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ŮÚū. 2
(‚ŮŚ„Ó 4)

—őńŇ–∆ņÕ»Ň

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The Stranger he is demonstrating that such answers are disguised
forms of tyranny.
The Stranger 29
However, the difference in narrative structure between the Ô¬Ārst
and second halves of the novel declares that they should not be
read in the same manner. As Fitch has pointed out, the trial chap-
ters contain interpretations of the Ô¬Ārst half of the book. Undertaken
chieÔ¬‚y by the two lawyers, these exegeses are so obviously wrong
as to invite the reader to doubt his own interpretations. Despite
this, Part 2 does allow itself to be explained and, we shall argue,
Meursault becomes less and less of a stranger, until at the end
the reader can identify with him. Moreover, by now Meursault has
come to understand his own existence. Whether this explanation
allows the reader retrospectively to interpret Part 1 is a separate
issue and it is my opinion that it does not. The two parts do not
Ô¬Āt neatly together, and the more disturbing features of Part 1 must
be forgotten before the reader‪s sympathy and understanding may
be won. The language of dissidence must, for example, become
less an interrogation of itself and more an irony that mocks the
judges.
The second and more difÔ¬Ācult conclusion is that in Part 1 Meer-
sault‚Ä™s awareness is not, as Sartre maintained, ‚Ęa pure passivity‚Ä™
(Sartre, ‚ĘExplication de L‚Ä™Etranger‚Ä™, p. 115). Not merely is his agnos-
ticism a form of protest, it is ‚Ä“ even in its futility ‚Ä“ the mark of his
existence as an individual. While the second, lyrical language is a
form of terror that lurks in the background of his life, the narrator
can ward it off by ambiguity just as the character Meursault keeps
it at bay with indifference. We must now consider the Ô¬Ārst emissary
of death, the mother.


5 A mother unmourned?
Of Meursault‪s life with his mother we learn slightly more than
we might imagine. In Part 1, Chapter 1, he notes that ‚Ęwhen she
was at home mother spent her time watching me in silence‚Ä™ (12).
The ‚Ęlook‚Ä™ is a complex motif in The Stranger, where it indicates the
lack of closer forms of contact. Or at least this is true of Meursault‪s
glances at people unless he manages to see their eyes, in which case
he becomes conscious of an awareness. Usually he does not, and he
is left to puzzle over a possibly hostile otherness. Here it appears that
he has inherited his look from his mother.
30 THE STRANGER

Silence is another attribute they share and it is, as we have already
said, a mark both of integrity and of alienation. One might conclude
that the mother is an intense, troubling presence in his existence,
and that he might respond intensely to her. After her departure from
their Ô¬‚at he continues to live with her in the sense that he brings her
furniture into his bedroom and makes no use of the other rooms. A
close and ‚Ä“ so the psychoanalytical reading would run ‚Ä“ incestuous
bond unites them. Even the mirror in which he looks at himself is
hers ‚Ä“ ‚Ęthe yellowing glass of the wardrobe‚Ä™ (36).
Is it too rash to suggest, then, that Meursault‪s indifference at her
funeral is not a conventional indifference but the mark of a deeper
relationship which contains love and hatred, neither of which can
be expressed? His lack of feeling is both an attempt to rid himself of
her and the sign of his identiÔ¬Ācation with her. As Jean Gassin puts
it, Meursault‚Ä™s indifference ‚Ętowards his mother is merely a way of
turning against her the mortal indifference that emanates from her‚Ä™
(Gassin, p. 214). His is an attitude of frozen deÔ¬Āance in the face of a
mother whose death, like her life, menaces his identity and prevents
him from going through a genuine mourning, that would liberate
him from her.
Signs of guilt Ô¬Ānd their way into the text. When asking his boss
for time off he adds: ‚ĘIt‚Ä™s not my fault‚Ä™ (9); at the home he feels
that the warden is criticizing him for placing his mother there: ‚ĘI
thought he was reproaching me with something‚Ä™ (11); with Marie
he notes: ‚ĘAnyway, you are always a bit at fault‚Ä™ (35). Yet this guilt
remains unfocused and in the case of the warden he is not really
being reproached with anything. So the reader is left unable to decide
what the precise nature of the guilt might be.
Examples of his indifference towards his mother‪s death abound:
not opening the cofÔ¬Ān to look at her, not weeping, not remaining
after the funeral to meditate at her grave, not knowing how old
she was, drinking coffee with milk and smoking during the wake,
and the next day going to the cinema and beginning a sexual re-
lationship with Marie. Moreover, the narrator offers no evidence of
grief, leaving the reader with the sense that this might, after all, be
conventional indifference.
There is, however, evidence to indicate that it is not, that
Meursault is engaged in an unwitting protest against society‪s desire
The Stranger 31
to conjure death away, and that indifference is a way to survive a
shattering experience. It might be worthwhile reiterating that the
object of this analysis is not to demonstrate that Meursault is in re-
ality a loving son (a Ô¬Āction that will be expounded by the defence
lawyer), but rather that he is haunted by death and unable to come
to grips with grief and love.
