Meursault, the protagonist, works in a shipping office in Algiers. He is an atheist and a nihilist. Because of these views, he does not share the same feelings and moral values as others in his society. For example, he does not feel sorrow at his mother's funeral. In addition, Meursault is alienated, or isolated and estranged, from society. He does not talk much and when he does, his comments are often brief. In addition, Meursault is passively influenced by the physical world. He enjoys pleasant sensations and feels annoyed and oppressed by unpleasant sensations. Indeed, while holding a gun, he becomes so oppressed by the hot sun that he shoots the Arab.
Marie Cardona is a lively, fun-loving woman who often laughs, and she allows herself to be emotionally vulnerable. Marie falls in love with Meursault and wants to marry him. Meursault does not think he loves Marie but thinks of no reason not to marry her. Marie has many conventional feelings; she values companionship, marriage, and loyalty.
Raymond Sintés claims he is a "warehouse guard," but it is rumored that he is actually a pimp. He has a macho demeanor, passionate emotions, and "tough-guy" values. Raymond assumes Meursault sympathizes with him and wants to be a friend. In reality, Meursault has no deep feelings for Raymond and agrees to be his friend because he has no reason to reject the idea. Raymond serves as the driving force for Meursault's involvement with a group of antagonistic Arabs.
Maman's death impels the action of the story, particularly when her son, Meursault, is informed of her death and attends the funeral. Although Meursault does not talk much about his mother, the accounts of other characters suggest that she shares Meursault's ability for adaptation. Additionally, Meursault's mother represents the social value placed on motherhood. Meursault is tried and judged based on his detached behavior at his mother's funeral and his lack of emotional feelings toward her, which, according to the prosecuting lawyer, symbolically caused her death.
The examining magistrate holds traditional Christian values. In questioning Meursault, the magistrate realizes that Meursault does not share these values and is appalled. The examining magistrate finds it impossible to accept that Meursault does not believe in God, and the magistrate tries to convince Meursault of his true religious beliefs. The magistrate's actions clearly show that the legal authorities are more troubled by Meursault's atheistic views than by the death of the Arab.
The prosecutor's case against Meursault is based on Meursault's behavior regarding the death of his mother. Because Meursault did not act in the expected manner, the prosecutor claims that Meursault is a monster without a soul and therefore a threat to society. The prosecutor, thus, shifts the crime from the killing of the Arab to a crime against society. Also, the prosecutor escalates the crime by saying Meursault symbolically killed his mother, which is worse than the murder of the Arab. On the strength of the prosecutor's speech, the jury condemns Meursault to death.
The chaplain holds traditional Christian views. Before Meursault's execution, the chaplain makes a final attempt to persuade Meursault to accept God and His divine mercy. By enraging Meursault, the chaplain serves as a catalyst for the protagonist's final realization. The chaplain causes Meursault to take assertive action by rebelling against the establishment and reaffirming his own view that life is meaningless.