Free Study Guide: The Stranger by Albert Camus - Free BookNotes|
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THE STRANGER BY ALBERT CAMUS: FREE ONLINE NOTES / BOOK SUMMARY
Mersault has trouble accepting that he is a prisoner and continues to think like a free man. He resents having to sleep on a plank bed, which sometimes gives him splinters. He finds it difficult "to kill time" and usually feels totally bored. To pass the time, he learns to think about his past, including his sexual encounters that gave him pleasure. He also pictures every detail of his apartment in his mind, including the dents and scratches. He longs for a cigarette, but he is not allowed to smoke. He yearns to go to the beach for a swim and is tormented by the fact that he cannot. When he starts feeling hopeless, Mersault remembers his motherís idea that anyone can become accustomed to anything. He struggles to become accustomed to his loss of liberty.
Mersault narrates a story that he reads in the "bit of newspaper stuck to the underside of the bed." A young man leaves home to earn money. He returns after twenty-five years with a large fortune. He leaves his wife and child in another inn and lodges himself in the hotel run by his mother and sister under an assumed name. His family does not recognize him. After he shows them the large sum of money he possesses, they kill him and throw his body in the river. The next day his wife and child come to the hotel and reveal his identity. His mother is so distressed over what she has done that she hangs herself, and the sister throws herself in the well. Mersault does not have a normal reaction to the story; instead, he comments that the young man was asking for trouble.
When the guard tells Mersault that he has been in prison for six months,
Mersault is shocked, for he has lost all sense of time. He has noticed,
however, that he has been talking to himself more. He also thinks his
face always has a mournful expression on it.
The concept of individual freedom and Mersaultís loss of it is the main focus of the chapter. Mersault does not like to think of himself as a prisoner; but he is constantly reminded that he is. He must sleep on a plank bed, cannot smoke a cigarette, and cannot go to the beach. He also has few visitors. When Marie does come to see him, she reveals that the guards usually turn her away because she is not Mersaultís wife. Mersault also has trouble "killing time." To pass the hours, he thinks a lot, often reflecting on his past and often talking to himself. He also contemplates the fact that a captive can still be a "free" man in his thinking and imagining.
The story that Mersault reads in the piece of newspaper reinforces the absurd
element of the narrative. Like Mersault, the unnamed male character is
very strange. After leaving home and making a fortune, he returns to his
hometown and checks into his motherís hotel; but he does not reveal his
identity to his mother or his sister. Instead, he tries to impress the
woman by flashing a large sum of money before them. The greedy mother
and daughter, not knowing who he is, kill the man. When they learn of
his identity, they both kill themselves. Mersault blames the man for the
three deaths, for if he had revealed his identify, the absurd tragedy
could have been prevented.
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