The issue of his mother‚Ä™s age is a conÔ¬‚ict between Meursault‚Ä™s
sense of time as lived ‚Ä“ the ‚Ęyesterdays‚Ä™ and ‚Ętodays‚Ä™ ‚Ä“ and soci-
ety‪s view that time may be measured abstractly. On the question of
opening the cofÔ¬Ān, we remember that Meursault does wish to see his
mother when he arrives at the home; it is only after encountering,
via the warden and the caretaker, society‪s view of death that he
changes his mind. Another reason is that ‚Ä“ so we shall argue ‚Ä“ he
grows progressively less able to face death as the chapter goes on.
The cigarette is interesting because Meursault asks himself the
question: ‚ĘI wanted to smoke then. But I hesitated because I didn‚Ä™t
know whether I could in front of mother. I thought about it: it had
no importance‪ (17). Meursault‪s agnosticism comes into play: in
the face of a cofÔ¬Ān, the decision whether or not to smoke has no sig-
niÔ¬Ācance. This is a more troubling view of death than the warden‚Ä™s.
The clearest case where seeming casualness masks distress is
when Meursault does not linger near the grave. By the end of the
chapter he has undergone the sun‪s onslaught and must at all costs
escape. His departure from the cemetery is presented as a Ô¬‚ight ‚Ä“ he
speaks of ‚Ęmy joy when the bus got to the nest of lights of Algiers‚Ä™
(31) ‚Ä“ and marks relief rather than carelessness. A brief analysis of
the funeral will reinforce this conclusion.
The sequence of events runs from Meursault‪s initial desire to
look at his mother, through the ideology of society represented by
the warden, and on to the meetings with the caretaker and the Arab
nurse. Then the hallucination builds up as the mother‪s friends ar-
rive, there is a second meeting with the warden and a moment of
insight as the funeral procession begins. From then on the hallucina-
tion grows as the sun becomes more hostile and compels Meursault
to Ô¬‚ee.
As soon as he arrives, Meursault is diverted by the warden to-
wards the gestures of inauthentic mourning. The warden seeks to
absolve Meursault of the guilt he may have incurred by placing his
32 THE STRANGER

mother in the home: ‚Ęshe had friends, people of her own age‚Ä™ (11). In
reply Meursault does not disagree but, when he talks of his mother‪s
life in the home, he attributes her behaviour to habit. Soon he ceases
to listen to the warden.
In the morgue he meets the caretaker and the Arab nurse, whose
place in the social structure of The Stranger will be discussed later,
and then groups of his mother‪s friends. By now the language of the
chapter is changing and there is an emphasis on the colour white ‚Ä“
‚Ęit was a bright, whitewashed room‚Ä™ (13). Throughout the next pages
white will be associated with black ‚Ä“ and occasionally with red ‚Ä“ as a
colour that threatens Meursault. If white is traditionally linked with
knowledge, then it is here the knowledge of death which humans
cannot face. The brightness of white is transmitted by other objects,
notably the screws of the cofÔ¬Ān which stand out against the wood; it
is after noting these screws that Meursault refuses to have the cofÔ¬Ān
opened. The white light grows steadily more hostile ‚Ä“ Meursault is
‚Ęblinded‚Ä™ and ‚Ęworried‚Ä™ (17) by it ‚Ä“ and it is outside his control for it
cannot be dimmed.
When the morgue is ‚Ęeven more dazzlingly white‚Ä™ (18), the pen-
sioners enter and Meursault, as ever, observes concrete details: the
aprons of the women and the walking sticks of the men. But this
is an occasion when physical signs, unaccompanied by emotional
sympathy (for Meursault dislikes the lament of a woman who pro-
claims herself his mother‪s friend), take on an imaginative meaning.
Unable to see the men‪s eyes, he also cannot interpret their nods,
but he concludes the paragraph by stating: ‚ĘFor a moment I had the
ridiculous impression that they were there to judge me‚Ä™ (19). Guilt,
distrust of others and a premonition of his trial are lurking behind
his lack of obvious emotion.
During his second encounter with the warden Meursault has to
sign documents, thus afÔ¬Ārming by the act of writing that his mother
is dead. Then the warden is joined by the other representative of
authority, the priest, who addresses Meursault as ‚Ęmy son‚Ä™ (25), the
warden having previously called him ‚Ęmy dear child‚Ä™ (11). However,
the role of society in this scene is slight, for the major protagonist
now enters: the sun.
‚ĘThe sky was already full of sunshine. It started to weigh down
on the earth and the heat increased rapidly‚Ä™ (26). The sun takes
The Stranger 33
over the role played by the white light, and at the same time ‚Ä“ to
heighten the non-realistic tone ‚Ä“ the dominant colour shifts from
white to black. What then does the sun represent?
This question will be posed again in our discussion of Part 1,
Chapter 6, and the answer will be different, but in either chapter
it seems difÔ¬Ācult to argue that the sun represents some natural or-
der. Certainly Meursault often tries to identify with nature and even
here he contrasts the countryside with mornings in Algiers when
he leaves for his ofÔ¬Āce. The antithesis of country‚Ä“town and the re-
jection of the values of work are obvious. Yet in this chapter nature is
equally alien to man and far more powerful. There is in The Stranger
no consistent view of the sun and, while it is part of a speciÔ¬Ācally
Algerian brand of nature that will be discussed in connection with
Chapter 6, it seems necessary to resort to other interpretations of
Chapter 1.
