visiting him because the authorities don’t allow her anymore since they are not married. Slowly, he becomes habitual of the absence of women, cigarettes, and loneliness. As soon as he is put on trial, he becomes indifferent to it. Soon he is sentenced to be put on gallows on the evidence he is a heartless killer, for he has not wept or showed emotions even on the death of his mother.
He soon finds himself in this quandary and tries to adjust to this new situation. Although he thinks of escaping from the prison, yet without finding no successful way out. While waiting for his execution, he tries to appeal as well hoping in some way he could get out of prison. During this time prison chaplain forces him to abandon atheism and swear allegiance to Christianity even though he refuses to see the chaplain in the first place. The chaplain forcibly enters the cell and tells him that even if his appeal succeeds, he wouldn’t overcome his feelings of guilt and fix the broken relationship with God. These condescending words of the chaplain enrage Meursault and lead him to attack. After the chaplain has left the cell he finds himself to be empty of any kind of hope to escape the execution through the appeal and ponders about his dead mother who might have felt the same way when everyone was approaching her death bed and tried to comfort herself in the friendship of Mr. Thomas Perez. Meursault finally sheds any glimmer of hope, so he unwraps his mind to the “gentle indifference of the world.” His only hope is that there will be a crowd of angry spectators at his execution who will greet him “with cries of hate.”
Major Themes in The Stranger
- Irrationality: The novel demonstrates the theme of irrationality through the character of Meursault who sees that there is no point in wailing over the death of his mother, making a fuss, or abandoning usual activities of life as she was to die in any case. As soon as this idea takes hold of him, he becomes a heartless murderer and is sentenced to death for killing an Arab. However, he is satisfied and happy with his condition of not accepting irrationality which is in itself is ridiculous as he goes against the accepted beliefs of the time and gets a death sentence from the court.
- Meaningless: Meursault comes to know the meaninglessness of life when he finds his mother dead and himself alone to perform her funeral rites. However, instead of mourning and expressing grief, he chooses to stay indifferent, for it would not matter after all if he mourns deeply or not. Even in the case of Marie, he rathers chooses to enjoy the company than to marry her. When she asks about love, he stays indifferent and shows no emotion. In fact, his punishment, too, demonstrates his views about the meaninglessness of life over which even the religious authorities take a strict view of his atheism and support his death sentence. His acquaintances also demonstrate his proclivity toward absurdity that is also a state of meaninglessness.
- Significance of Physical World: For Meursault, the physical world is too much with us without having our ability to find meanings in everything. He faces embarrassment mentally when he does not understand the meanings of anything that comes into contact with him. The departure of his mother, the love of Marie, and even shooting someone makes him acutely aware of man’s inability to understand this physicality of the world.
- Miscommunication: The Stranger, through the character of Meursault, demonstrates that despite best efforts to communicate effectively, human beings fail in it. This leads to miscommunication. His supposed or real indifference to the world causes various misinterpretations of other characters such as the magistrate understands him as a cold murderer, while the chaplain thinks that he is an atheist.
- Absurdity of Life: The theme of absurdity of life emerges when Meursault comes to know about the illogical life of his own. He does not see any meaning in incidents happening around him such as the death of his mother, Marie’s love or marriage proposal, or even outing and staying in the room. When he is imprisoned for killing the Arab, he thinks that it is also an absurd incident in his life. Therefore, life seems absurd to him.
- Indifference to Human Passions: Meursault, the hero of The Stranger, shows indifference to human emotions during the death of his mother and later in his love life, his dealing with the Arabs, his friendship with Raymond, and his own trial in the court. This becomes a new thematic strand of the irrational story in that it shows that indifference to human emotions could lead somebody to gallows or save his life.
- Difficulty in Relationships: The theme of difficulty in forming relationships becomes clear when Meursault does not show his emotions and love for Marie. He fails to respond or express to her about his love. The same goes for Raymond. This difficulty has also robbed him of his relationships including his empathy as he does not feel anything when shooting a person at point-blank range.
- Passivity: Meursault demonstrates passivity when his mother dies and he feels helpless. He thinks that it is to happen in any case. His demonstration of emotion would not impact it. However, he does not show any emotional attachment toward Marie with whom he spends a lot of time in enjoyment.
- Alienation: The theme of alienation is clear from the alienation of Meursault not only during his mother’s death but also during his friendship with Raymond and love with Marie. He even shows this alienation from the social fabric when in prison.
