Literature Study GuidesThe StrangerPart 1 Chapter 3 Summary

The Stranger | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Stranger | Part 1, Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

Meursault works in his office and takes a lunch break, during which he and co-worker Emmanuel run after a truck and jump into the back. They eat lunch at Céleste's restaurant. On his way up the stairs to his apartment after work that evening, Meursault meets a neighbor named Salamano and his old dog. The dog has scabs covering its skin from a disease, and Salamano also has scabs on his face. The dog and the man hate each other. Salamano often beats his dog and swears at it. On the stairs, Meursault matter-of-factly greets Salamano, who curses at the dog.

Another neighbor named Raymond Sintés approaches Meursault. Rumor has it that Raymond "lives off women," but he claims that he works as a "warehouse guard." He has a macho, tough-guy attitude. Raymond invites Meursault to his room to eat blood sausage and drink wine. As they eat, Raymond claims that his mistress is cheating on him. Because of this disloyalty, he has already beaten her up "till she bled." Meursault listens calmly. Raymond is not satisfied and wants to punish her more. He concocts a plan in which he will send his mistress a letter that will "make her sorry for what she's done." Then, when she comes to his apartment, he will go to bed with her and, "right at the last minute," spit in her face and throw her out. Meursault does not respond. Raymond asks Meursault whether he will write the letter. Meursault agrees to write it immediately. When Raymond mentions the mistress's name, Meursault realizes that she is of Moorish descent. (The Muslim Moors, originally from northwest Africa, ruled Spain from the 700s until nearly 1500.)

Meursault writes the letter in a way that pleases Raymond, because he "didn't have any reason not to please him." Raymond likes the letter and says that he and Meursault are now pals. Meursault feels he has no reason not to be Raymond's friend. They finish the wine, and Raymond tells Meursault not to let his mother's death get to him. At first Meursault does not comprehend Raymond's reference, but then he understands and agrees. They say goodbye.

Analysis

Camus further develops the theme of the meaningless life by showing how people have the tendency to impose meaning on events. Raymond interprets Meursault's behavior as having a meaning—as showing Meursalt's sympathy toward him—that it does not. Similarly, Raymond views Meursault as a close friend, yet theirs is a relationship that is meaningless to Meursault. Dramatic irony occurs because the reader is aware that Raymond's assumptions are totally wrong.

Salamano and Raymond serve as foils to Meursault as Camus further develops the theme of detachment. Salamano is in a symbiotic relationship with his dog that is so strong they have begun to "look as if they belong to the same species." This relationship is filled with strong emotions, especially the master's hatred of his dog and the dog's fear of his master. As for Raymond, he has an emotional, if violent, tie with his Moorish mistress. Raymond burns with the desire to punish this woman for her alleged disloyalty. In contrast, Meursault does not have a strong emotional tie with anyone. He is in a romantic relationship with Marie, but for Meursault, this affiliation is based completely on the sensory experience of sex.

In addition, Meursault's relationship with Raymond demonstrates Meursault's nihilistic amorality. Society would view Raymond's treatment of the Moorish woman and Meursault as morally reprehensible. Raymond physically abuses his mistress and entraps Meursault in a violent situation by having him write the letter. Meursault, on the other hand, does not judge Raymond and willingly commits an immoral act because he has no morality. From this perspective, he is innocent of any wrongdoing because he does not view any act as right or wrong. In his analysis of the novel, Sartre asserts that Camus presents in Meursault one of the "terrible innocents who shock society by not accepting the rules of its game."

Physical life continues to influence and, at times, overwhelm Meursault. Sensations engulf him as he runs after the truck: "I couldn't see anything ... all I was conscious of was the sensation of hurtling forward." Later, when Meursault listens to Raymond, the protagonist refers to his temples burning from drinking a liter of wine. Near the end of talk, Meursault has drunk so much wine that he can hardly get up. After he leaves Raymond's room, Meursault can hear only "the blood pounding in [his] ears." This submerging of himself in physical life keeps Meursault from having to confront the absurdity of life.

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