A psychoanalytical reading might identify the sea with the
mother and the sun with the father. So the sun is the agent of a
father determined to punish his son for his incestuous relationship
with his mother. But, as Gassin points out, Camus does not make
such a simple distinction. Here, as in Chapter 6, the sun and the sea
act together ‚Ä“ the sea is present at the funeral as ‚Ęthe smell of salt‚Ä™
(22), which the winds carry over the mountains from the coast ‚Ä“
and are associated with the mother. So the sun is, to borrow another
of Gassin‚Ä™s phrases, an agent of ‚Ęthe evil Mother‚Ä™ who is punishing
her son for his inability to love her (Gassin, p. 226).
Certainly the sun dominates the procession: ‚Ęthe blazing sun,
which caused the countryside to shimmer, made it inhuman and
depressing‚Ä™ (27). Two pages later comes the passage already quoted,
where the sun‪s aggression is linked to black, the mother‪s colour.
However, Meursault enjoys a moment of insight which is sig-
niÔ¬Ācantly situated after the Ô¬Ārst sally of the sun but before the heat
becomes unbearable. It is thus shaped by contact with death, but also
by resistance to it. When the warden tells Meursault that his mother
and P¬ī rez used to walk to the village each evening, Meursault
e
broods: ‚ĘThrough the lines of cypress trees that led to the hills up
near the sky, this reddish, green land, these scattered houses with
their clear outlines, I understood mother. In this region evening
must be a melancholic truce‚Ä™ (27). This insight will be elaborated
34 THE STRANGER

on the closing pages of the book, but already its signiÔ¬Ācance is appar-
ent. The associations of countryside, of the colours green (a happy
colour to Camus) and a gentler red, and of the evening when the sun
is less strong, enable Meursault to perceive his mother as a person
separate from him. With P¬ī rez, who plays the role of her husband
e
without being Meursault‪s father, she leads an existence free from
the oedipal struggle. However, this moment of maturity, when Meur-
sault is reconciled with her and is able ‚Ä“ if the adjective ‚Ęmelancholic‚Ä™
is any guide ‚Ä“ to mourn her, vanishes and the sun returns.
P¬ī rez is an important Ô¬Āgure in the funeral for, if he is close to
e
Meursault but not in authority over him, he may be perceived as
acting out a grief that Meursault is unable to express. At the trial
P¬ī rez‚Ä™s evidence is, unlike the evidence of the warden and the care-
e
taker, not damaging to his adopted son.
P¬ī rez‚Ä™s portrait is another case where the narration offers phys-
e
ical details that cannot avoid, try as they might, possessing non-
physical signiÔ¬Ācance. First, since his tie does not Ô¬Āt he does not
belong among the normal mourners, like the warden. Secondly, with
his white hair, black tie and red ears he sums up in a comical manner
the key colours of the chapter. While mocking him, Meursault
hints that he is a serious person; P¬ī rez is both ‚Ęcurious‚Ä™ (26) and
e
‚ĘdigniÔ¬Āed‚Ä™ (28) and, as if to underline his special role, he keeps leav-
ing and rejoining the procession. In Meursault‚Ä™s Ô¬Ānal hallucination
P¬ī rez appears in his two different guises, which are complementary
e
opposites because they are equally distant from Meursault‪s appar-
ent calm. When he Ô¬Ānally faints, P¬ī rez is an object ‚Ä“ he looked like
e
‚Ęa broken doll‚Ä™ (31) ‚Ä“ but a moment earlier he had stood ‚Ęwith huge
tears of exhaustion and distress‚Ä™ (30).
By now the narration retains only faint traces of its self-
awareness. The sense impressions, ever more discordant, convey
further images of aggression: the red of the sun reappears in the
geraniums of the cemetery and the earth, while the colour white
returns in the roots of the plants that have been torn up. Seizing on
a remark by the chief nurse that proclaims its triviality. Meursault
launches the prophetic utterance that ‚Ęthere was no way out‚Ä™ (30);
this too looks forward to the trial and will turn up in the closing
pages. Both as character and as narrator, Meursault is falling apart
like P¬ī rez, and only Ô¬‚ight can save him. The last sentence of the
e
The Stranger 35
chapter takes up twelve lines, most of them short, parallel clauses
that the narrator cannot organize.
Of this chapter Gassin writes: ‚ĘThe killing of the Arab is the second
murder committed by Meursault. The Ô¬Ārst had been the murder
of his own mother disguised as a burial‚Ä™ (Gassin, p. 27). There is
every justiÔ¬Ācation for such a Freudian reading since, not merely
can Meursault‪s indifference be read as hatred of a mother who
continues to obsess him, but the traces of guilt would lead us to
see in her death a wish fulÔ¬Ālment. This does not, of course, prevent
Meursault from feeling an unavowed love for his mother, which
helps increase the guilt and explains the obsession.
We would like further to stress that the aspect of the oedipal
struggle depicted by The Stranger is the threat to the son. Unable to
separate his own identity from his mother‪s, Meursault is brought
close to death and can escape only by hastily laying her in her grave.
So she may be said to die in his stead. We must also admit that
this is not a complete interpretation of a difÔ¬Ācult chapter. It is not
merely that by its calculated ambiguity The Stranger leaves open the
possibility that Meursault‪s indifference is sheer carelessness, but
that the relationship between mother and the sun is not rendered
explicit by the text. The sun remains an image and eludes close
deÔ¬Ānition.
