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

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When Mersault realizes that his cell may be his last home, he begins to detest the confines of the prison and refuses to think or talk about the circumstances. Although he has very few visitors, he does receive a letter from Marie. She explains that she has been denied permission to visit him in the future because she is not his wife.

Mersault gives an account of his life in prison. Initially he is put in a cell with some Arabs, but he is then moved into a single cell. One day while he is straining to see the sea from his cell window, Marie appears for her one and only visit. They must meet in the visitorís room, a large room divided into three compartments. Some of the Arab prisoners are already in the visitorís room and talk in loud voices. Marie and Mersault try to converse over the din made by the Arabs, but it is difficult. Marie does manage to express a hope that Mersault will be set free so that they can be married.

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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