Literature Study GuidesThe StrangerPart 1 Chapter 6 Summary

The Stranger | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Stranger | Part 1, Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

On Sunday morning, Marie wakes Meursault, but he has trouble shaking his sleepiness. Nonetheless, Marie is excited about going to the beach. They get dressed and meet Raymond. The day before, on Saturday, Meursault had testified at the police station on Raymond's behalf, and Raymond was released with a warning. The three friends decide to take the bus, and then Raymond points out a group of Arabs watching them. Meursault explains to Marie that the Arabs have "it in for Raymond." The three companions hurry onto a bus and get off near the beach. They walk along the "motionless sea" to a wooden bungalow, where Raymond's friend Masson lives. Raymond introduces Meursault and Marie to Masson and his Parisian wife. Masson, Marie, and Meursault go for a swim.

Meursault and Marie swim together and then float on their backs. Meursault heads back to the beach and stretches out on the sand. Marie joins him, and he dozes until Marie wakes him, saying that it is time for lunch. First, they go back in the water and she holds him, wrapping her legs around him. Back in the bungalow, Meursault and his companions devour lunch and then talk "about spending August together at the beach." After lunch, Meursault, Raymond, and Masson go for a walk along the beach. Soon, Meursault and his friends meet the Arabs from the bus stop. Raymond confronts one of the Arabs. A fight ensues, during which Masson and Raymond each punch an Arab. Then, one Arab slashes Raymond's arm and face with a knife. The Arabs back off and then run away.

Meursault, Raymond, and Masson hurry back to the bungalow, and Masson takes Raymond to see a doctor. Madame Masson and Marie are very upset. Meursault, though, does not want to talk about the incident. After about an hour, Masson returns to the bungalow with Raymond, who is bandaged up and grim. Raymond heads back to the beach, and Meursault follows him. As Meursault walks with Raymond on the beach, the sun and heat oppress him. They meet the Arabs near a spring. Raymond puts his hand in his pocket and holds a gun. He asks Meursault, "Should I let him have it?" Meursault tells Raymond to let the Arabs make the first move. He then suggests that Raymond give him the gun and fight the Arab "man to man." If the Arab draws his knife, Meursault will shoot him. Raymond hands the gun to Meursault, but the Arabs back away and hide behind a rock. Meursault and Raymond head back to the bungalow, but Meursault decides not to go inside.

Meursault walks back down the beach. During this trek, the sun and heat become overbearing for him: "heat was pressing down on me and making it hard for me to go on." Meursault wants to escape the sun and yearns for the cool spring. Near the spring, he comes upon the Arab with the knife lying on his back. Meursault is surprised. Yet, he grips the gun in his pocket. The two stare at each other a long time, and Meursault begins to feel that "the whole beach, throbbing in the sun, was pressing on [his] back." He moves a few steps toward the spring. His head begins to throb from the heat, which reminds him of the day he buried Maman. He takes a step forward, and the Arab draws his knife. The light reflects off the steel "like a long flashing blade cutting at [his] forehead." Then, Meursault feels that the sky opens up and rains down fire on him. In response, he hoists the revolver and squeezes; the trigger gives. He shoots the Arab. Meursault fires four more times at the motionless body.

Analysis

Physical sensations have both positive and negative effects on Meursault. At first, he feels pleasant sensations when he's swimming and eating lunch. But later in the day, as Meursault walks on the beach with the bandaged Raymond, the sun begins to feel overpowering. Then, when Meursault walks on the beach alone, his forehead begins "swelling under the sun." The sun's oppression of Meursault continues to build as he stares at the Arab. Eventually, the sun and its reflection off the Arab's knife become so overwhelming that Meursault squeezes the trigger and shoots the Arab. The sun, therefore, represents for Meursault hostile forces in nature or the universe. As in previous chapters, physical life maintains a strong control over Meursault and his reactions. In this case, sensations perceived as hostile cause him to kill a man.

Meursault's killing of the Arab confirms that, for the protagonist, all experiences are equal. None are better or worse than another. The sun can make Meursault shoot a man one day, and a pleasant breeze might make him kiss Marie another day. Sartre states, "One experience is as good as another; the important thing is ... acquire as many as possible." This position may seem absurd, but, as Sartre states, Meursault "is absurd."

Meursault continually uses pleasant sensations to escape from the painful acceptance of the absurdity of life. However, severe sensations, such as the heat or bad smells, make him more aware of the oppressiveness of life. Meursault has no defense against these hostile sensations because he allows himself to be passively controlled by physical life. The critic Matthew Bowker asserts, "At ... crucial moments ... Meursault's will appears to be determined by anything but itself." Bowker notes that the sun's heat, Meursault's sleepiness, his "inexplicable desire to return to the beach," his headache, and "a pressing physical discomfort are the only discernible antecedents to his perplexing crime." As a result, he becomes so absorbed by the sun's harsh, glaring rays that he momentarily forgets he is holding a gun, tenses up, and squeezes his hand, thereby firing the weapon.

In the last paragraph of the chapter, Meursault says that his happiness is broken by firing the shots and killing the Arab. Perhaps earlier in the day he glimpses the possibility of happiness through his connection with Marie, but because of Meursault's passive immersion in physical life, he allows this happiness to be destroyed. He says that the shots are "like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness."

An additional consequence of Meursault's detachment from life is his indifference to the Arab population. Throughout Part 1, Meursault senses the staring eyes of the Arabs, but their faces remain blank. Early in the chapter, the Arabs stare, expressionless, at Meursault and his friends, as though they are "nothing but stones or dead trees." During the fight, an Arab falls face down into the water. Also, another Arab's face is bleeding. In the first chapter, the Arab nurse has a bandage wrapped around her face, which has no nose; she is virtually faceless. At the end of the chapter, Meursault describes the Arab as "just a form shimmering before my eyes in the fiery air." He may view Arabs as faceless objects due to a subconscious prejudice against them. However, in another sense, the Arabs have also become outsiders or strangers in colonized society in a different way than Meursault. Their lack of definition suggests the society's detachment from or indifference to its Arab population.

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