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The Stranger | Part 1, Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

While at work Meursault talks to Raymond on the phone. They make plans to spend Sunday with friends of Raymond at a beach house. Meursault is told that he can bring Marie. Then, Raymond mentions he is being followed by Arabs, one of whom is the brother of his former mistress. A little later, the boss calls Meursault into his office. The boss offers Meursault an opportunity to work in Paris and wonders whether he is interested. Meursault says it does not matter to him. This response upsets the boss, who accuses Meursault of having no ambition. Meursault admits to himself that he lost any ambitions when he gave up his studies.

During the evening, Marie asks Meursault to marry her. He replies that marrying her does not really matter to him, but he will consent if she desires. Upset, Marie wonders whether Meursault loves her. He replies that he probably does not. Maries believes a couple who plan to marry should love each other, because marriage is "a serious thing." Meursault does not think it is serious. Marie comments that Meursault is "peculiar," but she probably loves him because he is different. Meursault still agrees to marry her.

Meursault and Marie take a walk through the streets. Meursault asks Marie to have dinner with him, but she declines. While Meursault eats dinner at Céleste's, a little woman sits across from him and orders her dinner. This woman performs her actions with a "robotlike" zeal, which include ordering dinner, adding up her bill on a slip of paper, and checking off radio programs in a magazine. Curious about the woman, Meursault follows her when she leaves. He sees her "making her way with incredible speed and assurance, never once swerving or looking around." Meursault loses track of the woman and forgets about her within a few minutes.

Back at his apartment, Meursault finds Salamano waiting for him. The old man tells Meursault that his dog is lost because "it wasn't at the pound." Meursault tells Salamano that he could get another dog. In Meursault's apartment, Salamano describes to Meursault how he got the dog as a puppy and raised it. During the explanation, the old man reveals his strong bond with the dog. Meursault seems bored by the story and yawns. Salamano says that some people disapproved of Meursault institutionalizing his mother. Meursault was ignorant of the fact that people disapproved and explains that he put his mother in a home for financial reasons. Also, his mother never "had anything to say to [him]." Salamano shakes Meursault's hand and leaves.

Analysis

Another important character trait of Meursault's is revealed: a lack of ambition, which continues to develop the theme of the meaningless, detached life. Meursault is a passive person, who views life as a series of meaningless events, which all equally lack importance. Meursault reveals that during his school days he had ambitions but for some reason had to give up his studies and so, too, his hopes. The pain of unfulfilled hopes becomes too much for him to bear so he adopts a view of life in which all things are meaningless. In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus states, "there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor." For Meursault, having hope is a painful absurdity in a meaningless world. As a result, he becomes a being with no ambition who tries to escape from the absurdity of the world by passively allowing the physical world to control him.

Meursault's lack of hope plays out in the next scene where Marie asks him to marry her. Because Meursault has no hope for a blissful marriage, getting married has no meaning for him. Meursault's attitude toward love and marriage stuns Marie, who calls him "peculiar." However, Marie realizes she loves him because of his strangeness. Perhaps Meursault's honesty is refreshing for her; he does not play games. Yet, his viewpoint alienates him from people, including his lover. He has become a person who is unable to interact in meaningful ways with others.

Camus further explores the theme of detachment by contrasting Meursault with the little woman at Céleste's restaurant, who serves as a foil to Meursault. She finds meaning in routines. Though she follows her routines precisely, making her appear "robotlike," she attacks these routines with zeal because she has imbued them with meaning. Meursault is curious about her because she is his opposite. He calls her a "strange little woman." From Meursault's alienated view, the woman is the stranger because she defies his world view.

Meursault's detachment from people is further demonstrated by the contrast with Salamano. The old man tells Meursault a heart-wrenching story, revealing a concrete and very human bond with his dog. Yet, Meursault responds to this story with a yawn. Salamano's account has no sentimental meaning for him because he is alienated. For the same reason, Meursault is not aware that some people disapproved of him for putting his mother in a home. The act made financial sense for Meursault, and he placed no sentimental value on it. As a result, he did not even consider that people might disapprove. Besides, his mother never talked to him much and "she was bored all by herself." For Meursault's mother, living with him was like living with no one. He had distanced himself so much from his mother, he did not even exist for her.

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