The Stranger

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Stranger, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Relationships Theme Icon

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 ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Relationships appears in each chapter of The Stranger. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Relationships Quotes in The Stranger

Below you will find the important quotes in The Stranger related to the theme of Relationships.
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.

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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.

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

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 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.

Book 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

"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.