Study Guide

The Stranger Part 1, Chapter 1

By Albert Camus

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.