However, the view that the mother‪s death is crucial to Meursault
receives support from the next four chapters. Although the subplots
they depict seem to unfold at random, the friendships Meursault
strikes up with Salamano and Raymond and the relationship he
begins with Marie are reenactments of his dealings with his mother.
This is most obvious in the case of Marie Cardonna, who appears
to represent a solution to the mother‪s death: Meursault will now
direct his energies towards another woman. Instead he refuses to
love her, making the comment that has already been quoted. This
refusal is in part an assertion of other, more concrete, values, namely,
the values of the body that are exempliÔ¬Āed in the early pages of
Chapter 2: sport, physical beauty and sexual pleasure.
In this context, Camus‪s treatment of women is interesting be-
cause Marie is not seduced by Meursault, but is an equal partner.
She was formerly ‚Ęa typist in my ofÔ¬Āce and at the time I wanted her.
She wanted me too, I believe‚Ä™ (34). After their Ô¬Ārst night together she
36 THE STRANGER

gets up and leaves before he awakens. Only when she seeks love and
marriage, the traditional values of women, will Meursault rebuff
her.
In Chapter 2 colours change and the key colour becomes brown,
the hue of Marie‪s sun-tanned body. The link between man and
nature is restored, for the sun and the sea preside over their meeting.
There is even the note of lyricism to hint that man might indeed be
part of a harmonious nature.
Sexuality, grace and athleticism are values that are developed in
Camus‪s other books. If the bond with the mother was love, then
love is a kind of death and life is to be found in the body. However,
we must repeat that there is alienation in Meursault‪s view, in that
he is unable to imagine any kind of love other than the love-death
he has known with his mother. So even as he Ô¬‚ees her she retains
her power over him.
In the episode of Salamano many observers have recognized
parallels between Salamano and his dog and Meursault and his
mother. Salamano has lived a life of alienation working on the rail-
way whereas he had wished to be an actor, and he was married to a
woman with whom he was not happy but to whom he grew accus-
tomed. Habit, perceived both as resignation and stoicism, is another
theme which Meursault has inherited from his mother: ‚ĘMother had
the idea and she repeated it often, that you eventually got used to
anything‪ (120). The dog, which Salamano obtained after his wife‪s
death, replaces her and the child they never had: ‚ĘHe had had to feed
it with a bottle. But, since a dog doesn‪t live as long as a man, they
had grown old together‚Ä™ (74).
The link between the dog and Meursault‚Ä™s mother is explicit ‚Ä“
Salamano ‚Ętold me that mother liked his dog very much‚Ä™ (75) ‚Ä“
and the dog disappears the week after her death. Salamano‪s open
expression of his grief must then be an indication of Meursault‪s
repressed feelings. On hearing him weep Meursault notes: ‚ĘI thought
of mother, I don‪t know why‪ (65).
The darker side of Salamano‪s dealings with the dog offers fur-
ther parallels with Meursault and his mother. Perhaps Meursault‪s
indifference to the way Salamano beats his pet is not merely an
inability to feel repugnance for sadism, but an approval which re-
Ô¬‚ects his feelings of hostility towards his mother. If so, then there
The Stranger 37
is a progression from the denial of love for Marie to the cruelty in
which he participates towards the dog. This view is conÔ¬Ārmed when
further comparisons are drawn with the relationship of Raymond
Sint` s and the Arab woman.
e
The friendship between Raymond and Meursault revolves
around displays of masculinity and hostility towards women (and
towards Arabs, as will be discussed later). Raymond‪s room, the set-
ting for the friendship, is replete with photos of boxers and nudes and
he begins by describing to Meursault how he beat up the woman and
then her brother in a dispute about virility. Further accoutrements
of masculinity abound: drinking, smoking, billiards and a proposed
visit to a brothel. The friendship is itself a sign of masculinity:
Raymond keeps describing Meursault as a ‚Ępal‚Ä™ (54).
This is the episode where, as already discussed, Meursault‪s in-
difference contains the fewest elements of protest and the highest
degree of alienation. By writing the letter, Meursault is participating
in Raymond‪s brutality towards women, and he himself invites us
to draw the parallels not merely with Chapter 6 but retrospectively
with Chapter 1. When leaving Raymond‚Ä™s Ô¬‚at he utters the phrase:
‚ĘI heard nothing but the throb of my blood which was booming in
my ears‚Ä™ (55); this harks back to the sentence ‚ĘI could feel my blood
beating in my temples‚Ä™ (30), which he notes during the funeral. At
this same moment the dog ‚Ęmoaned in old Salamano‚Ä™s room‚Ä™ (56).
So the text invites the reader to see both the Raymond and Salamano
episodes as forms of sadism directed against the mother.
Behind the seemingly random tales that are told in the Ô¬Ārst half
of The Stranger there lies a logic. Far from being blithely indifferent,
Meursault is still struggling against his mother. Hidden away in The
Stranger lies a psychoanalytical novel, where the mother, although
dead, continues to strike at her son who strikes back. However, with
the introduction of Raymond‪s Arab mistress a direct link has been
established between the mother and the Arab, and the reader is
aware that there is also a political novel in The Stranger.