Major Characters in The Stranger
- Meursault: The main character of the story, The Stranger, Meursault demonstrates Camus’ main philosophy of existentialism. The author also makes him a mouthpiece to express his ideologies. The novel starts with his arrival at the death of his mother, his participation in her last rites, his love with Marie, his friendship with Raymond, his intended murder of an Arab, and his interview with the magistrate when he is framed in the murder to be imprisoned. He shows the meaninglessness and absurdity of this life that he is condemned to live until he reaches the gallows where he finds a glimmer of hope that he would be released. However, his indifferent state demonstrated during this entire process takes his life.
- Marie Cardona: Marie Cordona is another major character who is significant on account of her relation and association with Meursault, the protagonist. Although she expresses her love and goes with him to a certain limit, she stops visiting him to prison when it transpires to her that she has no relation with him. In fact, it is the prolonged indifference and cold-heartedness of Meursault that makes her abandon him.
- Raymond Sintes: Raymond’s significance lies in his friendship with Meursault as he considers him a good friend who can be trusted. That is why he lies to the police when it comes to saving his neck from the long arms of the law. However, inclusion into the personal affair of his friend becomes Meursault’s involvement in the assassination of the Arab after which Raymond does not appear much in the storyline as Meursault waits for his death sentence in the prison.
- Maman: Maman is Meursault’s mother. He mentions her in the very first sentence of his narrative when he says that the mother is dead. Although she does not physically appear in the novel, her funeral rites set the indifferent tone of the novel that like its protagonist moves along the story until Meursault faces a death sentence on the crime of killing an Arab.
- The Chaplain: This theological character appears when Meursault is imprisoned on the murder charges. He tries to make Meursault realize that he needs to be in association with God but Meursault shows complete indifference to his teachings and passionate calling.
- Thomas Perez: He is a minor character; when as a son, Meursault, does not show any passion for his dead mother, he shows his sympathy and empathy toward her and goes with her coffin to participate in her funeral rites. He is significant because of this relationship with Maman.
- Céleste: Celeste’s appears when Meursault has dinner at his restaurant and both show interest in races. He also shows a similar interest in his trial.
- Meursault’s Lawyer: This anonymous figure appears when Meursault is to defend his case in court. However, he finds himself in a quandary when he comes to know the total indifference of his client. He tries to offer him guidance on how to sympathize and show empathy toward others and take interest in his case, but fails. However, he stays positive and vanishes when it becomes clear that Meursault is going to gallows.
- Caretaker: The significance of the caretaker of the old home lies in his importance of contacting the heirs of the old people. He contacts Meursault and informs him about the death of his mother and also arranges funeral rites.
Writing Style of The Stranger
Albert Camus wrote The Stranger in concise and specific details. Although the sentences are short and crispy without excessive adjectives, it seems that he has adapted the language to suit the personality of his character, Meursault. As most of the sentences are short and to-the-fact style, they do not spell out meanings more than the writer has intended. The diction, too, is mostly formal, the reason that it seems that the storyline conveys the intended meanings of the author to his readers. There is minimal use of literary devices other than those given below in the analysis.
Analysis of Literary Devices in The Stranger
- Absurdity: The absurdity in the novel lies in that Meursault imagines himself alien, alienated, and detached from the society where life seems to him meaningless.
- Action: The main action of the novel involves Meursault’s story, his mother’s death, his love with Marie, his friendship with Raymond, and his trial for murdering an Arab. The rising action occurs when he shoots the Arab and the falling action occurs when he resigned to his fate that he is going to be hanged for his crime.
- Antagonist: The Stranger shows the main character Meursault as an antagonist as he keeps himself detached from the occurrences happening with him. When he commits a murder he shows coldness that costs him his life.
- Allusion: There are various examples of allusions given in the novel.
i. She laughed again and said, “Yes,” if I’d take her to the comedy everybody was talking about, the one with Fernandel in it. (Chapter-II)
ii. It was to open a branch at Paris, so as to be able to deal with the big companies on the spot, without postal delays, and he wanted to know if I’d like a post there. (Chapter-V)
iii. “Well, Mr. Antichrist, that’s all for the present!” After which I was made over to my jailers. (Part-II, Chapter-II)
The first two allusions are related to Paris and Parisian life, while the latter is a biblical allusion.
- Conflict: The are two types of conflicts in the novel. The first one is the external conflict that is going on between Meursault and the society around him as well as the ethical framework prevalent at that time. The second is the mental conflict that is going on in his mind about his own situation and his reaction to it.
- Characters: The Stranger presents both static as well as dynamic characters. The young man, Meursault, is a dynamic character as he faces a huge challenge and goes through his self-awareness and world-view transformation. However, the rest of the characters do not see any change in their behavior and self, as they are static characters like Marie, the magistrate, Perez, or Raymond.
