Study Guide

The Stranger

The Stranger Summary

A shipping clerk living in French Algiers in the 1940s, Meursault is a young, detached but ordinary man. The novel begins with Meursault receiving a telegram informing him of his mother's death. He attends the funeral, but surprises other attendees with his unusual calm and (once again) detachment

Over the next two weeks, Meursault carries on life as if nothing tragic has happened. He frolics with a new girlfriend, befriends a pimp, and goes on a beach vacation with both. It's almost like this guy is strangely detached or something.

During the beach vacation, however, Meursault and friends are confronted by two Arabs. Violence ensues, with Meursault eventually killing one of the Arabs. It was a hot day, and aside from the weather, no explanation exists for Meursault's crime.

At his murder trial, the court seemed much more interested in Meursault’s lack of grief over his mother's death than the alleged heinousness of his crime. Judged to be a cold-hearted, nonconforming, and of course, detached misanthrope (hater of humankind), the jury finds Meursault's character—not crime, per se—punishable by death.

Awaiting his execution in prison, Meursault struggles to come to terms with his impending death. One day, after becoming enraged with an annoying, preachy chaplain, Meursault denounces Christianity and vehemently refuses to appeal to religion as a way of finding solace. Meursault joins the absurdist camp when he declares that 1) the world is meaningless, lawless, and without rational order, and 2) this is a perfectly justified claim. 

Some would say he gets "enlightened" in prison. Others would disagree. Either way, Meursault looks forward to his execution as affirmation of his "life is ridiculous" mantra. At the very least, he gets to leave society and all that goes with it behind.

  • Part 1, Chapter 1

    • "Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know." This is how the book starts. Seriously. No, we’re not kidding. So, right off the bat we know that this guy’s mom died today. Or maybe yesterday. But the point is that he (our nameless narrator, for the moment) doesn't know, which makes him seem callous and (our new favorite word) detached.
    • Anyway, the reason we know this happened is that he got a telegram from his mother's "Home" (like a nursing home for the elderly) in Marengo telling him as much.
    • The narrator, who is fifty miles from Marengo, in Algiers, arranges time off from his employer to attend the funeral. His employer is annoyed, but his response is all, "Dude, my mom died, and it's not my fault."
    • The narrator thinks the reason he feels so stoic and cold is that the reality of his mother's death hasn't yet sunk in. But really it's because (as we know) he's a stoic and cold kind of guy.
    • He eats at Celeste's restaurant, his regular joint, where everyone is nice and sympathetic, unlike his jerkosaur employer.
    • He borrows a black tie and arm band from his friend Emmanuel, whose uncle died a few months back.
    • Finally, he runs to catch the bus to take him to the funeral fifty miles away.
    • It is summer, and very hot. Check it out: within two pages of the start we've already got mention of weather. Keep an eye out for more of these; it'll be important.
    • The ride is bumpy; it smells like gasoline; it is really bright out. He dozes off. Someone tries to make conversation, but our narrator, of course, is not interested in other warm-blooded creatures.
    • He walks the 1.2 miles to the home from the bus stop.
    • At the home, the caretaker shows him to the director, who goes through "Madame Meursault's" three-year-old file.
    • Ah-ha. We can now call our narrator "Meursault."
    • The director tells Meursault to not feel guilty about leaving his mother at the home, because she was happier there anyway; she had friends her own age, dinner at four p.m., and shuffleboard. Meursault agrees, but seems appears unconcerned and, quite possibly, detached.
    • Meursault reminisces about the boredom and contempt his mother displayed back when she did stay with him. He reveals that she got used to staying at the home, and then he got to the point where only visited her a few times a year.
    • The director shows Meursault to his mother's casket in the little mortuary across the courtyard and then leaves him.
    • The caretaker comes by and offers to unscrew the casket so Meursault can see his mother.
    • Meursault declines, though unable to articulate his reasons. The caretaker says he understands.
    • The mortuary is filled with "beautiful late-afternoon sunlight," which of course means Meursault is ready for another nap.
    • The caretaker and Meursault chat, with the former telling the latter about his life and role at the home.
    • Meursault details for us how they're going to have to bury his mother quickly, since the heat is bad (weather watch!) and dead bodies can start to smell. Once again, it's a little odd (read: callous) that he’s telling us this.
    • The caretaker (an elderly man himself) says he entered the home as a resident, but since he was relatively healthy compared to everyone else, he ended up working instead. Weird.
    • It's dinner time, but Meursault isn't hungry. He opts for coffee instead, and hesitates to smoke in the presence of his dead mother.
    • Yet he manages to put his doubts aside and light up. Meursault and the caretaker smoke next to the casket. After all, she's dead—she won't care. And neither should oddly insensitive Meursault.
    • The light is bright in the little mortuary, where the vigil is to be held. The caretaker sets up chairs and brings a coffee pot in anticipation of Madame Meursault's friends.
    • Meursault dozes off, but is awakened when his mother's friends start to fill into the room. He notes that it's "hard for [him] to believe they really exist."
    • They all sit across from Meursault, which makes him feel as though he's being judged.
    • There's a lot of crying and sobbing and the like, except from Meursault, who finds the whole situation rather annoying.
    • Thankfully for him, coffee and sleeping follow.
    • Meursault awakens at dawn. The caretaker ushers all the others out, and one by one they shake Meursault's hand.
    • Meursault has more coffee (he's good at that) and goes to sign papers at the director’s office. He is offered one last chance to look at his mother's body, but declines.
    • The director informs him that Thomas Perez, Madame Meursault's boyfriend at the home, will also be attending the funeral. Meursault thinks, "My mom had a boyfriend?" (We think, "Get it, Lady Meursault.")
    • The sun shines down hot as the fifty-minute funeral procession toward the village commences. Everyone except Perez (the boyfriend) fans themselves. The undertaker makes small talk with Meursault, who realizes he doesn't even know how old his own mother was.
    • The sun's heat gets oppressive (weather watch!). Perez is lagging behind, presumably because he's elderly and can't move too fast, and he has to take shortcuts to catch up.
    • The procession finally arrives at the burial site in the village. Everything is so hot and happens so fast that Meursault loses interest (!). All he remembers is the sun, Perez fainting, the earth spilling over the casket, and his joy when he greets the bus that is to take him home to bed in Algiers.
  • Part 1, Chapter 2