6 Class and race
Many critics would agree that a novel, since it must appear prob-
able to its readers, will mirror the social structures of the outside
38 THE STRANGER

world with certain deformations and criticisms. Critics who dislike
the notion of probability will still accept that language shapes and is
shaped by the surrounding society. Either way The Stranger merits a
political analysis, because it portrays the various groups of French-
Algeria and because its various languages bear the marks of social
conÔ¬‚ict.
Such an analysis begins with the key and contradictory role of
the French-Algerian working class. The Stranger depicts a tension
between the ruling and the working class or between the language of
authority and either the stumbling speech of C¬ī leste or Meursault‚Ä™s
e
language of dissent. But there is also a conÔ¬‚ict between all those who
use the French language ‚Ä“ the Europeans ‚Ä“ and those forced into
silence ‚Ä“ the Arabs. The two tensions overlap but not easily, which
explains the impossible position of the French-Algerian working
class, caught as it is between a ruling class which tends to identify
with mainland France, and the indigenous, Arab population. In its
depiction of this contradiction The Stranger is less the expression of
a colonial society than an insight into it.
In the Ô¬Ārst half of the book the representatives of power are the
warden of the home and the boss, both of whom are unnamed and
are known to the reader only by their function. The former repre-
sents the softer aspect of authority: paternalistic control over the
pensioners, to whom the warden awards or refuses permission to
attend different parts of the funeral; concern to banish death by an
elaborate social ritual; and alliance with the priest who represents
orthodox Catholicism. The warden‪s task is to run the institution
smoothly ‚Ä“ to avoid ‚Ęmaking our work difÔ¬Ācult‚Ä™ (12) ‚Ä“ and the pen-
sioners have been deÔ¬Āned by the state as people who no longer have
the freedom to make their own decisions.
The boss expresses the values of liberal capitalism: work, com-
merce, ambition and freedom to rise in society as long as one adheres
to its credo. Thus he doesn‚Ä™t ‚Ęseem pleased‚Ä™ when Meursault asks for
time off to attend the funeral. The next Monday he asks Meursault
how old his mother was, turning her death into a matter of statis-
tics. Meursault gives him a Ô¬Āgure, and ‚ĘI don‚Ä™t know why, but he
seemed relieved and he appeared to consider that the matter was
closed‚Ä™ (43). Here again Meursault‚Ä™s ‚ĘI don‚Ä™t know why‚Ä™ underlines
his dissent from the boss‪s values.
The Stranger 39
The clash is more open in Chapter 5, where the boss offers Meur-
sault promotion and a job in Paris. First the offer is made as ‚Ęa
change of life‚Ä™ ‚Ä“ the vocabulary of humanism‚Ä“ and then as a matter
of ambition, the lack of which is ‚Ędisastrous in business‚Ä™ (69) ‚Ä“ the
vocabulary of economics. Meursault‪s reply shows no trace of his
usual agnosticism: ‚ĘI answered that you never changed your life,
that anyway one life was as good as another and mine seemed all
right to me‚Ä™ (69). In this are traces of the existentialist view that life
is to be lived not judged or compared; but there is also the working-
class sense that concepts of ambition and career are Ô¬Āctions and
that work is an unpleasant necessity to which one submits. Either
way, the middle-class notions that work can be rewarding and that
a career leads one to some chosen goal are rejected.
Meursault, uncharacteristically, offers further explanations:
‚ĘWhen I was a student I had lots of ambitions of this kind. But when
I had to stop studying I quickly realized that it was all unimportant‚Ä™
(69). Why did he have to stop? For lack of money? If so, we might
see in him a familiar French Ô¬Āgure: the boy of working-class back-
ground who rises via the education system and then, perceiving the
unfairness of society, turns away from it. Here again the text does
not provide us with enough information to draw such conclusions.
Yet Meursault‪s sense of alienation from the boss‪s values pervades
the book and seems to me all the more convincing because it Ô¬Ānds
no political outlet.
One reason may be that Meursault is a white-collar worker who
makes his living by writing. A desk, a pen and bills of lading are the
instruments of his employment. This not only leaves him exposed to
the boss‪s ideology, but separates him from the comradeship of man-
ual workers and their political expressions, such as trade unions. Of
his circle of friends, Emmanuel is employed sending out the parcels
and hence is a step further away from writing, while Marie exem-
pliÔ¬Āes white-collar alienation because, as a secretary, she earns her
living by transcribing words that belong not to her but to people who
are in authority over her. SigniÔ¬Ācantly, the only time she speaks of
her work is in Part 2, when she visits Meursault in prison.
If she is a prisoner of the language of authority, then C¬ī leste‚Ä™s fate
e
is to strive for authenticity by using words that stiÔ¬‚e it. His remark
to Meursault, ‚ĘYou only have one mother‚Ä™ (10), is an attempt to
40 THE STRANGER

express sympathy that is distorted into a propositional statement.
Comic and yet moving, his halting speech contrasts with Raymond‪s
Ô¬‚uency, and this opposition sums up the contradictory position of
the French-Algerian working class.
