The Stranger Summary
Meursault wakes up the day after the funeral. It is a Saturday and he decides to go swimming. In the water he meets Marie Cordona, a woman he fancies, who used to work as a typist at his office. They flirt a bit and he asks her if she wants to go to the cinema. She agrees and says there’s a comedy that she wants to see. When Meursault gets dressed Marie is surprised to see his black tie and even more surprised to discover that his mother died the day before. That evening they go to the cinema and then back to his apartment. When Meursault wakes up the next day Marie has gone. It is a Sunday. The rest of the chapter is an account of Meursault spending his day alone in the apartment.
Meursault has ‘trouble getting up’
Meursault’s tiredness again. In notes taken for a novel, possibly The Stranger or A Happy Death, Camus writes: “He can be completely explained by his habits, of which the most deadly is to stay in bed.” (Notebooks 1935-1942). The next day he will stay in bed, smoking cigarettes, until noon.
Cordona was the maiden name of Camus’ grandmother. Raymond Sintès, who we will meet in the next chapter, has the maiden name of Camus’ mother. Meursault’s name is made up of sounds in French from the word for sea and the word for sun.
“She recoiled slightly, but made no remark.”
Meursault picks up Marie with professionalism. He will later be told by the examining magistrate that people had described him as being ‘taciturn and withdrawn’. However (and like Camus) he doesn’t appear withdrawn with women. The next day, when he is on his balcony the ‘local girls, with their hair down’ will recognize him and wave. Much will later be made in court of Meursault’s decision to go swimming and then on to a comedy film; Marie herself recoils, slightly, when she discovers his mother was buried just the day before.
“I remembered that it was Sunday and that annoyed me: I don’t like Sundays.”
The description of Meursault’s uneventful day is almost identical to that written previously by Camus for his earlier character Patrice Mersault in the unpublished novel A Happy Death (later published posthumously). The following Sunday Raymond beats up his mistress and Salamano loses his dog. The Sunday after that Meursault kills the Arab.
“I cut out an advertisement for Kruschen Salts and stuck it in an old exercise book where I put things that amuse me in the papers.”
Camus has similar interests to Meursault. He notes: Tailors like Marie-Christine are not only fashionable but always up to date.” Laxatives are “only a temporary remedy. The roots of constipation remain untouched.” (Notebooks, 1940)
“…as I was coming back inside I saw reflected in the mirror a corner of my table where my spirit-lamp was standing beside some pieces of bread.”
Chapter two of the second half of The Stranger also ends with Meursault looking at a reflection. This time he is in prison staring at himself reflected in the back of a spoon. Mirrors and reflections appear in all three of Camus’ ‘absurds’. In Caligula, the emperor obsesses over his reflection in the mirror. In The Myth of Sisyphus, an essay Camus intended to be read alongside The Stranger, he talks about ‘… the stranger who at certain seconds comes to meet us in a mirror, the familiar and yet alarming brother we encounter in our own photographs is also the absurd.”
Text: Simon Lea
First published: 26th March 2013