    • Upon waking up, Meursault muses over his boss's annoyance when he asked for time off. Counting the weekend, it amounts to four days off, and he very sympathetically understands his boss's point of view.
    • Meursault goes for a swim at the public beach down at the harbor.
    • He bumps, or rather, swims into Marie Cardona, a former co-worker that he liked but didn't have time for. Now Meursault tries to make a move on her as he helps her onto a float.
    • The two fall asleep together, with Meursault lying on Marie's stomach.
    • Having this broken the ice, Meursault asks her out to a movie. Marie agrees to see a Fernandel comedy.
    • They get dressed for the movies and Meursault picks her up wearing a black tie. Marie seems shocked that Meursault's mother died only yesterday, as he's all, "Hey, baby, let's go out" when he really ought to be all, "Hey I'm sad, my mom just died." But then she forgets about it.
    • The two mess around in the theatre… then take it to the bedroom at Meursault's place.
    • The next morning ("The next morning" is a clever euphemism for "After they had sex"), Marie has already left when Meursault wakes up. He dozes a bit more, smokes a few cigarettes, and finally fixes himself some eggs.
    • He then reads the paper and wastes away the rest of the beautiful afternoon on his balcony, people-watching and smoking and (probably) reflecting on the sexytimes the night before.
    • By nightfall, the street lamps turn on and tire Meursault's eyes. (What is it with this guy and lights? He seems strangely affected by them.)
    • He goes downstairs to buy bread and spaghetti, and eats his meal standing up.
    • A breeze chills him, so Meursault shuts the windows. He goes to bed thinking about his mother's burial and tomorrow's impending work, and realizes that, really, nothing has changed.
  • Part 1, Chapter 3

    • Meursault works hard at the office today. His boss is nice to him, presumably because Meursault is in mourning, though hardly anything would give that away.
    • Meursault washes his hands at lunchtime—not because he needs to, but just because he enjoys drying them on a fresh towel, since the one towel everyone shares has to last an entire day. This is odd.
    • He and Emmanuel, his coworker and friend, jump into the back of a large truck for a lift to Celeste's diner for lunch.
    • After lunch, Meursault goes back to his apartment for a nap. Then he goes back to work.
    • That evening as Meursault walks back home, he feels good because the sky is green.
    • (Once again, this guy and weather. Something is up.)
    • He bumps into his neighbor, Salamano—and his disease-ridden old dog—on the stairway. Meursault observes that dog and master have been inseparable for eight years, and after living together for so long, they now look like each other. What is more, the two have a love-hate relationship, much like an old married couple.
    • Meursault chats briefly with Salamano until Raymond Sintes, his other neighbor, comes in. Raymond is rumored to be a shady character with very few friends, though Meursault reasons that he doesn't have any justification for not talking to this guy. Raymond invites him for a light dinner, so Meursault agrees.
    • While enjoying blood sausages (probably not as gross as they sound) and wine—lots of it—the two chat about a fight Raymond was in earlier. Raymond asks Meursault if he wants to be pals, and Meursault agrees.
    • Raymond then confides in Meursault about his wanting to teach his cheating ex-girlfriend, or mistress, a lesson.
    • He tells Meursault that, in the past, any time he discovered her indiscretions he would just smack her around a little (actually, he hit her pretty hard, to the point of bleeding), and then have some make-up sex and everything would be fine... domestic violence aside. But now he's decided that he wants to "punish" her (more so, apparently). Mostly, he reveals, he hates that he still has sexual feelings for her.
    • The two devise a plan. First, Meursault writes a nasty letter (to the girlfriend, on behalf of Raymond) which they expect will compel the "Moorish" ex-girlfriend to come crawling back asking for forgiveness. Then, once she does comes crawling back, Raymond can have sex with her and "right at the last minute" spit in her face, and throw her out.
    • Raymond, pleased with the letter, seals it for mailing. The men shake hands, having cemented their friendship in this evil-spirited way. After finishing off the liter of wine, the two smoke, and Meursault stumbles drunkenly back across the landing to his apartment, the two of them asserting that it's not so bad Meursault's mother died, since it was bound to happen sooner or later anyway.
  • Part 1, Chapter 4

