The Stranger Summary – Albert Camus

The Stranger Summary - Albert Camus
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The Stranger (“L’Étranger”), is a novel by Albert Camus, published in 1942. It is considered one of the most important works in Camus’s literary career and a classic of existential and absurdist literature.

Summary Of The The Stranger

Meursault, the narrator, is a young man living in Algeria. After receiving a telegram informing him of his mother’s death, he takes a bus to Marengo, where the nursing home she lived in is located. He spends most of the journey sleeping. Upon arrival, he speaks with the director of the nursing home. The director allows Meursault to see his mother, but he finds that the coffin is already closed. He declines the director’s offer to open it.

That night, Meursault keeps vigil over his mother’s body. Despite the talkative caretaker’s disapproval, the caretaker stays with him the entire time. Meursault smokes, drinks coffee, and dozes off. The next morning, before the funeral, he meets with the director again. The director informs him that Thomas Perez, an elderly man who was very close to Meursault’s mother, will be attending the funeral. As the procession heads to a local village, Perez struggles with the heat and faints. Meursault reports remembering very little about the funeral itself. That night, he returns to Algiers contentedly.

The next day, Meursault goes swimming at a public beach. There, he encounters Marie Cardona, a former coworker. They arrange to meet that evening to watch a comedy film. After the film, they spend the night together. When Meursault wakes up, Marie has left. He stays in bed until noon, then sits on his balcony, watching people pass by in the street.

The following day, Monday, Meursault returns to work. He has lunch with his friend Emmanuel and works the entire afternoon. That night, while climbing the stairs to his apartment, he encounters Salamano, an elderly neighbor with an unkempt dog. He also meets Raymond Sintes, a man rumored to be a pimp, who invites him to dinner. During the meal, Raymond tells Meursault about beating his mistress after discovering her infidelity. He fought with her brother as a result. Raymond wants to punish his mistress further and asks Meursault to help write a letter to lure her back. Meursault agrees and writes the letter that night.

The following Saturday, Marie visits Meursault at his apartment. She asks if he loves her, to which Meursault responds that it means nothing but probably not. They then hear a commotion outside Raymond’s apartment. When the police arrive, they watch from the corridor. The police slap Raymond and inform him he will be summoned to the police station for beating his mistress. Later, Raymond asks Meursault to testify on his behalf, and Meursault agrees. That night, Salamano tells Meursault that his dog has run away.

Marie asks Meursault if he wants to marry her. He responds indifferently, saying they could if she wants to, so they get engaged. The next Sunday, Meursault, Marie, and Raymond visit a beach house owned by Raymond’s friend, Masson. They swim happily in the ocean and then have lunch. That afternoon, Masson, Raymond, and Meursault encounter two Arabs on the beach, one of whom is the brother of Raymond’s mistress.

A fight ensues, and Raymond gets stabbed. After treating his wounds, Raymond and Meursault find the Arabs at a spring. Raymond considers shooting them with his gun but is dissuaded by Meursault, who takes the gun. However, later, for reasons unknown, Meursault returns to the spring and shoots the brother of Raymond’s mistress.

Meursault is arrested and imprisoned. His lawyer is disturbed by Meursault’s lack of remorse, especially his indifference at his mother’s funeral. Meursault also meets an examining magistrate who struggles to understand him. The magistrate brandishes a crucifix and urges Meursault to trust in God, but Meursault insists he doesn’t believe in God. The magistrate, unable to accept Meursault’s atheism, eventually dubs him “Monsieur Antichrist.”

One day, Marie visits Meursault in prison. She forces herself to smile and expresses hope that he will be acquitted and that they will get married. As he awaits his trial, Meursault slowly adapts to prison life. The initial deprivation of nature, women, and cigarettes overwhelms him, but he eventually adjusts and ceases to miss them. He manages to keep himself occupied and spends much of his time sleeping.

On the morning of his trial, Meursault is taken to court. The courtroom is filled with spectators and journalists. The focus quickly shifts from the murder to Meursault’s character, especially his reaction to his mother’s death. Several people who attended the funeral testify, all confirming Meursault’s lack of emotional response. Reluctantly, Marie testifies that she and Meursault went on a date the day after the funeral and watched a comedy film. Following the prosecution’s case, the next day, the prosecutor portrays Meursault as a monster and his moral indifference as a threat to society. Meursault is found guilty and sentenced to death by guillotine.

Meursault returns to prison to await execution. He struggles to accept his fate and the certainty and inevitability of it. He fantasizes about escape and dreams of a successful legal appeal. One day, a chaplain visits him despite Meursault’s wishes. The chaplain urges him to renounce his atheism and turn to God, but Meursault refuses.

Like the magistrate, the chaplain cannot fathom Meursault’s lack of faith and yearning for meaning. Meursault suddenly becomes enraged, grabs the chaplain, and starts shouting at him. Fully embracing the notion that life is meaningless, Meursault finally accepts the idea that human existence holds no greater significance. He relinquishes all future hopes and acknowledges the “gentle indifference” of the world. This acceptance makes Meursault feel happy.

Key Themes Of The Stranger

  1. Absurdism: The novel explores the absurdity of human existence and the meaningless nature of life. Meursault’s actions and the events that unfold highlight the lack of inherent purpose in life and the arbitrary nature of social norms and justice.
  2. Existentialism: Meursault embodies existential themes such as the search for meaning, personal freedom, and the confrontation with death. His detachment and refusal to conform to societal expectations challenge traditional notions of morality and meaning.
  3. Alienation and Isolation: Meursault’s emotional detachment and indifference isolate him from others, illustrating the theme of alienation. His inability to connect with those around him underscores the existentialist idea of the individual being fundamentally alone in the universe.
  4. The Absurd Hero: Meursault is often seen as an “absurd hero” who accepts the irrationality of the world and embraces the absurd condition of human existence. His acceptance of his fate and his lack of appeal against his death sentence reflect his acknowledgment of life’s inherent absurdity.
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