Mersault, the narrator and protagonist of the novel, is a Frenchman who works as a shipping clerk in Algiers. He is obviously a good employee, for he is offered a promotion. Since the new job would require him to live in Paris, he refuses the position. His boss is upset by Mersaultís refusal and lack of interest, but Mersault has a detachment about everything in life.
Mersault is a private man who lives by himself in an apartment. When the book opens, his mother has just passed away in Marengo. Mersault had sent her there to live at the Home for the Aged, for he felt she could not live by herself and he could not care for her because of his work. Mersault reveals much about himself in his reaction to his motherís death. He does not grieve over her loss and does not cry at her funeral. He later tells his attorney that he simply accepted the fact that old people had to die.
Mersault accepts life as it comes and is not dynamic enough to change the ways of the world. As a result, he allows himself to get involved with Marie and Raymond. It is clear that Marie deeply cares for Mersault and wants to become his wife. Mersault, however, does not love her, for he feels that love is too vague an emotion. He also does not care about getting married, but he tells Marie that if she insists, he will marry her, even though he does not love her. It is with the same kind of detachment that Mersault becomes involved with Raymond Sintes, his neighbor in the apartment building. He visits with Raymond and learns that he plans to beat his girlfriend because she has been unfaithful. When Mersault and Marie later hear a woman screaming in Raymondís apartment, he realizes what is happening but refuses to call the police, for he does not like policemen.
Even though Mersault does not like Raymond, he accepts an invitation to travel with him to the beach house of one of his friends. The trip proves to be Mersaultís undoing. Before they board the bus to the beach, they notice a group of Arabs. One of them is the brother of the girl whom Raymond has beaten. Raymond is clearly upset to see him, and during the trip, he keeps looking behind him on the bus to see if the Arabs are following him. Both Raymond and Mersault are glad to arrive at the beach house of Masson without incident.
When Raymond, Masson, and Mersault go for a walk on the beach, they encounter the Arabs. A fight breaks out, but Mersault, not wanting to get involved, stands at a distance. He, therefore, is able to see the knife that one of the Arabs takes out of his pocket. He tries to warn Raymond, but it is too late. The Arab has already slashed Raymondís arm and face. After he returns from the doctor in bandages, Raymond asks Mersault to go for a walk with him. When Mersault agrees, he learns that Raymond is carrying a gun and looking for the Arabs. Mersault persuades Raymond to give him the gun for safekeeping. Mersault puts the gun in his pocket.
Later in the afternoon, in the heat of the day, Mersault goes out to the beach by himself. Feeling hot and miserable, he heads towards the stream to find relief from the intense heat and sunlight. As he approaches the stream, he spies the Arab lying on the sand. When the Arab reaches in his pocket, Mersault reaches for the gun. He fires a single shot, which kills the man. He then fires four more bullets into the dead body. Mersault is taken into custody and charged with murder. Since he does not want to seek his own counsel, he is assigned a court appointed attorney. When the attorney questions Mersault, he admits that he felt no sadness over sending his mother to the Home for the Aged or over her death. He also says he has no regrets for killing an Arab.
Before his trial begins, Mersault is certain that he will be freed on "extenuating circumstances." Once he sees the jury, however, he realizes that they are out to condemn him. He further realizes that everything he says on the witness stand is misinterpreted and used against him. By the end of the trial, he accepts that he will be convicted and will probably face deportation or a short prison term. He is, however, totally unprepared for the final judgement. The jury has sentenced him to be decapitated by guillotine in a public place.
As Mersault waits in his prison cell for the day of his execution, he thinks about his past and his future. Although he dreams of being free, he accepts that he will soon be killed with "much efficiency" by a shiny guillotine. He is thankful, however, for each new day when he is not led away to be put to death. Although he refuses to see the chaplain on three occasions, he finally comes to Mersaultís cell uninvited and unannounced. He talks to Mersault about God and an afterlife, but Mersault refuses to listen or accept his beliefs. He also refuses to admit his guilt and ask for forgiveness. When the Chaplain tries to pray for him, Mersault screams at him.
After the chaplain leaves, Mersault realizes he has a new sense of peace and calm. He thinks about death in a new way. He believes it will allow him to be in harmony with the indifferent universe. For the first time in the book, Mersault actually seems committed to something:
"I was sure of myself, sure about everything, ....
Sure of my present life and of the death that was coming
... Iíd been right, I was still right, I was always right.
Raymond Sintes, the neighbor of Mersault, is violent man who makes his living as a pimp. Before the book begins, he has been involved with an Arab woman, whom he considers his girlfriend; however, he has beaten her because he found out she was cheating on him. When he tells Mersault about her, he expresses his desire to punish her further. He convinces Mersault to write her a condemning letter on Raymondís behalf. The letter causes another conflict between her and Raymond. The conflict ends in another beating, which Mersault and Marie witness. Mersault, however, agrees to testify in Raymondís behalf, saying he was provoked into the fight by the Arab girl. It is one of the few times in the book that Raymond is not honest.
By maneuvering Mersault into his affairs, Raymond brings about the downfall of his neighbor. He takes Mersault and Marie with him to the beach house of his friend, Masson. On the beach, the men encounter two Arabs, one of whom is the brother of the beaten Arab girl. A fight ensues, and Raymond is stabbed in the mouth and on the arm. After he goes to the doctor for treatment, he is determined to return to the beach and find the guilty Arab. In spite of Raymondís protests, Mersault accompanies him and prevents Raymond from shooting the Arab. When Mersault insists, Raymond even hands his gun to him for safekeeping. The action brings about Mersaultís downfall, for he uses the gun to shoot the Arab later in the day.
Raymond appears again as a witness of Mersaultís trial. He tries to
explain that it was a coincidence that Mersault had his gun and used it
on the Arab. He clearly says that Mersault had no argument with the Arab
and did not plan to kill him. He claims that it was all circumstantial
and coincidental. Unfortunately, his testimony has no impact on the jury,
who is already convinced that Mersault is a hard-hearted, cold-blooded
Marie is a young and charming girl who believes in enjoying life. She knows Mersault, for she once worked as a typist in his office. When Mersault encounters her while swimming on the day after his motherís funeral, the two of them are attracted to each other. Mersault invites her to go to a movie the same night. After the movie, they return to Mersaultís apartment and make love.
Although Mersault does not love Marie, he enjoys her company and delights in having sex with her. To him, she is pure sensuality, always described in lightness and brightness. Marie quickly falls in love with Mersault. After spending several nights with him, she asks him if he loves her. He does not lie and says that love means nothing to him, for it is too vague an emotion. In spite of his words, Marie says that she would like to marry Mersault. Amazingly, he does not object and says he will marry her if she insists.
Marie proves that she is a cautious and concerned person. When she hears the screams of the Arab girl and witnesses the fight, she wants Mersault to immediately call the police. When she sees the Arab men at the bus station, she convinces Mersault and Raymond to immediately board the bus. When she sees that Raymond has been stabbed by the Arab, she weeps and becomes afraid for Mersaultís welfare.
After Mersault murders the Arab and is imprisoned, Marie stands by his side. She visits him once and tries to cheer him. She says that she is hopeful he will be freed so that they can be married. She then writes him a letter explaining that the guards will not allow her to come to visit again since she is not Mersaultís wife.
During the trial, Marie tries to help Mersaultís cause. Unfortunately, her
testimony proves to be a disaster, like the testimony of the other defense
witnesses, for the Prosecutor twists her words. He makes Marie seem like
a tramp and reminds the jury that she has sex with Mersault on the day
after his motherís funeral.
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TheBestNotes.com Staff. "TheBestNotes on The Stranger".
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