    • Meursault works hard all week. Raymond tells him the letter is sent, so the plan is in action. Meursault goes to the movies twice with Emmanuel, who has trouble following the plot.
    • On Saturday, he frolics (yes, that's right, "frolics") with Marie on a beach a few miles outside Algiers. After all afternoon in the sun, the two hurriedly catch a bus home to go at it ("go at it" being yet another useful euphemism for sex).
    • That morning, Marie asks Meursault if he loves her. He responds: 1) that's an irrelevant question, and 2) no, he doesn't.
    • Marie is sad, but not enough to gather her dignity and head for the door.
    • As the two fix their lunch, a fight breaks out in Raymond's room; they hear a woman's loud shriek. The duo gathers, along with others on the landing, to witness Raymond hitting a woman repeatedly.
    • Was that even part of the plan?
    • Luckily, a cop shows up, so the woman runs to him for protection.
    • The cop questions Raymond, who disrespectfully smokes a cigarette. The policeman responds by smacking Raymond across the face.
    • The cop sends the woman home and essentially tells Raymond he had better have a good lawyer.
    • With the commotion over, everyone leaves. Meursault and Marie go back to their non-love-infused lunch until Marie takes off and Meursault has… a nap. Again.
    • At three p.m., Raymond knocks on Meursault's door to tell his story. He executed the plan with his mistress, but then, having been spit at in the face, she slapped him, and he retaliated.
    • The two go for a walk. Raymond asks Meursault to be a character witness for him; Meursault agrees, since all he has to do is state that the woman had cheated on Raymond.
    • After a brandy or two, the men shoot a game of pool. Raymond then suggests visiting a whorehouse, but Meursault declines, because he "[doesn't] like that."
    • So the two leisurely stroll back to their apartments; Meursault thinks they shared a nice moment, showing that he thinks of scheming against women as a brotherly sport.
    • A ways from the apartment, the pair encounters Salamano standing at the entrance steps, flustered and missing his dog.
    • Salamano reveals that his dog disappeared when they were at the Parade Ground, and most likely ran off from there.
    • Raymond points out that the dog might have gotten lost and will probably find his way back. Either way, Salamano is distraught, since anyone who finds the dog will shoot him down because of his disgusting scabs. No person would want such a creature.
    • On that cheerful note, everyone parts ways. A minute later, Salamano knocks on Meursault's door, looking for comfort. Meursault tells him about the pound, and suggests that he go there to find the dog.
    • Disappointed and still distraught, old Salamano goes back to his apartment.
    • As Meursault prepares for bed, he overhears Salamano crying. This reminds him of his mother, but he brushes the thought aside before he comes to the obvious conclusion that he is a callous jerk who can't even cry for his mother, which of course we're all thinking too.
  • Part 1, Chapter 5

