The Stanger by Albert Camus
The title character of The Stranger is Meursault, a Frenchman who lives in Algiers (a pied-noir). The novel is famous for its first lines: “Mother died today. Or maybe it was yesterday, I don’t know.” They capture Meursault’s anomie briefly and brilliantly. After this introduction, the reader follows Meursault through the novel’s first-person narration to Marengo, where he sits vigil at the place of his mother’s death. Despite the expressions of grief around him during his mother’s funeral, Meursault does not show any outward signs of distress. This removed nature continues throughout all of Meursault’s relationships, both platonic and romantic.
Raymond, an unsavoury friend, is eventually arrested for assaulting his mistress and asks Meursault to vouch for him to the police. Meursault agrees without emotion. Raymond soon encounters a group of men, including the brother of his mistress. The brother, referred to as “the Arab,” slashes Raymond with a knife after Raymond strikes the man repeatedly. Meursault happens upon the altercation and shoots the brother dead, not out of revenge but, he says, because of the disorienting heat and vexing brightness of the sun, which blinds him as it reflects off the brother’s knife. This murder is what separates the two parts of the story.
The novel’s second part begins with Meursault’s pretrial questioning, which primarily focuses on the accused’s callousness toward his mother’s funeral and his murder of “the Arab.” His lack of remorse, combined with his lack of sadness expressed toward his mother, works against him and earns him the nickname “Monsieur Antichrist” from the examining magistrate. During the trial itself, Meursault’s character witnesses do more harm than good, because they highlight Meursault’s apparent apathy and disengagement. Eventually, Meursault is found guilty of murder with malice aforethought and is sentenced to death by guillotine. As he waits for his impending death, he obsesses over the possibility of his appeal being accepted. A chaplain visits Meursault against his wishes, only to be greeted by Meursault’s intense atheistic and nihilistic views. In a cathartic explosion of rage, Meursault brings the chaplain to tears. This, however, brings Meursault peace and helps him to accept his death with open arms.