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

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The narrative begins with the death of Mersaultís mother. It is a crucial beginning, for through the reaction to her death, Mersault reveals much about himself.

Because of his employment, Mersault, who serves as the narrator of the novel, is unable to attend to and support his mother at home. As a result, he sends her to the Home for Aged Persons at Marengo. At the time that Mersault receives a telegram stating that his mother has died, she had been in the home for three years. In order to make funeral arrangements; Mersault takes leave from his office for two days. He plans to ride the bus to Marengo, which is fifty miles away from Algiers. Before departing, Mersault has lunch at Celeste's Restaurant. He also goes to borrow a black tie and mourning band from his friend Emmanuel.

As soon as he arrives at the Home for the Aged, Mersault requests to see his mother. He is led to the mortuary, where the body of his mother is already laid in a coffin. Although the lid of the coffin is closed, it has not been permanently shut. When the attendant goes to open the lid, Mersault suddenly stops him, saying that he no longer wants to see his dead mother. The attendant then explains that the burial will take place early the next morning in order to avoid the excessive heat of the day.

Leaving the mortuary, Mersault goes out amongst some of the residents of the Home.

When he observes one woman crying, he learns that she is weeping over the death of his mother, who was her good friend. He also learns about Thomas Perez with whom his mother had developed a close emotional bond.

The next day, the funeral rites are performed according to his mother's wishes. Although Mersault finds the heat unbearable, he manages to sit calmly through the entire ritual; however, he experiences no sense of loss and does not shed a tear. At the end of the day, he is ready to return home, for he is hot and completely exhausted. In contrast to Mersault, Perez is deeply affected by the funeral. His wrinkled face is covered with tears.


Albert Camus opens the narrative dramatically, with the death of the protagonist Ďs mother. Her death will play a major role in the unfolding of the plot of the novel. Mersault had sent his mother to live at a home for the aged three years ago. Since the home is located in Marengo, fifty miles away, Mersault did not see his mother on a regular basis, and there did not seem to be a close relationship between them. In fact, he opens the novel by showing his lack of concern about her: "Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I canít be sure."

Mersaultís reaction to his motherís death reveals much about him. He does not seem disturbed by the news that she has passed away. Mechanically, without emotion, he eats lunch and makes arrangements to take two days off work, to ride the bus to Marengo, and to borrow a tie and mourning band from his friend. When he arrives at the Home for the Aged, Mersault asks to see his mother; but when the attendant goes to open the lid of the coffin, he changes his mind. He will not allow the man to open the coffin to reveal his motherís body. At the funeral the next day, Mersault seems more upset over the heat than he is over the death of his mother.

Even though the reader, and later the jury, condemns Mersault for his indifference to his motherís death, there is a certain honesty in his reaction. Mersault admits that he and his mother had grown apart and had little to say to one another. As a result, he does not feel greatly grieved when she dies. Unlike many people would do, he refuses to put on a show of emotion or manufacture tears at the funeral in order to impress others or act in the conventional manner. In his indifference, Mersault proves that he does not live a life of illusion and is true to himself.

The relationship between Mersaultís mother and the old man Perez is important, for it bears an interesting consequence later in the story. Towards the last chapter of the book, Mersault understands the motive underlying his motherís wish to take a fiancé even though she was old and death was approaching. Since Mersault does not believe in an afterlife, it is important to live life to the fullest to the very end.

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