    • Raymond calls Meursault at the office to invite him and Marie to spend the coming Sunday at his friend's beach house near Algiers. He says he's been followed all day by a group of Arabs, one of whom is the brother of his ex-girlfriend/mistress.
    • Meursault's boss sends for him after the call. The boss tells him of plans to open an office in Paris and wonders whether Meursault would be interested in going there. Meursault says sure, but that really it is all the same for him—that is, one life is just as good as another, and he's content with this one.
    • The boss, disappointed, criticizes Meursault for never being forthright and for having no ambition.
    • That evening, Marie comes by and, despite having been informed that Meursault doesn't love her, asks him if he wants to get married. Meursault, of course, says it doesn't make any difference to him but that if she wants to, sure.
    • Marie asks him if he loves her yet, and he answers in the same absurd manner. Marie is fed up, but proposes marriage anyway.
    • The two go for a stroll through the main streets on the other side of town, both acknowledging the various beautiful women about town. When they part, Meursault goes for dinner at Celeste's.
    • It's all the same old, same old until a strange little woman sits down at Meursault's table. She doesn't talk to him, but she does partake in some oddly compulsive activities with a checklist of radio programs.
    • Meursault watches. Her peculiarity and meticulousness arouses his curiosity, so he follows her out of the diner for a while. She loses him shortly after.
    • Meursault returns home to find old Salamano waiting outside his door. He says the people at the pound suggested his dog had been run over. Meursault essentially says, "Whatever, get another dog," but Salamano declines because he "was used to this one."
    • He also loved it, he says, explaining that he got the pet after his wife died. Though he was never particularly happy with either the wife or the dog, he had gotten used to each.
    • He adds that old age is a total curse, a curse without a cure.
    • Meursault yawns and Salamano gets up to leave. He thanks Meursault for his time and informs him that Maman (Meursault's mother) was fond of his dog. He says he knew Meursault loved his mother very much, even though everyone else in the neighborhood thought he was a bad guy for sending her away to a nursing home. Of course, knowing what we know about Meursault, this was probably like Christmas.
  • Part 1, Chapter 6

    • Waking up on Sunday proves hard for Meursault; Marie has to shake him. The bright sun feels like a "slap in the face," which at this point doesn't surprise us at all.
    • The pair goes over to Raymond's. Meursault reflects that on Saturday, he and Raymond had gone to the police station so Meursault could testify about the woman having cheated on him. Because of this testimony, Raymond had got off with only a warning.
    • As they head toward the bus stop, Raymond points to a group of Arabs in front of the tobacconist's shop. The second one from the left is supposedly the brother of Raymond's ex-girlfriend.
    • We know this brother has been tailing Raymond, but no one follows as they get onto the bus.
    • Meursault, Raymond, and Marie arrive at Raymond's friend's wooden bungalow. Masson, Raymond's friend, has a plump wife with a Parisian accent who bonds with Marie. Seeing the two women laugh, for the first time Meursault really thinks about the fact that he is getting married.
    • Masson, Meursault, and Marie go for a swim down at the beach. Privately, Masson tells Meursault that Marie is both stunning and charming.
    • Why does everyone's name start with "M"?
    • The three swim for a while, Meursault (expectedly) dozes off, and they all have lunch together at Masson's.
    • They have fish, meat, wine, and fried potatoes; Meursault drinks and smokes a lot. So does Marie.
    • Afterwards, as the two ladies take care of the dishes, the three men take a stroll down the beach. The sun is beating down hard, which is never good news.
    • At this point, Raymond points to two Arabs in blue overalls walking towards them from the far end of the beach. These are the same men who have been following Raymond around all week. This, too, is never good news.
    • The three men plan an attack, in case any trouble arises.
    • The blazing sand looks red to Meursault by the time the Arabs confront them. Red like blood. Foreshadowing alert!
    • Raymond steps up to one of the Arab men, his ex-girlfriend's brother, and strikes the first blow. Masson hits the other man twice; he falls face down in the water. Raymond apparently strikes another hit, as the other Arab's face starts to bleed.
    • The Arab cuts Raymond's arm and slashes his mouth with a knife. Masson lunges forward, but the Arabs start backing off slowly and eventually run away.
    • Masson takes Raymond to a doctor who spends his Sundays up on the plateau. Meursault isn't happy about having to explain the blood and whatnot to the women folk—who are pretty upset—so he just shuts up and smokes, like any good detached fellow would do.
    • At 1:30 p.m. (Meursault, in his narration, keeps telling us what time it is), Raymond comes back all bandaged up. He looks rather grim, though 'tis only a flesh wound. When Raymond goes to get some air at the beach, Meursault follows him.
    • The sun is overpowering with its heated rays. Uh oh.
    • The pair once again stumbles upon the two Arabs, this time lying down in their greasy overalls near the little spring at the end of the beach. They seem calm.
    • Raymond debates whether or not to shoot the Arab who attacked him, but Meursault says it would be lousy to do so if the Arab doesn't draw his knife first.
    • Finally, at Meursault's suggestion, Raymond hands him his gun, so he can take the Arab on without a weapon, "man to man." If the other Arab moves in or draws his knife, Meursault promises to let him have it.
    • Most interesting line ever: Meursault says that this is the moment when he realized one could either shoot or not shoot. Go ahead and compare this to his earlier conversation with his boss.
    • The sun glares down as everyone stares at one another. The Arabs back away behind a giant rock, and Raymond and Meursault turn back to the beach house.
    • The sun's heat is intense from by now. As soon as Raymond disappears up the stairs to the bungalow, Meursault turns back around toward the beach.
    • His head swells under the sun as he walks. This heat, Meursault thinks, is better than tolerating the women's tears back at the beach house. He wants to find shade and isolation.
    • As Meursault approaches the spring, he sees one of the Arabs again—Raymond's girlfriend's brother— lying there alone on his back.
    • The Arab sees Meursault, and reaches in his pocket for a knife. Meursault grips the gun inside his jacket as a reflex.
    • Meursault realizes that all he has to do is turn around towards the beach house. But the sweltering beach and the scorching sun compel him to take a few steps toward the cool spring.
    • He notes that the sun's heat is similar to the day he buried his mother. Hmm!
    • The Arab doesn't move at first, but as Meursault gets closer, he draws his knife and holds it up to Meursault.
    • The light bounces off the steel and cuts like a blade at Meursault's forehead. A drip of sweat temporarily blinds him.
    • The flash of the blade slashes at his eyelashes and stabs at his stinging eyes. Everything begins to reel.
    • The specific language here is important, by the way, so you really should read your book. But just in case you lost your text (did the dog eat it?) we'll do our best to help you out.
    • Meursault squeezes his hand around the revolver. But does he shoot?
    • Meursault records that "the trigger gave." Afterwards, he knows he has "shattered the harmony of the day." So to top it off, he fires four more times. And "It was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness."
  • Part 2, Chapter 1

