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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 doesn't shed one single tear at his own mother's funeral? And 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 (or any fight, really) 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. After all, didn't Chekhov say "If you hand a gun to Meursault, that weirdo is totally going to blow some Arab dude away with it?"

Climax

Murder!

We told you that gun would come into play. A detailed, play-by-play description of a murder on a hot beach? Yeah, this is definitely the climax.

Also, notice how the text uses short, staccato sentences to describe the tension-filled action? That's another hint that you're in climax-land.

Suspense

Meursault is put on trial for murder.

At first Meursault is under the delusion that his case is "simple." Ha.

Meursault's own attorney doesn't understand him; the magistrate judge invokes Christ to save his hardened soul... and 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." Oh yeah, he also says that Meursault is morally guilty of killing his mother.

Just what is going on?! With much sweat and heavy heart-pounding, we wonder if Meursault will be found guilty. (Our bet is on yeah.)

Denouement

The verdict is in: guilty.

After only forty-five 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. Oops.

Where is the justice in this "falling action"? Was this just? Does anyone care? Probably not, and heading up the "doesn't really care" team is our 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 also has to confront his impending execution.

Emptying himself of all hope, freeing himself from the shackles society seeks to place upon him, Meursault emerges worry-free. Whoa—is this a final, hopeful twist to an otherwise bleak and absurdist tale?! Yup, this is exactly what Camus has delivered... and with a double dose of calm, no less.

Meursault is finally at peace with the philosopher residing inside him. Whether this is a cognitive, psychological, philosophical or logical triumph (or all of the above?) we walk away rejuvenated by the courage Meursault exhibits now. Our baby boy Meursault is really growing up. But alas, the story ends here... as does Meursault. Womp womp.

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