The language of the body is linked with this class: with Marie most
obviously, and also with Emmanuel, who likes to run. Conversely,
the boss, who considers that the sensation of drying oneself on a
soggy roller-towel is unpleasant but ‚Ęwithout importance‚Ä™ (44), has
no sense of his body because he is lost in a world of abstractions
and objects. So The Stranger asserts not merely that the body has its
language, but that the decision to ignore that language is part of the
alienation of capitalism. However, here again Raymond is different,
for he does not swim with Meursault and Marie and, where Marie‪s
body is sun-tanned, his arms are ‚Ęvery white beneath the black hairs‚Ä™
(78), which disgusts Meursault.
Although Meursault‪s friendship with Raymond has been inter-
preted as a display of masculinity which is an act of deÔ¬Āance against
his mother, it also contains class elements. The two share a dislike for
the representatives of authority, as is demonstrated when Raymond
beats up the Arab woman and Meursault ‚Ä“ unlike Marie ‚Ä“ refuses
to call a policeman: ‚ĘI told her that I didn‚Ä™t like policemen‚Ä™ (60).
This leads him to move away from the employed, respectable work-
ing class towards the underworld with which Raymond Ô¬‚aunts his
allegiance.
One reason may be that Meursault is not an integral part of
that class, since in his neighbourhood he is criticized for placing his
mother in the home. His response, however, cuts through platitudes
about love: ‚ĘFor a long time she had had nothing to say to me and she
was bored on her own‪ (75). In its context Meursault‪s remark con-
tains an element of protest, directed against the working class which
has interiorized the false humanism of its masters. The attitude of
the neighbourhood anticipates the speeches that the prosecuting
lawyer will make at the trial.
Elsewhere Meursault plays the same role: he implicitly rebukes
C¬ī leste for his sentimental attitude towards Salamano‚Ä™s dog and he
e
corrects Marie‚Ä™s view of marriage: ‚ĘShe said to me that marriage is
a serious matter. I replied: ‚ÄúNo‚ÄĚ‚Ä™ (69). The direct speech reinforces
Meursault‪s rejection of a social and religious institution. Without
The Stranger 41
drawing any coherent political conclusions, he embodies, through
his indifference, his refusal of the way that working-class people seek
to hide from themselves the alienation in which they live. This is why
he feels a bond with his friends and yet criticizes their weakness. His
is a more radical attitude, which will Ô¬Ānd expression in Part 2, where
he will impose his irony on the lawyers‚Ä™ rhetoric.
The friendship with Raymond, who is probably a pimp mas-
querading as a warehouse worker and who is himself disliked in
the neighbourhood, is then a gesture of opposition. It is also a ges-
ture of solidarity with a man of unrelenting hostility towards Arabs.
For, if the class lines are clearly drawn, the colonial situation
complicates them. At each critical moment of Part 1 the three groups
are present: before Meursault‚Ä™s mother‚Ä™s cofÔ¬Ān stand the Parisian
caretaker, the pied-noir Meursault and the Arab nurse; on the beach
in Chapter 6 are Masson‪s Parisian wife, Meursault and the Arab
brother. SigniÔ¬Ācantly, when Meursault is condemned to death in
Part 2 there are no Arabs present, although the Parisian journalist
is there.
Throughout the novel metropolitan France is depicted as separate
from Algeria, and is portrayed unfavourably. The warden is linked to
France because he wears the Legion of Honour, while the Parisian
caretaker is an usurper who, having entered the home as an indi-
gent, obtained a post which gives him an authority over the other
old people. In making the distinction between French and Algerian
funerals he insists on the role of the heat, thus bringing out the sun
as a cultural and political rather than natural or psychoanalytical
entity.
Meursault questions the caretaker‪s authority, but his dislike of
France emerges more clearly in the episode where his boss wants
to send him to Paris. Its role as the centre of commerce makes it
a citadel of oppression of the pied-noir working class, and later
Meursault elaborates on his dislike in a conversation with Marie,
which once more pits submission against a more radical discourse.
Whereas she has the provincial‪s admiration for the capital, he as-
serts: ‚ĘIt‚Ä™s dirty. There are pigeons and black courtyards. The peo-
ple have white skins‚Ä™ (70). The two colours associated with the
mother are attributed to the mother-country, while the importance
of Marie‚Ä™s brown skin is made clearer: it deÔ¬Ānes her as a pied-noir.
42 THE STRANGER

Distrustful of France, the pied-noir Ô¬Ānds his dealings with Arabs
no easier. It is here that The Stranger passes from a discourse that is
psychoanalytical ‚Ä“ the identiÔ¬Ācation of the Arab with the mother ‚Ä“
to a discourse that is political ‚Ä“ the Arab as brother, rival and enemy.
In the morgue of Chapter 1 (as if foreshadowing Chapter 6) stands
the nurse: ‚ĘNear the bier there was also an Arab nurse‚Ä™ (14). The
colour scheme is striking because three times the Arab will be associ-
ated with blue ‚Ä“ the Arab men wear blue dungarees ‚Ä“ and in another
work, The Exile and the Kingdom, Camus repeats the association, this
time linking the Arab with the blue sky. But if the Arab appears to
belong to the world of nature, that is, Camus knows, a European‪s
false perception. For the Arab is living in a colonial society and the
nurse wears a uniform that indicates her social function. Her task is
to watch over the French-Algerian dead in a home where no Arabs
are present. This prepares us for the worse plight of the other
Arabs who are driven into prostitution, idleness and prison.
