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The Stranger

The Stranger

by Albert Camus

Analysis: Plot Analysis

Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.

Initial Situation

Meursault is detached.

Meursault is unaffected by his mother’s death, living the same mundane life he always has, clerking at the shipping company, rendezvousing with a new girlfriend, and passing time with buddies doing random, light-hearted things. Boring. Wake us up when Meursault laments his mother’s death or professes his love to Marie like a normal, hot-blooded guy, please. He is totally unreal. Who toils on in such a banal existence like that, without any ambition? Who smokes and refrains from shedding one single tear at his own mother’s funeral? And moreover, who goes to a comedy movie with some random girl he met at the beach the day after said funeral? We get the sense that Meursault is a depressed sociopath. Actually, this novel would be more interesting if he in fact turns out to be a sociopath. Wait a minute… does he?

Conflict

Fight!

A bit intoxicated by the wine at lunch time, Meursault, Raymond, and Masson take a stroll down the beach. Confronted by the two Arabs who had been following Raymond for a week now, the men fight. Raymond hits one of the Arabs, the brother of his ex-girlfriend. The Arab slashes Raymond’s mouth and arm with a knife. Masson punches the other Arab face down into the water. An alcohol-fueled, interracial fight this early on in the book bodes ill for the rest of the book. But this or any fight screams "conflict," which is super-convenient, since this is the "conflict" stage.

Complication

Meursault gets a gun.

After Raymond comes back from the doctor’s, he and Meursault decide to get some air down by the beach. The two again stumble upon the Arabs. Raymond feels compelled to shoot the one who attacked him, but Meursault talks him out of it. Raymond then hands Meursault his gun for safekeeping (or for what will obviously be some later shooting).We can just smell how complicated it’s going to get now that a GUN is introduced. That shiny, powerful thing is bound to get used.

Climax

Murder!

The Arab doesn’t move at first. Meursault approaches. The Arab draws his knife. The light bounces off the steel and cuts like a blade at Meursault’s forehead. A drip of sweat reflecting the scorching sun temporarily blinds him. The flash of the blade slashed at his eyelashes and stabs at his stinging eyes. Meursault squeezes his hand around the revolver, and the trigger gives. BANG!! [Pause.] Meursault then shoots four more times at the motionless body. BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! We told you that gun would come into play. Also, notice how we (and the text) used all these short, staccato sentences to describe the tension-filled action? That’s a hint that you’re in climax-land.

Suspense

Meursault is put on trial for murder.

Meursault’s own attorney doesn’t understand him; the magistrate judge invokes Christ to save his hardened soul; the prosecutor is intent on sending him to the fiery pits of Hell. Witness after witness stands to testify to Meursault’s good moral character. The courtroom is packed with sweaty bodies in the dead of summer. With his closing remarks, the prosecutor calls Meursault a "monster" and asks the jury for his "head"…What in the world? Meursault thought his case was "simple." The magistrate wanted to "help." And Meursault’s attorney thought the case was "tricky" but easily "win-able." Just what is going on? Why does the prosecutor say that Meursault is morally guilty of killing his mother? With much sweat and heavy heart-pounding, we wonder if Meursault will be found guilty.

Denouement

The verdict is in: guilty.

After only 45 minutes of deliberation, the foreman of the jury comes back into the courtroom to read the verdict. Meursault hears a muffled voice somewhere, and then the presiding judge informs him that he has indeed been sentenced to death. We hoped for a finding of "not guilty" despite the red herrings. But from the duration of the deliberation alone we could tell that this was coming. Just listen and hark, you will hear the "muffled" sound of the anti-climax plopping into our laps. This is the "falling action" – we knew it, we saw it coming, and we half-expected ourselves to be as quasi-stunned as we are now. Where is the justice? Was this just? Does anyone care? Probably not, and heading up the non-caring team is protagonist Meursault himself.

Conclusion

Meursault confronts his death and finds peace.

On what is presumably one of Meursault’s last dawns before the execution, he awakens peacefully to the wonderful smells of summer earth. He doesn’t have to search long and hard for the fortune cookie message; just as his mother rebelled against dying, he too must confront his impending execution. Emptying himself of all hope, freeing himself from the shackles society seeks to place upon him, Meursault emerges worry-free. A final, hopeful twist to an otherwise bleak and absurdist tale?! You can’t put it past Camus to deliver this, and with a double dosage of calm, no less. Meursault is finally at peace with the philosopher residing inside him. Be this a cognitive, psychological, philosophical or logical triumph, we walk away rejuvenated by the conclusive courage Meursault exhibits now. Wow, has he matured through this ordeal. But alas, the story ends here, as does Meursault and the Classic Plot Analysis.

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