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The Stranger | Plot Summary

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Summary

Part 1

During the 1940s Meursault lives in Algiers, Algeria, a French colony in North Africa. He is a young shipping clerk who lives a detached but ordinary life.

Meursault has forgotten the day of his mother's recent death, which was reported to him by telegram from the home for the elderly where she lived. He attends his mother's funeral, where he refuses to see his mother's body. During the vigil, Meursault talks to the caretaker, drinks coffee, smokes a cigarette, and sits across from a group of mourners. During the funeral procession, Meursault notices that an old mourner and close friend of his mother's named Thomas Pérez has trouble keeping up. Meursault longs to return to his home and fall asleep.

The day following his mother's funeral, Meursault goes swimming and flirts with a woman named Marie. The pair go to a movie and then have sex. Meursault spends the next day alone in his room.

On Monday Meursault goes to work, and, after that, meets an old man named Salamano who seems to hate his old dog and beats it. A neighbor named Raymond Sintés invites Meursault to his room. Raymond explains his volatile relationship with his Arab mistress, whom he believes is cheating on him. To get revenge, Raymond wants Meursault to write a letter for him that would lure the mistress to Raymond's apartment for punishment. Meursault obliges and writes the letter.

The next Saturday, Marie questions Meursault's love for her. He replies that he does not think he loves her, which makes Marie sad. They overhear Raymond fighting with his mistress. Soon the police arrive and question Raymond. After the police leave, Raymond asks Meursault to be a character witness at the police hearing. Meursault agrees. Salamano tells Meursault that he lost his dog and fears the dog will be impounded, and Meursault explains the procedures of dog pounds.

At work, Meursault's boss offers him an excellent job in Paris. Meursault refuses the offer, having no reason to change his life. In Meursault's room, Marie asks him to marry her. Meursault answers that he sees no reason to refuse her. Later, Salamano describes to Meursault his close relationship with his dog.

On Sunday Meursault, Marie, and Raymond take a trip to the beach, where they visit Masson, a friend of Raymond, and his wife at their bungalow. Meursault and Marie go for a swim and then eat lunch. On the beach Meursault, Raymond, and Masson confront a group of Arabs, which includes the brother of Raymond's mistress. Raymond fights the brother and gets slashed by a knife. After Raymond is bandaged, he and Meursault track down the Arabs. Raymond decides to fight his mistress's brother "man-to-man" and gives his gun to Meursault. The Arabs hide. Raymond and Meursault head back to the bungalow. Raymond goes inside, but Meursault, for a reason he cannot explain, heads back down the beach and seeks a cool stream behind a rock to escape the punishing heat. To his surprise, Meursault sees the mistress's brother behind the rock and stares at him while holding the gun. Though Meursault reflects that he has no real reason to shoot, the Arab man pulls out his knife, and, almost dazed by the sun, Meursault pulls the trigger. After a pause, Meursault shoots the Arab man four more times.

Part 2

Arrested for killing the Arab man, Meursault has an interview with a lawyer, who asks whether Meursault felt sad at his mother's funeral. Meursault says it is difficult to answer. After this meeting, the examining magistrate wonders why Meursault paused between the first and second shot. Meursault does not answer. The magistrate declares the importance of believing in God and asking for His forgiveness. Meursault says that he does not believe in God.

In the prison's noisy, overcrowded visiting room, Meursault attempts to talk to Marie, but they have trouble hearing each other over the loud din. Later, alone in his cell, Meursault feels frustrated by his unquenched sexual desires. He begins to sleep 16 to 18 hours a day. As the days blend together, Meursault has difficulty handling nights in prison and realizes there is no way out.

During his trial Meursault notices that the witnesses include many people he knows. During the questioning of witnesses, the prosecutor focuses on Meursault's character instead of on the shooting of the Arab man. He emphasizes Meursault's callous behavior during his mother's funeral and the following day.

In the courtroom Meursault listens to the prosecutor's final speech, in which he accuses Meursault of being a "monster" who has committed a crime against society that is worse than killing the Arab man. Through his heartless behavior, the prosecutor maintains, Meursault has symbolically killed his mother. Disoriented by this speech, Meursault tries to give his side of the story, but he fumbles his words. The defense lawyer describes Meursault as a loyal worker and model son, who was forced to put his mother in a home for financial reasons. The jury sentences Meursault to death.

Alone in his cell Meursault deals with his upcoming execution by fantasizing about various escapes and imagining the results of his appeal. At times, he realizes that there is no escape. The chaplain then visits Meursault and tries to convince him to accept God and His mercy. Meursault rages at the chaplain, during which Meursault reaffirms his own view of life as meaningless. The shaken chaplain leaves. Meursault calms down and feels his anger has cleansed him, ridding him of hope. He now understands his mother's engagement to Thomas Pérez near the end of her life, a gesture that signifies her wish to start life anew. This action inspires Meursault to also start life anew, even though he is about to be executed. He feels free to choose to start life over again, even as his execution is imminent.

The Stranger Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 Meursault attends his mother's funeral.

Rising Action

2 Meursault becomes sexually involved with Marie.

3 Meursault writes a letter for Raymond.

4 Meursault kills the Arab.

5 Meursault is questioned in prison.

6 Meursault is tried for his character instead of his crime.

Climax

7 Meursault is found guilty and sentenced to death.

Falling Action

8 Meursault argues with the chaplain.

Resolution

9 Meursault reaffirms his beliefs.

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