- Climax: The climax reaches when Meursault shoots a man without any reason and is imprisoned and punished for the murder he committed.
- Existentialism: Existentialism is clear from the way Meursault feels as if he is isolated in the entire world having nobody to take care of him and feels happy in this situation.
- Foreshadowing: The novel shows the following examples of foreshadowing:
i. MOTHER died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure. The telegram from the Home says: YOUR MOTHER PASSED AWAY. (Part-I, Chapter-I)
ii. I was conscious only of the cymbals of the sun clashing on
my skull, and, less distinctly, of the keen blade of light flashing up from the knife, scarring my eyelashes, and gouging into my eyeballs. (Book-I, Chapter-IV)
iii. For the first time, perhaps, I seriously considered the possibility of my marrying her.. (Part-I, Chapter-V)
These quotes from The Stranger foreshadow the coming events.
- Hyperbole: Hyperbole or exaggeration occurs in the novel at various places. For example,
i. My lawyer assured me the case would take only two or three days. “From what I hear,” he added, “the court will dispatch your case as quickly as possible, as it isn’t the most important one on the Cause List. There’s a case of parricide immediately after, which will take them some time. (Part-II, Chapter-III)
The above example is hyperbole, and also it shows how his indifference is leading to new allegations such as parricide which is a hyperbolic situation here.
- Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example,
i. It was a bright, spotlessly clean room, with whitewashed walls and a big skylight. The furniture consisted of some chairs and trestles. (Part-I, Chapter-I)
ii. The glare off the white walls was making my eyes smart, and I asked him if he couldn’t turn off one of the lamps. “Nothing doing,” he said. (Part-I, Chapter-I)
iii. The sky had changed again; a reddish glow was spreading up beyond the housetops. As dusk set in, the street grew more crowded. People were returning from their walks, and I noticed the dapper little man with the fat wife amongst the passers-by. (Part-I, Chapter-III).
The first example shows the images of color, the second again of color, and the third of color as well as movements.
- Irony: The novel shows an example of irony. For example,
i. He got up, saying it was high time for him to be in bed, and added that life was going to be a bit of a problem for him, under the new conditions. For the first time since I’d known him he held out his hand to me—rather shyly, I thought—and I could feel the scales on his skin. Just as he was going out of the door, he turned and, smiling a little, said:” (Part-I, Chapter-III)
The irony here lies in that Meursault sees the meaninglessness of the beating of the dog by Salamano, though he himself feels this about his own life.
- Metaphor: The Stranger shows the use of various metaphors. For example,
i. I felt the first waves of heat lapping my back, and my dark suit made things worse. (Part-I, Chapter-I)
ii. He gave me a long look with his watery blue eyes. (Part-II, Chapter-I)
These two examples show the author comparing waves with a man and look at something. Besides this, the Algerian sun is the metaphor awareness of reality.
- Mood: The novel shows tragic mood in the beginning but it turns out absurd and ironic by the end.
- Motif: Most important motifs of the novel constant watching, death and decay.
- Narrator: The novel is narrated by a third person point of view of an omniscient narrator who is also an unreliable.
- Protagonist: Meursault is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with the death of his mother and moves forward toward his crime of murdering an Arab and his punishment to be condemned to death.
- Rhetorical Questions: The novel shows a good use of rhetorical questions at several places. For example,
i. ‘When he said that, I broke in. “Ah, you don’t come from here? (Part-I, Chapter-1)
ii. ‘When are you going to marry her?’ they’d ask. He’d turn it with a laugh. It was a standing joke, in fact. (Part-I, Chapter-I)
iii. So one day I say to her, ‘Look here, why not get a job for a few hours a day? (Part-I, Chapter-III)
These examples show the use of rhetorical questions posed mostly by Meursault not to elicit answers but to stress upon the underlined idea.
- Setting: The setting of the novel is Algiers after WWII.
- Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes. For example,
i. Then the dog began to moan in old Salamano’s room, and through the sleep-bound house the little plaintive sound rose slowly, like a flower growing out of the silence and the darkness. (Part-I, Chapter-III)
ii. One could see the outline of her firm little breasts, and her sun-tanned face was like a velvety brown flower. (Part-I, Chapter-IV)
iii. He was turning like a teetotum, looking in all directions, and sometimes peering into the darkness of the hall with his little bloodshot eyes. (Part-I, Chapter-IV)
iv. It was like a furnace outside, with the sunlight splintering into flakes of fire on the sand and sea. (Part-I, Chapter-VI)
These are similes as the use of the word “like” shows the comparison between different things.