The Stranger

Pdf fan dd71f526917d6085d66d045bd94fb5b55d02a108dd45d836cbdd4abe2d4c043d Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)
A young French Algerian living in colonial Algiers and working as a shipping clerk, Meursault is passionless, disaffected, and without ambition. His primary priority is his own physical comfort. Convinced of the world's indifference to him and to everyone else, Meursault himself is indifferent towards those around him and has only superficial relationships. His relentless honesty and refusal to subscribe to conventional belief systems or to social niceties alienate Meursault from society.

Meursault Quotes in The Stranger

The The Stranger quotes below are all either spoken by Meursault or refer to Meursault. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of The Stranger published in 1989.
Book 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

For the first few days [Maman] was at the home she cried a lot. But that was because she wasn't used to it. A few months later and she would have cried if she'd been taken out. She was used to it. That's partly why I didn't go there much this past year. And also because it took up my Sunday – not to mention the trouble of getting to the bus, buying tickets, and spending two hours traveling.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), Madame Meursault
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

As he meets with the director of the home where Meursault's mother lived until the end of her life, Meursault initially feels defensive about putting her in the home. Thanks in part to the director's reassurances, however, Meursault takes a different perspective. Not only does he consider that his mother grew accustomed to the home, but because ultimately it doesn't matter - for her, for him, to the world in general - where she lives. Meursault's attitude is thus a prime example of how he projects his own philosophy of existence onto others around him.

It is in Meursault's own interest, of course, to consider his mother's experience in such a way, since it was always so unpleasant for him to go visit her. Meursault is acutely sensitive to the physical, sensory experience of being in the world, which makes traveling especially unpleasant for him. Still, the way he coldly considers his mother's final months living underlines the indifferent attitude he takes towards relationships in general.

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other The Stranger quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

That's when Maman's friends came in. There were about ten in all, and they floated into the blinding light without a sound. They sat down without a single chair creaking. I saw them more clearly than I had ever seen anyone, and not one detail of their faces or their clothes escaped me. But I couldn't hear them, and it was hard for me to believe they really existed.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), Madame Meursault
Related Symbols: Glare (shimmer, glisten, dazzle)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Meursault's emotional distance from his mother does not mean that he feels somehow absent from the scene of her funeral itself. Instead, he is aware of each precise moment, paying close attention to all the actors in the scene and each detail on their faces. However, the way Meursault describes the attendees to his mother's funeral is, indeed, reminiscent of the way someone might describe the way a movie or play unfolds. His relationship to them is detached – he does not feel at all emotionally invested in the scene, for instance.

One could probably, then, call Meursault's attitude a more aesthetic one, in that he considers events to take place in terms of the interest they hold for him, in terms of how they make him feel on a plane entirely separate from his emotional investment in other people. Meursault's inability to really believe in the full humanity of others will also help to explain his actions on the beach: in each case, he fails to see how other people really exist.

Seeing the rows of cypress trees leading up to the hills next to the sky, and the houses standing out here and there against that red and green earth, I was able to understand Maman better. Evenings in that part of the country must have been a kind of sad relief. But today, with the sun bearing down, making the whole landscape shimmer with heat, it was inhuman and oppressive.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), Madame Meursault
Related Symbols: Heat, Glare (shimmer, glisten, dazzle)
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

On the one hand, this passage seems to suggest that by attending Maman's funeral, Meursault will be able to better understand her, drawing closer to her even after her death. It does seem that returning to "that part of the country" helps to flesh out Maman's past for her son. Nevertheless, this insight only further underlines just how little attention Meursault paid to his mother during her life, such that her past is still a mystery to him, one that he doesn't seem very interested at all in resolving.

Instead, the scene turns back towards Meursault's own sensory impressions. His casual thought about his mother's past is quickly conquered by the "oppressive," all-powering heat of the sun, which reminds him and us that the natural world cares little for our comfort and well-being – nor does it care to pay respect on the occasion of a human tragedy like death.

Book 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

Once we were dressed, she seemed very surprised to see I was wearing a black tie and asked me if I was in mourning. I told her Maman had died. She wanted to know how long ago, so I said, "Yesterday." She gave a little start but didn't say anything. I felt like telling her it wasn't my fault, but I stopped myself because I remembered that I'd already said that to my boss. It didn't mean anything. Besides, you always feel a little guilty.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), Marie Cordona, Madame Meursault
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Meursault has happened to run into a woman he used to have a relationship with, on a day that happens to be the day after his mother died. For Meursault, that sequence means little if anything – his stance towards or interaction with life prevents him from assigning any significance to a particular sequence of events. Nor does his mother's death imply, for him, that he should act a certain way or inhibit himself in a certain way. The only way Meursault can think to make his mother's death signify something would be for it to have been "his fault" – an attitude that, of course, has everything to do with himself and nothing to do with Maman, or with his relationship with her. 