    • Meursault has been arrested and questioned, first at the police station, then by the examining magistrate. Since he has read about these interrogations in books, he can't help but wonder whether it is all a game. It's not until he leaves that he even remembers that he killed a man.
    • Eventually, an attorney is appointed for him. Meursault thinks his case is a simple one, but his lawyer believes it to be "tricky," though one they could win if Meursault trusts him.
    • Apparently, the investigators are perturbed by Meursault's "insensitivity" towards his mother's death. Meursault does not understand this, but cooperates as much as he can by answering all the questions.
    • The attorney asks whether Meursault felt sadness on the day of his mother's funeral. Meursault answers that he has lost the habit of self-analysis, and that though he probably did love Maman, it didn't mean anything… nothing means anything.
    • The attorney is annoyed and dissatisfied, but continues to pry into Meursault's head.
    • After another question or two, he gives Meursault the look of disgust, and says that "things could get very nasty" for him. The attorney leaves.
    • Meursault realizes that his attorney doesn't understand him, and that this inability frustrates the lawyer.
    • At two p.m., the examining magistrate interviews Meursault; his attorney didn't make it.
    • The room is hot and bright.
    • The conversation gets around to Raymond, the beach, the swim, the quarrel, then back to the beach, the little spring, the sun, and the five shots from the revolver.
    • After a short silence, the magistrate says that he wants to help Meursault, that Meursault interests him, and that, with God's help, he can do something for him.
    • But first, a few more questions. He asks whether Meursault loves his mother.
    • Meursault answers, yes, the same as anyone, and the clerk typing up his responses makes some sort of error recording this.
    • Next, the magistrate asks about the five shots. Meursault explains that at first it was one, and a few seconds later, the other four.
    • But why the pause, he wants to know.
    • All Meursault can remember is the red sand and the burning sun on his forehead—he doesn't answer.
    • The magistrate gets worked up. Why would anyone shoot at a dead body four more times?
    • Meursault is annoyed and doesn't know what to say. The magistrate is beginning to scare him, the room is hot, and giant flies in this office keep landing on his face.
    • The magistrate pulls out a silver crucifix and starts in about his belief in God as every criminal's savior.
    • Meursault responds that he does not believe in God.
    • The magistrate now screams at him irrationally, demanding that he ask God for forgiveness.
    • As it gets hotter and hotter, Meursault finally surrenders. He pretends to comply just to get rid of the magistrate.
    • The magistrate is appeased, but says Meursault is the most hardened criminal he has encountered.
    • After that, Meursault sees a lot of the magistrate, who keeps bugging him to clarify his statements and so forth—the conversation always goes through Meursault's attorney. For all purposes, the magistrate seems to have lost interest in saving Meursault or his soul.
    • Time passes in this manner for eleven solid months. Meursault says he has never enjoyed anything so much as the moment when he gets to leave the magistrate's office. When he is walked to the door, slapped on the shoulder, and told, "That's all for today, Monsieur Antichrist."
  • Part 2, Chapter 2

