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

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Mersault is the protagonist and narrator of the novel. He is a young shipping clerk living in Algiers. Because he befriends his neighbor, Raymond Sintes, he is drawn into a conflict with a group of Arabs.


Mersaultís greatest antagonist is himself. He lives life with detachment and lack of emotion. When he shoots an Arab, partially in self-defense, he condemns himself by refusing to show emotion or remorse.

On another level, Raymond and the Arabs are also antagonists, for they draw Mersault into the conflict that leads to his downfall and execution.


The climax of the book is reached when the jury delivers its verdict: Mersault is to be decapitated by guillotine in a public place. Although the reader realizes in the sixth chapter of Part I that Mersault is certain to be found guilty, since he killed an Arab and then fired four bullets into the dead body, the suspense builds until his sentence is pronounced in the fourth chapter of Part II.


The Stranger ends in tragedy when Mersault is sentenced to die by the guillotine. His lack of emotion and his detachment about life convince the jury that his life should not be spared.


The Stranger is Mersault, the narrator and protagonist of the novel. He suffers alienation from himself and the world. His narrative is divided into two parts. Part I deals with the routine affairs of Mersault, except for two key events. The story begins with the death of Mersaultís mother. Since he is an average man who earns barely enough for himself, Mersault sent his mother away to a Home for the Aged in Marengo, an action that brought him criticism. Then when he attends the funeral of his mother, he finds that he does not feel much grief; neither is he concerned about observing the social formalities of mourning. The day after his motherís funeral, Mersault becomes involved in an affair with Marie, who was once a typist in his office. They swim together, have lunch, watch a comic film, and make love. The society is horrified at his refusal to observe a period of mourning for his mother. He is called "uncouth," "insensitive," and a "social monster". Part I also reveals Mersaultís involvement with Raymond Sintes, his neighbor who works as a pimp. Raymond has beaten has girlfriend for cheating on him, but he wants to punish her further. He persuades Mersault to write a scathing letter to her on Raymondís behalf. The result of the letter is another confrontation between the girl and Raymond in which he beats her brutally. Mersault agrees to testify in Raymondís behalf, saying that he was provoked by the girl into the confrontation. Mersault also agrees to travel with Raymond to the beach house of Masson, Raymondís friend. At the beach, they encounter two Arabs, one of whom is the brother of the beaten girlfriend. A fight ensues, and Raymond is stabbed in the arms and mouth. Mersault is drawn into the conflict and winds up killing the Arab brother. It is the second key event of Part I. Both the death of his mother and the murder of the Arab have a direct bearing on the events of Part II.

Mersault is arrested and imprisoned for the murder. He is not worried about his case, for he feels the jury will understand how the shooting was not intentional. He does not hire his own attorney, but accepts the court appointed one. When the attorney tries to get Mersault to slant the truth about his reactions to his motherís death, he refuses, for Mersault values honesty and is true to himself. He also fails to see the relationship between his case and his feelings for his mother. Mersault also refuses to see the chaplain, who eventually barges in to Mersaultís cell. When Mersault refuses to confess his guilt and beg forgiveness, the chaplain reacts with disbelief. When he tires to pray for Mersault, he screams at the chaplain. In a similar manner, he refuses to react to the crucifix that the magistrate shows him and reveals that he does not believe in God. The magistrate believes that he has never met a more taciturn, self-centered, naïve, honest, and blunt criminal. He also thinks that Mersault is so hard-hearted that he must be an "antichrist." The jury has the same reaction to Mersault. They do not comprehend any of his explanations and feel that his lack of emotion and remorse is inhuman. As a result, they judge him to be guilty of murder and sentence him to death by the guillotine. Mersault can hardly believe the verdict, for he has never thought of himself as a criminal. In the end, however, he approaches his death like he has approached his life - with indifference. He thinks perhaps that after death his existence may be less absurd; he may be more closely aligned with the universe.

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