Throughout the novel, Meursault remains unable to experience deep, complex relationships to the people in his life. All of his relationships – from the filial relationship he had with his mother to his friendship with Raymond to his romantic relationship with Marie – are passionless, determined much more by incidental, superficial impressions than by deep-felt emotional bonds. His casual attitude towards these relationships enables him to treat the people in his life according to his own desires without feeling any sense of duty or loyalty towards them. Once he no longer has anything to talk with his mother about, he sends her off to an old people's home and is puzzled to hear his neighbors disapprove of the decision. At his mother's vigil, he drinks coffee and smokes as usual, not feeling obliged to act differently out of respect.
Though fond of Marie, Meursault does not feel bound to her as a unique individual and freely admits he isn't in love with her. Though he helps Raymond by writing the letter to his mistress and by testifying to her infidelity at the police station, Meursault does not feel these actions to be any sort of burden on himself and performs them in a spirit of indifference. Ironically, Meursault's murder could be considered a tremendous sacrifice made for a friend's wellbeing (it is Raymond, after all, who has a problem with the Arab, not Meursault). Yet the Arab's connection to Raymond is, to Meursault's mind, entirely incidental and he shoots the Arab without even thinking of Raymond.
Meursault's cool detachment from relationships is juxtaposed by several passionate bonds between other characters, including the tender warmth between Thomas Pérez and Madame Meursault, the volatile resentment between Raymond and his mistress, and the excruciating love/hate relationship between Salamano and his dog. Though Meursault remains just as unattached to others at novel's end as he was at the start, he glimpses the possibility of a deeper connection to others several times in Book II. The first occurs after Céleste's testimony on the witness stand when Meursault feels for "the first time in my life I…wanted to kiss a man." The second occurs is in the final chapter when Meursault realizes "why at the end of her life [Maman] had taken a 'fiancé.'" In the novel's last sentence, Meursault sees even his estrangement from society as capable of giving companionship, thinking that "to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.
Relationships Quotes in The Stranger
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.
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.
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.
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.
…[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.
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."
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.
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.
"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.