Meursault is moving through these days without seeming to make active choices at all – though it is, of course, a choice for him to spend time with Marie, the way he describes these events suggests that they take place of their own accord. Marie doesn't share Meursault's passive, absurdist relationship towards the world, so for her it is shocking for him to be acting romantically towards her when his mother has just died. Meursault's guilt, if it exists at all, seems to be related to this gap between Marie's expectations and his reality, more than it has to do with his own lack of grief at his mother's death.

…I glanced at the mirror and saw a corner of my table with my alcohol lamp next to some pieces of bread.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker)
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

Through Meursault's conversation with the priest, we have been introduced to his lack of religious conviction, even as we know that he is familiar with at least the rites of Christianity. As a result, we can see in this scene traces of a holy, sacred ritual, that of communion with wine and bread on an altar.

However, the fact that Meursault sees this scene through a mirror gives us the first hint that this passage is not meant to be interpreted as spiritually significant. If anything, the presence of an alcohol lamp and bread on a table are an ironic counterpoint to the meaning-infused nature of objects at a Christian mass. Here, instead, the objects are totally devoid of significance. Meursault notices them nonetheless, because sensory material experience is the major framework through which he moves through the world; and yet nothing he notices gains any greater meaning as a result.

Book 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

…[Marie] asked me if I loved her. I told her it didn't mean anything but that I didn't think so. She looked sad.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), Marie Cordona
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Meursault obviously is attracted to Marie, and he often finds her company pleasant. But for him, these elements don't come near to love – an emotion which itself, in his point of view, means nothing, since none of life's emotions can mean anything. On the one hand, then, Meursault's statement reflects his attitude towards life and towards the world. He can't imagine feeling anything that strongly, since he is too passive, and he doesn't even believe in such a strong feeling in the first place. 

In addition, however, Meursault is indifferent towards the feelings of others, in this case Marie, who may not share this same philosophy. Marie obviously does believe in love, and does want Meursault to love her. But Meursault refuses to reassure her or to try to explain himself, based on his absurdist attitude. Relationships for him are casual, transient unions that involve no responsibilities or commitments, especially ones that might make him say something he didn't believe.

Book 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

Then [my boss] asked me if I wasn't interested in a change of life. I said that people never change their lives, that in any case one life was as good as another and that I wasn't dissatisfied with mine here at all. He looked upset and told me that I never gave him a straight answer, that I had no ambition, and that that was disastrous in business. So I went back to work. I would rather not have upset him, but I couldn't see any reason to change my life. Looking back on it, I wasn't unhappy. When I was a student, I had lots of ambitions like that. But when I had to give up my studies I learned very quickly that none of it really mattered.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), The Boss
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

Meursault's boss has given him the opportunity to transfer to Paris, but Meursault is entirely indifferent to this opportunity. The boss can't understand this: he believes that it is entirely natural to want to progress economically or socially, or even to make a change, to invite new experiences and to fulfill one's own, individual ambitions. Society is set up to value ambition and striving, and to reward those who succeed according to these values, but Meursault doesn't share any of them – making it difficult for Meursault's boss to understand him.

Meursault, in turn, not only doesn't want to make a life change: he doesn't believe that such shifts ever really change anything, since he might as well be in one place or another, doing one job or another. This attitude of indifference is not exactly the same thing as lacking ambition, which is the only way his boss can comprehend it. Rather, it is located outside society's entire framework of how one should live. Interestingly, this passage suggests that Meursault didn't always feel this way – he was ambitious once, as a student, like many others. It seems that it was a certain event in his life, having to give up his studies, that prompted him to consider life as meaningless and all choices as interchangeable.

That evening, Marie came by to see me and asked me if I wanted to marry her. I said it didn't make any difference to me and that we could if she wanted to. Then she wanted to know if I loved her. I answered the same way I had the last time, that it didn't mean anything but that I probably didn't love her. "So why marry me, then?" she said. I explained to her that it didn't really matter and that if she wanted to, we could get married. Besides, she was the one who was doing the asking and all I was saying was yes. Then she pointed out that marriage was a serious thing. I said, "No"...She just wanted to know if I would have accepted the same proposal from another woman, with whom I was involved in the same way. I said, "Sure."