Meursault tries twice to look at the nurse, but neither time is he
able to detect her eyes. So even the Ô¬‚awed and often hostile contact,
that stems from encountering another awareness, is lacking. The
second time he interprets her behaviour from her gestures: ‚Ęjudging
from the movement of her arm I thought she was knitting‚Ä™ (18).
The Ô¬Ārst time he can see ‚Ęnothing of her face except the whiteness of
a bandage‚Ä™ (15). In Betwixt and Between knitting is associated with
the mother (who is knitting an outÔ¬Āt of black and white), and the
presence of the colour white here strengthens the nurse‪s role as
surrogate mother.
A further detail is the tumour which has eaten away her nose.
The illness, which will presumably kill her, makes her even more like
the mother, but it also represents an impersonal act of brutality. As
such it stands outside of history, and yet it foreshadows the brutalities
that stem not from fate but from the colonial system. So, although
the nurse, who comes and goes without regard to Meursault or the
caretaker, vanishes from the novel, she has established the Arab as
a disturbing presence and her whiteness may be said to trigger the
intense white light which so troubles Meursault.
In not speaking she offers parallels with the mother and with
Meursault. We will return to this matter, but here we may note
that the silence is a sign both of oppression and of authenticity. The
The Stranger 43
next Arab, Raymond‪s mistress, will utter the cry when Raymond
beats her for the second time and will then add a brief sentence that
unmasks him: ‚ĘHe has beaten me up. He‚Ä™s a pimp‚Ä™ (61). This ‚Ä“ the
language of denunciation ‚Ä“ cuts through Raymond‚Ä™s lies and may
be read as an outburst of revolt against the two occasions when
he imposes his language on her and her brother, by describing to
Meursault how he beat them up.
If this woman too is a surrogate of the mother, the discourse on
Arabs has nonetheless shifted because the brutality done to her is
committed by a French-Algerian. It appears that from this point on
psychoanalytical interpretations do not in themselves sufÔ¬Āce. For,
while such readings reafÔ¬Ārm that the Arab on the beach is an agent
of the mother, they do not answer the questions of why the agent
is an Arab. One might speculate that, as the original inhabitant of
North Africa, the Arab is identiÔ¬Āed with the mother or the father,
just as the mother is brieÔ¬‚y linked with metropolitan France, that
other threat to the pied-noir.
But this is a nebulous argument and we must attempt a politi-
cal reading that will trace the growing rivalry between the French-
Algerians, Raymond and Meursault, and the Arabs. We cannot then
agree with Jean Gassin who asserts that the origins of Meursault‪s
‚Ęstrangeness‚Ä™ are psychoanalytical but not political (Gassin, p. 88).
Why should they not be both? Meursault‪s sense that his identity is
being menaced by his mother overlaps with his sense that his identity
as a pied-noir is being menaced by the Arab. The psychoanalytical
gives way to the political in the movement from Part 1, Chapter 1,
to Part 1, Chapter 6. That Meursault does not feel hostility to
Arabs, or, more correctly, that Meursault, the narrator, does not
articulate hostility, is not an objection when we remember all the
other things he does not tell us. Indeed in this case his silence is
the sign within the text of the ofÔ¬Ācial French-Algerian ideology of
assimilation.
In Raymond‪s dealings with the Arab woman and her brother
there is a political dimension that is linked with the issue of manhood.
The position of woman in a colonial society has been analysed often:
she is a prize for colonizer and colonized to Ô¬Āght over. So here the
Arab woman is reduced by the European, Raymond, to a prostitute,
while her brother seeks to defend ‚Ä“ or exploit ‚Ä“ her. His challenge is
44 THE STRANGER

recorded ‚Ä“ or invented ‚Ä“ by Raymond: ‚ĘStep down from the tram if
you‪re a man‪ (48).
When we Ô¬Ārst read this, we do not know that the brother and
sister are Arabs so we interpret the incident as a piece of sexual
politics: the struggle for control over women by men. But, before he
writes the letter, Meursault learns that Raymond‪s opponents are
Arabs ‚Ä“ ‚ĘWhen he told me the woman‚Ä™s name, I saw she was a Moor‚Ä™
(54). So we are invited to reread the previous pages and to interpret
them as a piece of colonial politics.
This is reinforced by the way the victories are won: through the
use of the French language. First Raymond recounts the battles from
his viewpoint using slangy French ‚Ä“ ‚Ęc‚Ä™est pas que je suis m¬ī chant‚Ä™
e
ňÜ
(I ain‚Ä™t no trouble-maker) and ‚Ęje vais te murir‚Ä™ (I‚Ä™m going to Ô¬‚at-
ten you) ‚Ä“ and then Meursault prepares the next onslaught by the
written French of his letter. So the languages of the ruling and work-
ing classes are fused at the Arab‪s expense. When in Chapter 4 the
state arrives in the shape of the policeman, the punishment inÔ¬‚icted
on Raymond is for showing disrespect to him. For his assault on
the Arab woman Raymond receives no more than a warning, so
the French-Algerian authorities may be said to participate in the
brutality. Moreover it is ironic that, when Meursault testiÔ¬Āes at the
police station, his evidence is accepted, although its only basis lies
in the version of events given to him by Raymond. In the second half
of the book the authorities will reject Meursault‪s language, but
here the French-Algerian community is drawn together against its
common enemy.