    • Meursault is in prison awaiting trial. He dispassionately dislikes it, and decides that, should he get out, this is one phase of his life he probably wouldn't enjoy talking about. ("Hey baby, I just got out of prison" isn't a great pick-up line.)
    • Marie visits him, full of smiles, in a room without privacy; everyone has to shout to be heard. There is a certain kind of dizziness to the visitation room. Meursault wants to tell her she looks beautiful, but he "doesn't know how."
    • Marie shouts to Meursault that he has to have hope. Meursault says yes, but only because at this moment he wants to squeeze Marie's shoulders and feel the thin material of her dress. He watches the obvious emotion in the connections formed around him, between other prisoners and visitors; it seems totally alien to him.
    • Marie shouts again that they'll get married one he's released. Meursault doubts this, but responds with a useless "You think so?"
    • Meursault has to force a smile at the end of the visit, as he is led away.
    • After that, Meursault receives a letter from Marie stating that she is not allowed to visit him further, as she is not his wife.
    • Meursault's biggest problem in the first few months of prison is that he had the thoughts of a free man. Often he'd suddenly experience the urge to walk on the beach and swim in the water. Or he would think of women. Never Marie specifically, but just any and all women.
    • Meursault makes friends with a guard who tells him that's the chief complaint among prisoners. But, he wisely states, that prison wouldn't be that terrible if you got to date. It's a punishment, after all.
    • After that, Meursault's thoughts became those of a prisoner. He gets used to life as an inmate. He isn't too unhappy, but is a bit annoyed. Besides, Meursault reasons, a person could get used to anything after a while.
    • One game Meursault plays to pass the time is to focus on an object, like a newspaper story, and try to recall every excruciating detail about it. He realizes from this that a man who has lived only one day could easily live for a hundred years in prison—he would have enough memories to keep him occupied. Sex, not so much, but memories, sure.
    • Meursault also sleeps a lot, kind of like his non-prison days, because it helps passing (and losing all sense of) time. His days end up flowing into one another.
    • Meursault realizes that he has grown serious… morbid… joyless. Which is totally different from before?Maybe.
  • Part 2, Chapter 3

    • By the beginning of summer (it has been a full year since the shooting), trial has been set for June, in the Court of Assizes.
    • Meursault's attorney tells him that it wouldn't last more than two or three days because a more interesting parricide (the murder of a family member) case is coming up after his trial.
    • Trial opens with the sun glaring outside (surprise) and the air stifling inside. The room is filled with people—the panel of judges, the deputies, the bailiff, the jury, the prosecutors and lawyers, the potential witnesses, and the press. Shortly before court is in session, one of the journalists tell Meursault that since summer is the slow season for news, the press has gotten all worked up about Meursault's case; it and the parricide are the only things worth writing about.
    • The presiding judge reins in the courtroom, questioning the prosecution, defense, and finally instructing the jury. He then proceeds to call witnesses for examination and cross-examination.
    • The room gets hotter, and to demonstrate as much, everyone fans themselves with papers.
    • Meursault's examination begins right away by the presiding judge. First he asks Meursault's name, age, date and place of birth, and occupation. Then it proceeds to Maman and the question of why Meursault put her in the home.
    • Meursault says it is because he doesn't have the money to hire private help. When asked whether the decision was hard on him, Meursault responds that no, it wasn't, since Maman didn't expect anything from him anymore.
    • The prosecution continues the line of questioning, but on the issue of intent. When asked whether Meursault intended to kill the Arab, Meursault answers no. Well, then, why did he return—armed—to precisely the same spot? Meursault answers that it just happened that way.
    • With that, the hearing is adjourned until the afternoon, at which time the witnesses will be called.
    • Meursault is taken back to the prison for lunch and promptly back to the courthouse thereafter.
    • By now, the courtroom has gotten even hotter.
    • The director of the home is called to the stand first. He testifies that Maman did complain of Meursault often, though that is customary. Even so, she did resent being put in the home.
    • He adds that Meursault seemed "calm" the day of the funeral, "calm" meaning he didn't want to see Maman, didn't cry once, and left without paying respects at her grave. Moreover, he says, Meursault did not even know Maman's age.
    • By now the prosecutor is positively gleeful; he passes his turn to question.
    • Meursault feels the sudden "stupid urge to cry," as he realizes how much all the people in the courtroom hate him.
    • The caretaker is then called to the stand, and answers more or less the same questions. He testifies that Meursault hadn't wanted to see Maman, that he had smoked and slept at the vigil, and that he had some coffee as well. The prosecutor is now exultant, noting to the jury that a good son would have refused coffee and cigarettes.
    • Thomas Perez is the next witness. He testifies that he had never met Meursault before the funeral, and that his own "sadness" prevented him from being able to see the young man anyway.
    • The prosecutor asks Perez if he saw Meursault cry, and he says no, he didn't.
    • In a burst of clever lawyery-ness, Meursault's own lawyer asks Perez if he saw Meursault not cry, to which Perez also must also answer "no." In other words, just because Perez didn't see Meursault cry, it doesn't mean he never did.
    • The defense lawyer, exulting in his cleverness, announces with finality: "Here we have a perfect reflection of this entire trial: everything is true and nothing is true." An absurd proclamation. Shmoopers, take note.
    • A five minute recess is had by all, during which the defense attorney, still quite pleased with himself, tells Meursault that everything is working out fine.
    • Afterwards, Celeste is called by the defense. The prosecutor questions him, and Celeste testifies that Meursault is a customer and a friend of his, and though he may come off as withdrawn sometimes, he is "a man."
    • You know there's something wrong when this is the best defense of your character you've heard so far.
    • With respect to the crime committed, Celeste says that it's pure bad luck, that everyone has bad luck, and that it leaves you "defenseless" when it happens. Celeste's further attempts to support Meursault are cut short by the presiding judge. Helpless, Celeste looks at a grateful Meursault and trembles.
    • Marie is called next. The prosecutor gets nasty with her, calling her Meursault's mistress and their relationship an affair. He has her go detail their first date together, which, in case you forgot, was the day after Maman's death.
    • Marie resists, but has to testify. She goes over the swim, the movies, and the hanky-panky at Meursault's apartment. The courtroom is completely silent when the prosecutor notes that the movie was a comedy by Fernandel. Marie begins to cry—it's not as bad as it sounds! She insists Meursault didn't do anything wrong. The bailiff ushers the sobbing Marie out at the signal of the judge.
    • Well that just about does it. Masson's and Salamano's subsequent testimonies are basically useless in trying to establish any good character on Meursault's part. No one seems to understand.
    • Raymond is the last witness. He blurts out that Meursault is innocent. The judge reprimands him, as he's supposed to be calmly relating facts, not blabbing on about his opinion. The prosecutor gets nasty with Raymond as well, painting a picture of him as a girlfriend-beater, a pimp, and an accomplice of Meursault's. He makes it pretty clear that Raymond was out to kill the Arab in order to settle this business with his ex-girlfriend/mistress.
    • Meursault's attorney objects, asking whether Meursault is on trial for burying his mother or for killing a man.
    • It's a good point, but the prosecutor refutes it; he claims there is a "profound, fundamental, and tragic relationship between the two."
    • The courtroom seems to side with the prosecutor as he closes trial with the statement that Meursault had "buried his mother with crime in his heart."
    • Questioning is adjourned.
    • Meursault reflects on the town he once loved and the moments when he was once happy. But then he uses a different word, "content," to describe his former life. He notes that he used to sleep easily, dreamlessly, and that it seems a given life path can lead to prison just as easily as it can lead to anything else.
  • Part 2, Chapter 4