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), Marie Cordona (speaker)
Page Number: 41-42
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is quite unlike a typical scene of a marriage proposal. Meursault comes across as cold, while Marie seems quietly distraught even as she is intent on figuring out exactly how Meursault feels about her. As a result of her questions, we learn that, once again, Meursault both doesn't love Marie and doesn't think love really exists, nor that it would be worth pursuing if it did. At the same time, he has no feelings against Marie – he does enjoy spending time with her – and with such a lack of animosity, he considers it perfectly acceptable for them to get married. While Marie considers marriage as an important step, as a declaration of love and commitment, Meursault thinks of it as an act of convenience, which doesn't mean anything one way or another, but which he'll take part in should Marie really want to. 

Meursault also shows great coldness in suggesting to Marie that she means nothing to him as a unique individual: she could be replaced with any woman at all, and he would feel the same way (even if the way he feels is indifferent and passive). While this interchangeability is part of Meursault's general belief in the inconsequential, random nature of events, its logical conclusion when applied to human beings proves difficult for Marie to bear.

Book 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

The sun was the same as it had been the day I'd buried Maman, and like then, my forehead especially was hurting me, all the veins in it throbbing under the skin. It was this burning, which I couldn't stand anymore, that made me move forward. I knew that it was stupid, that I wouldn't get the sun off me by stepping forward. But I took a step, one step, forward.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), Madame Meursault
Related Symbols: Heat, Glare (shimmer, glisten, dazzle)
Page Number: 58-59
Explanation and Analysis:

Usually, Meursault moves through life passively, as if taking step after step without his own volition, driven by nothing other than the vicissitudes of existence. Here, at least, there is one major source of his actions: the physically excruciating experience of heat and glare – the "burning" that propels him forwards, even though he knows it won't do anything. Meursault explicitly links this feeling of overwhelming heat to the day of Maman's funeral. In both cases, a scene that one could consider as important because of other people, because of interpersonal relationships, instead becomes a reminder of the overwhelming power of physical reality to bend humans to its will. 

It seemed to me as if the sky split open from one end to the other to rain down fire. My whole being tensed and I squeezed my hand around the revolver. The trigger gave; I felt the smooth underside of the butt; and there, in that noise, sharp and deafening at the same time, is where it all started. I shook off the sweat and the sun. I knew that I had shattered the harmony of the day, the exceptional silence of a beach where I'd been happy. Then I fired four more times at the motionless body where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace. And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker)
Related Symbols: Glare (shimmer, glisten, dazzle)
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

Even after reading this passage again and again, the reader may not have any better sense of why exactly Meursault kills the "Arab" on the beach. He doesn't feel threatened, nor does he seem to want to defend Raymond or the other women. Meursault's reasoning once again takes place outside the societal standards and norms by which we seek to understand and to judge human activity. All the more striking, then, that what we do have is a huge amount of concrete details and sensory description. Meursault is tense, sweaty, and hot, a feeling that he violently shakes off with the noise of the revolver's shot. 

Although we have no sense of why Meursault shoots, at least according to our own expectations of why people kill, Meursault does not at all claim that he was outside himself, unaware of what he was doing – indeed, it is precisely the opposite. He knows not only that he is committing murder, but also that he is shattering an idyllic moment – a change that he experiences, indeed, as a physical "knock." This tense, climactic moment seems to contradict Meursault's feeling that all life choices are indifferent and interchangeable, even if the man he shoots is indeed, in his eyes, random and interchangeable. Or else, perhaps, this is the extreme but logical conclusion of considering absolutely everything, even life and death, as ultimately interchangeable.

Book 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

The investigators had learned that I had "shown insensitivity" the day of Maman's funeral. "You understand," my lawyer said, "it's a little embarrassing for me to have to ask you this. But it's very important. And it will be a strong argument for the prosecution if I can't come up with some answers." He wanted me to help him. He asked if I had felt any sadness that day. The question caught me by surprise and it seemed to me that I would have been very embarrassed if I'd had to ask it. Nevertheless I answered that I had pretty much lost the habit of analyzing myself and that it was hard for me to tell him what he wanted to know. I probably did love Maman, but that didn't mean anything…I explained to him…that my nature was such that my physical needs often got in the way of my feelings.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), The Defense Lawyer (speaker), Madame Meursault
Page Number: 64-65
Explanation and Analysis:

While Meursault's lawyer seems committed to helping him in his defense against the prosecution, Meursault seems indifferent about these efforts. He also is surprised by the way in which the investigator brings up past events in the hope of explaining Meursault's emotions and the relationship of his emotions to his behavior. But while the investigator is genuinely confused about Meursault's lack of emotions in a situation that would be highly affecting to most people, Meursault can't bring himself to even recognize this confusion. He doesn't impede the lawyer's questions or refuse to help him, but he also doesn't care that he can't answer these questions.

