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Free Study Guide: The Stranger by Albert Camus - Free BookNotes

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THE STRANGER BY CAMUS: STUDY NOTES / FREE BOOK NOTES

PART TWO

CHAPTER 5

Summary

Mersault refuses three times to see the Chaplain. Instead, he spends his time trying to find a loophole in the justice that is being imposed upon him and regrets that he is not more aware of the technical details of the law that could help his story have a happy ending. He also thinks about other ways he could die rather than being decapitated in public. He dreams of escaping from the prison and being shot in the market place, which he would consider a luxury. He accepts, however, that he will not be able to escape his punishment, which he calls a "brutal certitude."

Mersault also reflects on the past. He remembers his mother telling him about his father attending an execution. When he returned home after the execution, he acted bizarre and appeared to be sick, which Mersault believes is a normal reaction. He decides to make it a point to attend some executions in the future if he is set free. The thought of being set free gives Mersault a very nice feeling; but he knows that there is no chance of freedom for a criminal who is to be guillotined. He then thinks about a photograph he has seen in the newspaper of a criminal being executed. The guillotine had a shining surface and appeared to be technically well advanced, allowing a man to be killed with "much efficiency."


Mersault concentrates on two things: living through the next dawn and winning an appeal. Each night before dawn, he wonders if it is to be the day when he will be taken to the guillotine, for prisoners in Algiers are not informed about exactly when they are to be executed. When no one comes for him, he feels relief and remembers a saying of his mother: "however miserable one may be, there’s always something to be thankful for." Mersault is thankful for another day. He also thinks about his appeal and imagines that it is successful. The thought gives him a sense of joy and exultation, but he tries to contain the feelings.

Mersault thinks about Marie and realizes that he has not received a letter from her. He guesses at the reason for her lack of communication. As he is deep in thought, the Chaplain enters his cell and insists upon a conversation. He talks about God and an afterlife and asks whether Mersault believes in them. The Chaplain also tries, in vain, to make Mersault confess his guilt and ask for forgiveness. When the Chaplain begins to pray for him, Mersault yells at him and grabs him by the neck. Several jailers come in to rescue the man.

After the Chaplain leaves, Mersault experiences a feeling of calmness and soon falls asleep. When he wakes, he listens for the sounds of the dawn. He thinks about his mother and understands her urge to live life afresh. Mersault thinks about dying and believes that death will mean that he is finally in harmony with the indifference of the universe.

Notes

In the final chapter of the book, Mersault is in his prison cell reflecting on his life and upcoming death. He remembers the time when his father went to an execution. When he came home, he acted bizarre and felt sick, which Mersault now understands are normal reactions. He also remembers seeing a picture of an execution in the newspaper. He thinks about the shiny guillotine and calls it an efficient killing machine. Mersault dreams about escaping the guillotine. He imagines fleeing from prison and being shot in the marketplace, which he feels would be a preferable death. He also imagines winning his appeal and being set free. He knows, however, that a man destined for execution has no hope of freedom.

In this final chapter, Camus juxtaposes two contrasting sides of human nature. The chaplain represents the religious and spiritual side of man, expecting forgiveness and believing in an afterlife. In contrast, Mersault is secular and down to earth. He is not devoid of emotion or imagination, but his perspective towards life is based on facts, not on hope that blindfolds the truth. As a result, Mersault is able to accept the absoluteness of his verdict, calling it a "brutal certitude." He does, however, believe that his execution will prove the absurdity of life. It is appropriate that Mersault will die an absurd death, for throughout the book he has been developed as an absurd man, living with detachment and lacking conventional values.

To the end, Mersault expresses no regret for his actions and refuses to ask for forgiveness. In fact when the Chaplain wants to pray for his soul, Mersault screams at him. However, after the Chaplain leaves, Mersault has an unusual sense of peace and calm, which allows him to sleep. When he wakes, he listens for the dawn, as usual, and wonders if this will be the day of his execution. He realizes, however, that he does not fear death; instead, he will welcome it as a chance to finally be in harmony with the indifferent universe.


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