Literature Study GuidesThe StrangerPart 1 Chapter 4 Summary

The Stranger | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Stranger | Part 1, Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

During the week, Meursault works and goes to the movies twice with Emmanuel. On Saturday, Meursault and Marie go to a beach and swim in the ocean. They play a game that involves skimming off foam from waves with their mouths and then spewing the foam into the air. They kiss, head to the beach, get dressed, and take a bus back to Algiers. Meursault and Marie sleep together and, the next day, they have lunch. Marie asks whether Meursault loves her, and he replies that he does not think so. This response makes her sad, but she laughs while preparing lunch.

Then, Meursault and Marie hear a fight break out in Raymond's room. A woman screams, and people fill the hallway to witness Raymond beating his mistress. Marie thinks the situation is terrible, but Meursault does not respond. A police officer arrives and orders Raymond to remove a cigarette from his mouth. When Raymond refuses, the officer slaps him. Then, the officer tells Raymond's mistress to leave and informs Raymond that he will be summoned. Raymond retreats to his apartment, and the officer and everyone else leave. Meursault and Marie finish fixing lunch, but she has lost her appetite. Meursault, in contrast, "ate almost everything."

After Marie leaves Raymond visits Meursault. Raymond explains why he fought with his mistress and asks whether Meursault will serve as a character witness. Meursault agrees. They go into town and shoot pool. On their way home, they notice Salamano searching for his dog. Raymond questions the old man. Salamano explains he lost his dog at the Parade Ground and fears the police will get the dog and refuse to give it back to him. Even though Salamano is angry at the dog, he misses the animal. Meursault and Raymond part, and Meursault goes back to his room. He hears Salamano knocking on his door and answers. Salamano asks anxiously, "They're not going to take him away from me, are they ... ?" Meursault explains how the pound handles dogs. Salamano leaves. Meursault hears the old man pacing in his room and crying, which reminds Meursault of his mother.

Analysis

When Marie asks Meursault whether he is able to declare his love for her, he says, "I didn't think so" because the question has no meaning for Meursault. After overhearing the violent scene between Raymond and his lover, Marie loses her appetite because the violence upsets her. Meursault, though, eats a hearty lunch because the incident has no meaning to him. Near the end of the chapter, Salamano pathetically asks Meursault to offer him hope by affirming that the dog will be returned to him. In response, Meursault matter-of-factly conveys the procedures of dog pounds. Because Meursault views life as meaningless, he has no reason to provide hope. Losing a dog is the same as beating a woman, eating breakfast, or any other action. Ironically, at the beginning of the chapter, Meursault, who does not believe anything has meaning, explains to Emmanuel the meanings of two movies they see.

Physical life continues to be a substitute for meaning when Meursault swims with Marie and then goes to bed with her. These sensations please Meursault, making him feel good. Even when Meursault has the unpleasant taste of salt in his mouth, Marie makes it a pleasant experience by kissing him. Spending this time together makes Marie think she might be falling in love with Meursault. For him, however, their time together is just a series of pleasant sensations, having nothing to do with love.

When Meursault admits he probably does not love Marie, he reveals a significant character trait: truthfulness. In a similar situation, many people would say they have feelings of love, even when they do not. However, Meursault never says more than he feels. He always says his view of the truth. One critic, George Hefferman, states, "Meursault may die for his truth, but he does not die for the truth."

Dramatic irony occurs when Raymond assumes that Meursault has agreed to be a character witness out of friendship. However, Meursault agrees because being a witness does not require much work. All he has to do is "state that the girl had cheated on [Raymond]," which may or may not be true. In addition, the police represent law and order, principles Meursault rejects as meaningless. From a nihilistic perspective, the police try to enforce the meaning of the law on a meaningless world. For Meursault, the police emphasize the painful absurdity of the universe. He is able to testify to Raymond's character because he does not respect the law that accuses Raymond of wrongdoing. Raymond, as his own creator in a meaningless universe, is free to act as he chooses.

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