He asked me if I could say that that day I had held back my natural feelings. I said, "No, because it's not true." He gave me a strange look, as if he found me slightly disgusting…I pointed out to him that none of this had anything to do with my case, but all he said was that it was obvious I had never had any dealings with the law.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), The Defense Lawyer
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

Like Marie, the defense lawyer – even though he may be on Meursault's side – finds his behavior not only strange but repellent, wildly different as it is from any "normal" person's actions. Here, the lawyer is disturbed that Meursault won't admit to having had "natural feelings" – that is, feelings of grief and sorrow that for some reason he may have held back. The lawyer's disgust seems to indicate that he finds such lack of feelings to be inhuman.

At the same time, the lawyer finds it frustrating that Meursault won't even agree to speak or act as if he felt a certain way. The lawyer knows that in a legal case, the motivations of the suspect will be crucial for whether or not the jury gains sympathy for him. Meursault, however, seems to believe that the law will be indifferent to emotion or other issues. He thinks the law will care only about facts, about what happened. What's interesting here is that Meursault's idea of the law seems to be an idealistic vision of the law, that it is something based on action and evidence rather than tangentially connected appearances of how someone "felt." This interaction is just the first hint of how the law will really work, how it's findings are based on human emotions rather than some hard framework of pure evidence.

But he cut me off and urged me one last time, drawing himself up to his full height and asking me if I believed in God. I said no. He sat down indignantly. He said it was impossible; all men believed in God, even those who turn their backs on him. That was his belief, and if he were ever to doubt it, his life would become meaningless. "Do you want my life to be meaningless?" he shouted. As far as I could see, it didn't have anything to do with me, and I told him so. But from across the table he had already thrust the crucifix in my face and was screaming irrationally…

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), The Examining Magistrate (speaker)
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

As the magistrate tries to convince Meursault to believe in God – really, to agree to act according to existing beliefs and customs in society – it becomes increasingly clear that Meursault's own belief system (or lack thereof) is a threat to society itself. The magistrate grows shockingly frantic and upset here: Meursault's indifferent reaction makes the magistrate feel like he himself is being threatened, that the meaning he draws from his own life is dangerously close to collapsing. Ironically, the magistrate's attempt to convert Meursault ends up becoming a question of his own faith. 

Meursault, as usual, is unable to see how different people's belief systems can have anything to do with those of others, or how one person's attitude and actions might affect another. His absolute passivity in the face of his own potential conviction and death is not only incomprehensible to others, but maddeningly so. Even though it is Meursault whose beliefs are strange and confusing, however, it is the magistrate who is made to look absurd here, as Meursault's own refusal to submit to social codes and beliefs suggests just how fragile and possibly unjustifiable those codes may be. 

Book 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

There were others worse off than me. Anyway, it was one of Maman's ideas…that after a while you could get used to anything.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), Madame Meursault
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

One of Meursault's most distinctive qualities, of course, is his indifferent attitude towards whatever happens to him, and his belief that even when he acts dramatically – shooting a man, for instance – he is convinced that he is simply moving through life without any agency of his own. Here, in an instance of what in another book might count as tragic irony, Meursault twists his mother's "idea" into something she probably would never have agreed with. For Maman, the idea that one can get used to anything allowed her to surmount obstacles, to permit her to carry on even in difficult, unpleasant situations. 

That Meursault thinks of his mother's idea here suggests that his philosophy of life can, in fact, be traced back towards his own individual experiences. However, he now takes the idea to mean that it doesn't matter what one does or how one acts, since one person's experience and situation is indistinguishable from another. Meursault thus reinterprets a message meant to encourage and reassure into one that stands for his own brand of passive indifference towards the world.

Of course I had read that eventually you wind up losing track of time in prison. But it hadn't meant much to me when I'd read it. I hadn't understood how days could be both long and short at the same time: long to live through, maybe, but so drawn out that they ended up flowing into one another. They lost their names. Only the words "yesterday" and "tomorrow" still had any meaning for me.
One day when the guard told me that I'd been in for five months, I believed it, but I didn't understand it. For me it was one and the same unending day that was unfolding in my cell and the same thing I was trying to do.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker)
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

In some ways, this passage suggests that prison, for Meursault, becomes an extreme opportunity to test out his theories on the lack of meaning in life in general. It is particularly evident how one day is indistinguishable from another, how nothing is more meaningful than anything else, when Meursault indeed is restricted to a cell with little to do and less to think about.

The "same unending day" that unfolds in his cell is another way to think about Meursault's life, or at least his life in the way he imagines it. The boundaries that divide up endless time – "yesterday" and "tomorrow" – are arbitrary, able to be understood only in an abstract way. As he lives out his months in prison, then, Meursault is only further convinced that there is no other way to interpret his own experience than the absurdist view he subscribes to.

