Study Guide

The Stranger Sadness

By Albert Camus


Part 1, Chapter 1

Then he offered to bring me a cup of coffee with milk. I like milk in my coffee, so I said yes, and he came back a few minutes later with a tray. I drank the coffee. Then I felt like having a smoke. But I hesitated, because I didn’t know if I could do it with Maman right there. I thought about it; it didn’t matter. I offered the caretaker a cigarette and we smoked. (1.1.13)

Meursault does express some hesitation here—he is uncertain of whether or not he should smoke with his dead mother lying there. But this hesitation is the closest he comes to feeling any sort of sadness.

It had been a long time since I'd been out in the country, and I could feel how much I'd enjoy going for a walk if it hadn't been for Maman. (1.1.19)

Meursault is so matter-of-fact in his physical desires that he has no room for sadness or sentimentality in his heart.

Soon one of the women started crying. […] I thought she’d never stop. […] The woman kept on crying. […] I wished I didn’t have to listen to her anymore. But I didn’t dare say anything. (1.1.16)

Meursault is so unattached and without pain over his mother’s death that others’ expressions of sadness annoy him more than they affect him.

The residents usually weren’t allowed to attend funerals. He only let them keep the vigil. "It’s more human that way," he remarked. (1.1.21)

The sadness of others is such an overpowering feeling that the caretaker has to take measures to control it. This, of course, contrasts to Meursault’s total lack of emotion.

Part 1, Chapter 2

It occurred to me that anyway one more Sunday was over that Maman was buried now, that I was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed. (1.2.11)

Meursault almost defends his not feeling sadness. If nothing has changed, why would you grieve at all? (Meursault is a robot.)

I told her Maman had died. She wanted to know how long ago, so I said, "Yesterday." She gave a little start but didn’t say anything. I felt like telling her it wasn’t my fault, but I stopped myself because I remembered that I’d already said that to my boss. It didn’t mean anything. Besides, you always feel a little guilty. (1.2.2)

Rather than feeling sadness over his mother’s death, Meursault feels guilt. In the beginning of the novel, Meursault has some semblance of a societal conscience.

Part 2, Chapter 1

The investigators had learned that I had "shown insensitivity" the day of Maman’s funeral. […] He [the lawyer] asked if I had felt any sadness that day. […] I answered that I had pretty much lost the habit of analyzing myself and that it was hard for me to tell him what he wanted to know. I probably did love Maman, but that didn’t mean anything. At one time or another all normal people have wished their loved ones were dead. Here the lawyer interrupted me and he seemed very upset. He made me promise I wouldn’t say that at my hearing or in front of the examining magistrate. (2.1.4)

Meursault doesn’t understand the impact of his words and lack of emotion. Of the lawyer’s reaction, he says "he seemed very upset," as though he (Meursault) has not considered how odd his own statement was.

Part 2, Chapter 3

To another question [the director of the home] replied that he had been surprised by my calm the day of the funeral. He was asked what he meant by "calm." The director then looked down at the tips of his shoes and said that I hadn’t wanted to see Maman, that I hadn’t cried once, and that I had left right after the funeral without paying my last respects at her grave. (2.3.14)

Even the director is embarrassed for Meursault (he looks down at his shoes) and his inability to grieve.

They [the jury] had before them the basest of crimes, a crime made worse than sordid by the fact that they were dealing with a monster, a man without morals. (2.3.20)

Because Meursault doesn’t feel sadness, he is considered to be amoral.

Flipping through a file, the prosecutor asked her bluntly when our "liaison" had begun. She indicated the date. The prosecutor remarked indifferently that if he was not mistaken, that was the day after Maman died… "Gentleman of the jury, the day after his mother’s death, this man was out swimming, starting up a dubious liaison, and going to the movies, a comedy, for laughs. I have nothing further to say." (2.3.18)

Meursault is made an easy target because he doesn’t feel sadness like a normal person.

[The caretaker] answered the questions put to him. He said I hadn’t wanted to see Maman, that I had smoked and slept some, and that I had had some coffee. It was then I felt a stirring go through the room and for the first time I realized that I was guilty. (2.3.15)

It's pretty interesting that Meursault’s not caring about his mother’s death ends up causing his own death.