    • At first, Meursault finds the pleading stage and closing remarks amusing. Both lawyers plead guilty, but his attorney does it with an explanation, whereas the prosecutor does so without one.
    • Meursault feels that all through trial, more is said about him than about the crime he committed. Every now and then he feels the urge to intervene, but is shut down by his attorney.
    • Meursault gathers that the prosecutor wants the jury to see the murder as premeditated (meaning Meursault planned it ahead of time), having painted him as a cold, insensitive, remorseless killer.
    • The way he (Meursault) sees it, why should he feel remorse? It's not as though he's ever been able to feel it before.
    • Meursault realizes that he has been judged to be intelligent by the prosecutor, which somehow makes him worse for having committed the murder; he doesn't really understand this logic.
    • The prosecutor now speaks of Meursault's soul; he says he peered into it and found nothing. He concludes Meursault's crime is worse than parricide (murdering of one's family member), which is the other hot trial of the summer. The prosecutor pushes for the death penalty, on the grounds that Meursault has no place in a society whose fundamental rules he ignores.
    • Meursault's head spins; the heat of the afternoon is getting to him.
    • The judge asks him for final words. He stands up to tell the jury that he never intended to kill the Arab… that he only did so because of the sun. Everyone laughs, in that "Ha-ha, we're going to kill you legally" kind of way.
    • Meursault's attorney requests that trial be reconvened in the afternoon.
    • When trial resumes, Meursault's attorney gives a closing that never seems to end. Meursault is irritated that his attorney speaks in the first-person, as if he were Meursault himself. Meursault notes that the defense (his lawyer) is less artful than the prosecutor (the lawyer fighting against him).
    • Finally, as the sun sets outside and it begins to cool, the jury leave to decide a verdict.
    • Meursault's attorney assures him that he'll get off with a few years in prison or at hard labor, but that there is no chance of overturning an unfavorable (i.e., guilty) verdict.
    • After forty five minutes pass, the foreman of the jury files back in to announce their verdict. Meursault hears a muffled voice somewhere, and then the presiding judge tells him that he is to have his head cut off, in a public square, in the name of the French people.
    • Meursault of course has nothing to say when asked, so he is promptly taken away.
  • Part 2, Chapter 5