Book 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

But were their two speeches so different after all? My lawyer raised his arms and pleaded guilty, but with an explanation. The prosecutor waved his hands and proclaimed my guilt, but without an explanation…In a way, they seemed to be arguing the case as if it had nothing to do with me…There were times when I felt like breaking in on all of them and saying, "Wait a minute! Who's the accused here? Being the accused counts for something. And I have something to say!" But on second thought, I didn't have anything to say.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), The Prosecutor, The Defense Lawyer
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

Meursault is watching and listening with detached, even bemused interest, as the lawyers on both side of the case attempt to argue their case. While the prosecutor condemns the killing as a cold-blooded crime, Meursault's lawyer attempts to explain it and shed light on it. Both lawyers efforts involve emphasizing the meaning inherent to the crime. Meursault, of course, would object to both characterizations, since for him the murder meant and means absolutely nothing. 

In this passage, Meursault also has the strange feeling that he has had before, that he is witnessing life and experience unfold before him without playing any role in it himself. Here, however, what is unfolding before him actually has very much to do with himself and his own life. And yet, after remarking on the strangeness of this closeness, Meursault realizes that he nonetheless has no more expertise on or interest in the matter than he would if the lawyers were arguing about a stranger. 

[The prosecutor] said that he had peered into [my soul] and that he had found nothing, gentlemen of the jury. He said the truth was that I didn't have a soul and that nothing human, not one of the moral principles that govern men's hearts, was within my reach. "Of course," he added, "we cannot blame him for this. We cannot complain that he lacks what it was not in his power to acquire. But here in this court the wholly negative virtue of tolerance must give way to the sterner but loftier virtue of justice. Especially when the emptiness of a man's heart becomes, as we find it has in this man, an abyss threatening to swallow up society.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), The Prosecutor (speaker)
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, the prosecutor reaches new, dazzling rhetorical heights as he attempts to convince the jury of the necessity of the death penalty. In doing so, he draws on anything he can that might move the audience or prove rhetorically powerful. He alludes to divine justice, for instance, in addition to basic legal justice, and his references to man's empty heart and soul suggests that he is making a moral case as well.

Even as we witness Meursault's indifference throughout the trial, we are also meant to see the weaknesses, the lack of systematic or rational thought, on the side of the prosecutor. Meursault's own commitment to the meaninglessness and absurdity of life may be incomprehensible to society, but at least it is consistent. Of course, the prosecutor is mainly focused on doing whatever he can to gain a conviction – but even this pragmatic use of logic to make a case contrasts to Meursault's passivity in a way that suggests that the prosecutor's belief system is not necessarily superior to others.

Book 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

…the guillotine is on the same level as the man approaching it. He walks up to it the way you walk up to another person. That bothered me too. Mounting the scaffold, going right up into the sky, was something imagination could hold on to. Whereas…the machine destroyed everything: you were killed discreetly, with a little shame and with great precision.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker)
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Meursault's death sentence has strengthened his desire for physical (even if not emotional or spiritual) experience, he continues to consider the future that awaits him in a distanced, detached way, as a viewer observing a painting, for instance. As he constructs an artistic vision of his impending death, he is bothered mainly by the aesthetic problems that arise from things like the fact that a man and guillotine are located on the same level, rather than the condemned being able to walk slowly up to a scaffold. Meursault might not assign any meaning to his life, but he is able to fixate on the differences in the way his life might end precisely because they have so much to do with the sensory way he will experience this end.

But everybody knows life isn't worth living. Deep down I knew perfectly well that it doesn't much matter whether you die at thirty or at seventy, since in either case other men and women will naturally go on living – and for thousands of years …At that point, what would disturb my train of thought was the terrifying leap I would feel my heart take at the idea of having twenty more years of life ahead of me. But I simply had to stifle it by imagining what I'd be thinking in twenty years when it would all come down to the same thing anyway… Therefore (and the difficult thing was not to lose sight of all the reasoning that went into this "therefore"), I had to accept the rejection of my appeal.
Then and only then would I have the right…to consider the alternative hypothesis: I was pardoned…It would take all my strength to quiet my heart, to be rational. In order to make my resignation to the first hypothesis more plausible, I had to be level-headed about this one as well.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker)
Page Number: 114-115
Explanation and Analysis:

Earlier in the novel, Meursault has had little trouble considering other people's life and death, as well as his own, coolly and apparently objectively: he has never mustered feelings of care, nor does he imagine that he should muster such feelings. Now, though, Meursault's indifference is not his natural state but a philosophical attitude that he has to strive to return to. His heart leaps when he thinks of being able to live twenty years longer, even though he knows it makes little difference, and he'll have to die anyway. 

