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The Stranger: Summary, Themes & Analysis

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and experience teaching.

This article reviews Albert Camus's The Stranger, and discusses themes found throughout the book. Read the article, and then test yourself with the quiz!

Summary of The Stranger

Written by Albert Camus in 1942, The Stranger demonstrates the depths of human apathy as the main character, Meursault, is put on trial for the murder of an Arab man.

Albert Camus
Albert Camus

Part One

The book opens with one of the most famous lines in 20th century literature, 'Yesterday, Mother died.' In this line, Meursault's feelings about the death of his mother are established - her death was more a fact than an emotional trigger. As the first part continues, he is caught up in the attempts at helping a friend, Raymond, get revenge for his girlfriend cheating on him. Meanwhile, he has entered into a 'friends with benefits' relationship with Marie, but really only sees her as a way of satisfying his desires. Raymond's plan to emotionally hurt his girlfriend works too well, as a few days later he is wounded in a fight with the girl's brother and an Arab friend. The next day, Meursault takes Raymond's gun and walks down the beach. Encountering the Arab man from the day before, and seeing the glimmer of a knife, Meursault shoots him five times. Despite having killed a man, Meursault only comments on the fact that the sun was annoying him.

Part Two

In the second part of the book, Meursault is on trial for the murder of the Arab man. All the while, the court really only wants to see that Meursault regrets taking another life. After all, this is a French court, and the man was a native Arab. However, Meursault refuses to give that sort of validation, obsessed instead only with the shape of the dress that Marie has worn to his trial. The prosecutor says that he is a heartless, soulless murderer, but the defense counsel seems confident Meursault will be acquitted. However, the lack of remorse swayed the court, and Meursault is given a death sentence. He ignores the overtures of the priest sent to comfort him in his final hours, saying that no one has the right to judge him. He finally views his death as a symptom of the world having the same indifference towards him as he had towards the Arab.

French buildings in Algeria
buildings

Themes of The Stranger

Anti-Arab Sentiment

Within the book, Camus clearly portrays that the French regime in Algeria is anti-Arab. After all, when is the last time that you heard a prosecutor refuse to mention the name of the murder victim? In fact, the name of the Arab man murdered is never mentioned throughout the whole text. For many readers, this was a clear sign that Camus was trying to make a statement that the Europeans in Algeria, especially the Pied Noir, or white Europeans who had been born in North Africa, had great disdain for the actual natives.

Hypocrisy of Humanity

Another important theme of The Stranger is the hypocrisy with which Meursault is executed, at least in his own eyes. While he did kill the Arab without remorse, the state is also killing him without remorse. In fact, whereas he felt nothing, the state feels that it is necessary to put him to death. Because Meursault could not show part of his humanity, he was deprived of his entire humanity.

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