    • Meursault has refused to see the chaplain three times; he has nothing to say to the holy man. Meanwhile, he's been moved to another cell and can see the night sky.
    • Meursault occupies his days with thoughts of escaping "the machinery of justice"; it is this hope for escapes that counts, he thinks. Perhaps the guillotine will break before it reaches his neck. This is all great and Shawshank Redemption-y, but then he realizes that even if he escapes temporarily, he will not ultimately.
    • Yet he still cannot accept the certainty of his own death. He claims there's something "out of proportion" between the verdict being read and the events that had passed since then. Every detail of the circumstance—the men who read the verdict, the fact that he is in French territory, the time of day the verdict was read—seems to detract from the seriousness of the matter. It's all just so ridiculous.
    • Meursault reminisces about a story Maman once told him concerning his father, whom he never met. Once, his father watched a public execution and threw up.
    • Meursault now resolves that if he ever gets out of prison, he'll go and watch every possible execution. Why? Because it is the only thing that could ever possibly interest man.
    • Meursault also fancies reforming the penal code, realizing now that the most important thing is to give the condemned man a chance. Even one in a thousand—a kind of lottery—would be good enough for hope. The cruelest thing about the guillotine is that you have absolutely no chance for escape at all. It is so certain.
    • Two other issues occupy Meursault: the dawn (because that's when the executors always come) and his appeal.
    • Meursault now spends his nights waiting for that dawn. After all, he has never liked being surprised.
    • He thinks about the appeal as a glimmer of hope. Yet even then, he assumes the worst—that he's going to die. Everybody, he says, knows life isn't worth living; it doesn't much matter whether you die at thirty or seventy. You die all the same.
    • When Meursault thinks about being pardoned, his "hot blood […] surge[s]" through his body with delirious joy—but no, he has to remain calm.
    • Meursault thinks about Marie, but nothing substantial. Without the union of their bodies, there isn't anything to keep them together. Besides, once he's dead, she won't matter to him anymore.
    • The chaplain comes to visit. Meursault shudders, which is not the friendliest of greetings.
    • The chaplain is gentle at first, as Meursault declines every offer of salvation. Meursault is adamant about not believing in God and not wanting anyone's help.
    • At one point, the chaplain throws his hands up in annoyance, unnerved by Meursault's bullheaded behavior. Meursault's only response is that when you die, you die, and nothing remains. There is no afterlife, no salvation, and nothing "God" could offer him anyway.
    • The chaplain says he pities him. Even if the appeal is granted, Meursault has to cleanse his soul from the "burden of sin." The point is, even if escapes the human justice system, he still has divine justice to deal with.
    • Not surprisingly, Meursault finds all this talk rather annoying. So does the chaplain.
    • The chaplain does the mature, adult thing and has a temper tantrum. He declares that he refuses to believe Meursault's bleak outlook; surely, at one time, Meursault must have wished for another life?
    • Sure, Meursault answers, of course, but his wishing was no different than a wish to be rich, or to be a better swimmer… it is all the same. Meursault finally declares he has had enough; he has only so much time left, and he's not going to waste it on God.
    • The chaplain starts calling Meursault "son" and prays for him.
    • Something in Meursault snaps, and he, too, follows the Chaplin into temper tantrum territory. Yelling, he insults the chaplain, tells him not to waste his prayers, grabs him by his collar, and screams on and on.
    • Among such screaming are a few important details: 1) The chaplain can't be certain of anything, especially his own being alive, since he's living like a dead man. 2) All he (Meursault) has is his own death, but he has as much a hold on it as it has on him. 3) His whole life he has had "a dark wind" approaching, a wind that made other people useless to him, since everyone, everyone is made equal by it.
    • Finally, at the threat of the guards, Meursault lets go of the chaplain who, eyes full of tears, disappears off down the hall.
    • With the chaplain gone, Meursault calms himself down and falls asleep.
    • Just before dawn, he awakes to the wonderful smells of the earth and the peace of summer.
    • Meursault thinks about his mother. He thinks he understands why she had a boyfriend (that Perez guy) at the end of her life; so close to death, she was ready to live life again.
    • Meursault now feels the same way—ready to live. He opens himself to "the gentle indifference of the world" and finds that the world is very much like himself—it's his brother, in fact.
    • Finally, Meursault declares that all that remains, for him to feel less alone, is to wish for a large crowd of hateful spectators to be present at his execution.