Interestingly, this change does not make Meursault realize the value of life or convince himself that he has been wrong all along about the meaninglessness of existence. Instead, it simply shows how even someone as "level-headed" and rational as Meursault can be carried away by his own, (importantly) physical feelings – his body's desire to keep on living – and temporarily forget what the truth of existence really is. To combat what he sees as a weakness, Meursault sternly orders himself to follow the train of logic that he has always embraced, and to once again coldly consider all the options available to him as indifferent and interchangeable.

"Do you really love this earth as much as all that?" [the chaplain] murmured. I didn't answer.
…"No, I refuse to believe you! I know that at one time or another you've wished for another life." I said of course I had, but it didn't mean any more than wishing to be rich, to be able to swim faster, or to have a more nicely shaped mouth…[he] wanted to know how I pictured this other life. Then I shouted at him, "One where I could remember this life!"…He tried to change the subject by asking me why I was calling him 'monsieur' and not 'father.' That got me mad, and I told him he wasn't my father.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), The Chaplain (speaker)
Page Number: 119-120
Explanation and Analysis:

Once again, a chaplain speaks with Meursault and tries to convince him that the way he sees life is incorrect and morally wrong. This chaplain, rather than growing heated like the other one, tries to use Meursault's own tools of reason as he argues that Meursault, too, must desire another life beyond the earthly one – a life and a reality that would make this life meaningful. But Meursault brushes such thoughts aside, arguing that even if he did want another life, this desire is just like any other material, physical desire, rather than being a divine or transcendent one. 

As the chaplain continues to try to convince Meursault of the "other life," Meursault grows frustrated, since he cannot get the chaplain to see that for him, this meaningless, indifferent life is all that there is. He does think this world is "better" because there's the possibility for physical pleasure in it, but this physical experience doesn't, for Meursault, make the earthly world meaningful. He underlines his point even further by calling the chaplain "monsieur" or "Mr." Calling him "Father" would mean agreeing to use Christian terms that presume the existence of a divine Father, God, and this is entirely against Meursault's own philosophy.

[The chaplain] seemed so certain about everything, didn't he? And yet none of his certainties was worth one hair of a woman's head.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), The Chaplain
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

As the chaplain continues to talk to Meursault, the latter grows increasingly frustrated and bitter about the chaplain's presumption to know what the meaning of life is, and to know exactly what Meursault should believe and how he should act. The question that Meursault poses here is rhetorical and ironic: Meursault contrasts the chaplain's confidence in his own knowledge to his, Meursault's, equal confidence that the chaplain knows nothing. By comparing the chaplain's certainties to a woman's hair, Meursault underlines several major assumptions of his own. In one sense, the hairs on a woman's head are interchangeable, each one an arbitrary example – just as the "certainties" of the chaplain are no more than empty, arbitrary words.

But by choosing this example, in particular, Meursault again emphasizes the supremacy of physical, sensorial experience in his understanding of how the world works: as he continues to yearn for Marie's physical presence, the reality of her body is far more real to him than anything the chaplain can tell him.

Throughout the whole absurd life I'd lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in my future, across years that were still to come, and as it passed, this wind leveled whatever was offered to me at the time, in years no more real than the ones I was living. What did other people's deaths or a mother's love matter to me; what did his God or the lives people choose or the fate they think they elect matter to me when we're all elected by the same fate, me and billions of privileged people like him who also called themselves my brother?...Everybody was privileged…The others would all be condemned one day. And he would be condemned, too.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker)
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

At this climactic moment, Meursault does not exactly have an epiphany – that is, a realization that will fundamentally change his actions or change the way he sees the world. Indeed, the "absurd life" he's lived until now is only strengthened in this passage. What is different, of course, is the way in which Meursault expresses his views. Whereas beforehand, his commitment to the indifference and meaninglessness of life was expressed through an indifferent attitude, now he finds himself forced to take a stand, to openly and explicitly embrace these views and to champion them as correct. 

Indeed, indifference becomes far more than a day-to-day attitude here. Meursault argues that everyone is subject to the universe's ultimate indifference to us all. What makes us privileged, he argues, is simply the fact that we are alive today. And this same fact is also what condemns us, not only to die, but also to live in the knowledge that our existence means nothing. Meursault's refusal to care about other people's death, another's love towards him, is only the logical continuation of the larger meaninglessness defining all our lives. In a way, ironically, meaninglessness itself becomes the way by which Meursault makes meaning out of the world. Throughout the novel, then, his philosophy towards life has struggled to maintain its rebellious, anti-meaning approach, without this attitude becoming yet another, inevitably meaningful philosophy of its own.

As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself – so like a brother, really – I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker)
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

Bolstered by the dramatic outburst that he made to the chaplain, Meursault now has the peace and quiet to be able to think through what his embrace of the absurd, of the world's indifference, implies for the way he will act from now on. Instead of resentfully mirroring the world's indifference with his own, he "opens" himself to this indifference.

In a way, this passage might remind one of the most optimistic lines of the world's religious texts, which encourage people to feel happy at the knowledge of a greater meaning. Meursault's feeling is different – indeed, his happiness comes from the very fact of hopelessness that he knows to be the real nature of the world. Knowing that he is looking clear-eyed into the indifferent universe, and enjoying the mere physical, sensory experience of inhabiting it, Meursault doesn't transcend the meaninglessness of the world, but rather learns to live within it.

Get the entire The Stranger LitChart as a printable PDF.
The stranger.pdf.medium

Meursault Character Timeline in The Stranger

The timeline below shows where the character Meursault appears in The Stranger. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1, Chapter 1
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
Meursault receives a telegram from the old person's home in Marengo, outside Algiers, informing him that... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
Meursault takes the bus to the home and meets with the director, who wears a Legion... (full context)
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
In the mortuary, Meursault surprises the caretaker by declining his offer to open the casket (to show Meursault his... (full context)
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
Still in the mortuary, Meursault accepts the caretaker's offer of coffee and they smoke cigarettes. Under bright electric light, Meursault,... (full context)
Relationships Theme Icon
Next morning, Meursault again declines the director's offer to show him his mother. The director explains that, for... (full context)
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
The funeral director assembles pallbearers and prompts the priest to lead Meursault, the director, Thomas Pérez, and another nurse in the two-kilometer procession to the church. The... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 2
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
The next morning is Saturday and Meursault takes the streetcar to the public beach where he runs into Marie Cordona, a former... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
When they get dressed after swimming, Marie is startled to see that Meursault is wearing a mourning tie and further shocked to hear his mother died the day... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
Meursault wakes alone on Sunday morning, bothered because he "hates Sundays." He sleeps till noon, smokes,... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
As he goes to bed, Meursault notices the reflection in his mirror of "a corner of my table with my alcohol... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 3
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Before Monday's lunch break at the office, Meursault enjoys washing his hands, as always. He recalls mentioning to his boss once how unpleasant... (full context)
Relationships Theme Icon
Home in the evening, Meursault runs into his scabby old neighbor, Salamano, and his scabby, hairless dog. The two look... (full context)
Relationships Theme Icon
Another neighbor, Raymond Sintès, appears and invites Meursault to dinner. Though Raymond is unpopular with others and has a reputation for living "off... (full context)
Relationships Theme Icon
...revenge on his mistress, even though he still has "sexual feelings for her." He asks Meursault's opinion of the situation, and Meursault, now thoroughly drunk, agrees she must be cheating on... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 4
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
The next Saturday Marie comes over as planned wearing a dress that makes Meursault want her more than ever. They go to another beach and then Marie spends the... (full context)
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
They hear a woman screaming and being beaten in Raymond's apartment. When Marie asks Meursault to get the police, Meursault tells her he doesn't like policeman. Another neighbor gets one,... (full context)
Relationships Theme Icon
Later, Raymond tells Meursault he knows all about cops and that the cop can't change the fact that his... (full context)
Relationships Theme Icon
Upon returning to his building, Meursault runs into a flustered Salamano, distraught at the loss of his dog and alternately fretting... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 5
Relationships Theme Icon
Raymond calls Meursault at the office and tells him his friend has invited Meursault to his beach house... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Soon after, Meursault's boss offers Meursault an opportunity to transfer to a position in Paris. When Meursault is... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
That evening, Marie asks Meursault if he wants to marry her. He says it makes no difference to him and... (full context)
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Marie has to go so Meursault eats alone at Céleste's. "A strange little woman" enters and asks to sit with Meursault,... (full context)
Relationships Theme Icon
Back at home, Salamano tells Meursault that his dog is truly lost or dead because it isn't at the pound. Meursault... (full context)
Relationships Theme Icon
Meursault apologizes about the dog and Salamano thanks him, saying Mme Meursault had been fond of... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 6
Relationships Theme Icon
Sunday morning, Meursault, Marie, and Raymond set out for the beach as planned. Meursault notes that he testified... (full context)
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
After a wine-heavy lunch, Meursault, Raymond, and Masson take a walk on the beach. In the midday heat, "the glare... (full context)
Relationships Theme Icon
...stop walking and Raymond goes up to the one he recognizes and says something that Meursault can't make out. Raymond strikes the man. Masson strikes the other Arab man, who falls... (full context)
Relationships Theme Icon
...being bandaged, Raymond insists on going back down to the beach, carrying a concealed gun. Meursault follows. They walk in silence to the far end of the beach where they find... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Raymond climbs the steps up off the beach and goes back to the bungalow. Meursault, though, stands at the base of the steps, head ringing in the intense heat, and... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
At the spring, Meursault is "a little surprised" to see that the Arab man who is Raymond's enemy has... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 1
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
Book Two opens on Meursault in prison, calmly and agreeably observing the judicial procedures unfolding around him. Thinking his case... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Soon after, Meursault is taken to the examining magistrate who, after questioning, explains that Meursault "interested him," that... (full context)
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
Meursault is unwavering and the magistrate tires, claiming never to have seen a criminal with "a... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 2
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
Meursault describes his early days in prison. He at first does not feel himself to be... (full context)
Relationships Theme Icon
Marie waits at the bars even when Meursault has to walk back to his cell. Soon after, she writes to say she isn't... (full context)
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Meursault describes acclimating to prison. At first "the hardest thing was that my thoughts were still... (full context)
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
After the first few months, Meursault's "only thoughts were those of a prisoner." He thinks he would "have gotten used to... (full context)
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
Meursault repeatedly reads an article he found describing a man who got rich and returns to... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
Time loses meaning for Meursault and the days "lost their names. Only the words 'yesterday' and 'tomorrow' still had any... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 3
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
A year passes and Meursault's trial date arrives. He approaches it with unanxious interest, having never "had the chance" to... (full context)
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
After initial questioning on the crime, the presiding judge begins to question Meursault's choice to put Maman in a home, whether it had been "hard." Meursault says no... (full context)
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
...the court reconvenes and the prosecutor calls witnesses. The director and caretaker each attest to Meursault's "calm" at Maman's funeral, how he'd been dry-eyed, didn't want to see her in her... (full context)
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
When the prosecutor acts triumphant in response to the director's testimony, Meursault thinks, "for the first time in years I had this stupid urge to cry, because... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
During cross-examining, Meursault's lawyer reveals that the caretaker had smoked and drunk coffee with Meursault, and that Thomas... (full context)
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
The defense calls witnesses: Céleste, Marie, Masson, Salamano, and Raymond. Céleste calls Meursault "'a friend'" and has prepared a long-winded defense, blaming the crime on "'bad luck'" but... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
After Marie is questioned by Meursault's lawyer, the prosecutor questions Marie. He gets her to describe her date with Meursault the... (full context)
Relationships Theme Icon
Masson's and Salamano's subsequent testimony on Meursault's honesty and kindness is largely ignored. The prosecutor exposes Raymond as a pimp, cites Meursault's... (full context)
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
Meursault's lawyer protests "'is my client on trial for burying his mother or for killing a... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
As he's driven back to prison, Meursault can hear from the van "the familiar sounds of a town I loved" (newspaper vendors... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 4
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
As the trial continues the next day, Meursault reflects that "it's always interesting" to listen to people discuss you, even on trial, and,... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
The prosecutor attempts to show that Meursault's crime was "premeditated," relying on "the blinding clarity of the facts, and…the dim light cast... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
The prosecutor talks about Meursault's soul, or lack thereof. He says it isn't Meursault's own fault he has no soul,... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Given a chance to add onto the prosecutor's speech, Meursault, dizzy in the heat, claims he'd "never intended to kill the Arab," then blunders on,... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Meursault's lawyer gives his summation, speaking in the first person as if he were Meursault. Meursault... (full context)
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
The jury files out to determine the verdict. Meursault's lawyer is confident that Meursault won't be sentenced to death. After forty-five minutes, the jury... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 5
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Now back in prison, Meursault has three times refused a visit from the chaplain. Meursault is focused only on "escaping... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
In spite of Meursault's "willingness to understand, I just couldn't accept such arrogant certainty." He finds the certainty of... (full context)
Relationships Theme Icon
Meursault recalls the only story he knows about his father: having reluctantly gone to see an... (full context)
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Meursault states that the problem with the guillotine is that "you had no chance at all,"... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Meursault is preoccupied by thoughts of dawn (when those to be executed that day are brought... (full context)
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
One evening, Meursault is thinking about Marie, who has long since stopped writing letters to him. He thinks... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
...he's thinking, the chaplain arrives to try to talk to him about God, even though Meursault insists he doesn't believe in Him, doesn't need help, and doesn't have time for what... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Meursault suddenly snaps and starts yelling, "cries of anger and cries of joy." He shouts that... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
Exhausted after the chaplain leaves, Meursault falls asleep and, waking, smells and hears the summer night. He feels full of peace.... (full context)