The stage is now set for Chapter 6. The Arab is established not
merely as agent of the mother, but as antagonist and rival of the pied-
noir. Yet this second theme is not fully developed and to explain why,
we must have recourse to Michel Foucault‪s Discourse on Language.
‚ĘIn any society‚Ä™, writes Foucault, ‚Ęthe production of discourse is con-
trolled, organised, selected and re-arranged by a number of factors
which serve to banish the powers and dangers of the discourse‚Ä™
(Foucault, p. 10). In a colonial society, where the prevalent ideology
is assimilation, the conÔ¬‚ict between colonizer and colonized cannot
be treated directly if the legitimacy of the colonizer is not to be un-
dermined. So, if Camus wishes to depict the threat to Meursault‪s
identity, he can only do so via images of sun and sea. The logic in
The Stranger 45
the depiction of the murder of the Arab lies less in what is written
than in what is not written.

7 An Arab is somehow murdered
When asked at his trial, Meursault declares that ‚ĘI did not intend
to kill the Arab‚Ä™ and that ‚Ęit was because of the sun‚Ä™ (158). These
replies, which are mocked by the court, must be taken seriously for
two reasons. First because their non-intelligibility is an affront to the
court‪s facile rationalism, which is the main theme of Part 2. Sec-
ondly because Roland Barthes has argued that the sun is indeed the
cause of the murder and that it is the sign of Meursault‪s adherence
to a set of norms different from those observed by society (Barthes,
‚ĘL‚Ä™Etranger, ‚Äúroman solaire‚ÄĚ‚Ä™, p. 63). This is, however, an odd com-
ment because Barthes seems content to accept the sun as man‪s
destiny without offering any interpretation of what constitutes that
destiny.
One such interpretation is that Meursault is a pagan. Robert
Champigny writes that Meursault acts in accordance with a na-
ture that has its own coherence. We have already argued that
there is certainly a brand of paganism which was inspired by North
Africa and which Camus expounds in other books. But it is hard
to see what constitutes nature in The Stranger. While Chapter 2
and the early pages of Chapter 6 offer a natural world of which
Meursault might be considered a part, most of Chapter 6 depicts
nothing but the destructive force of a nature that is alien to man.
So the question remains: what is the sun and why is it so hostile to
Meursault?
The present analysis attempts to make sense of this hostility by
using psychoanalytical and political readings. But there remains
much in the chapter that cannot be explained. Why does Meursault
follow Raymond back to the beach after Raymond‪s long-time friend
Masson decides not to accompany him? Why does Meursault go for
the third time to the sundrenched beach when he is already suffering
from the heat? The issue is not to be resolved by mention of the
calculated ambiguity which was discussed earlier because Camus,
instead of offering no explanation, offers a forceful one: a discourse
on the sun composed in lyrical language. However, this discourse is
46 THE STRANGER

unsatisfactory because it cannot be translated into the language of
the rest of the book.
Chapter 6 begins on a contradictory note when Marie tells Meur-
sault that he looks like ‚Ęa mourner at a funeral‚Ä™ (77). So the parallels
with Chapter 1 are present already. Moreover, the sun resumes its
menacing role and strikes Meursault like ‚Ęa slap in the face‚Ä™ (77).
Then, however, the happiness of the excursion to the beach takes
over and the early pages are full of Marie‪s body-language: her hair
hanging free, her laughter, her leaps of joy, the gesture of picking
Ô¬‚owers and scattering the petals.
This is followed by other positive indicators. Eating, which is
sometimes sordid in The Stranger, is joyous here, for lunch con-
sists of Ô¬Āsh taken directly from the sea and of bread, which retains
in Camus‪s writing a trace of its sacramental quality. Marie and
Meursault swim well, Meursault desires her and there is a moment
of joy expressed in language that contains a hint of lyricism: ‚Ęwe
swam away and we felt that we were together in our movements
and our happiness‚Ä™ (82).
Of course hints of discord are also present: Marie‪s dress is
coloured white, Raymond does not swim at all, while Masson swims
badly and Masson‪s wife is a Parisian. Yet this is a morning of hap-
piness, when Meursault in an unusual moment thinks about the
future. Not only does he discuss renting a cabin on the beach for the
summer, but he also realizes that he is soon to be married. There is no
reason to suppose that his marriage will be any happier than Sala-
mano‪s, but this morning represents the kind of life which Meursault
will ‚Ä“ once he becomes fully aware at the end of the novel ‚Ä“ consider
the only value in the universe.
The reader is also conscious that this is a French-Algerian day.
Most of the elements mentioned ‚Ä“ the values of the body, the lack of
reÔ¬‚ection, the camaraderie and the superÔ¬Ācial sense of belonging to
nature ‚Ä“ are ingredients of pied-noir culture. It follows that the Ô¬‚aw
in this happiness will take the form of the Arabs, whom Meursault
has already described in a memorable sentence: ‚ĘThey looked at us
in silence but in their way, neither more nor less than if we were
stones or dead trees‚Ä™ (79).
We are tempted to interpret this by using Sartre‪s concept of
negritude. In colonial societies the vision of the colonizer dominates,
The Stranger 47
and the colonized are obliged to look at themselves as their master
does. There comes a moment, however, when the colonized assert
their identity against their master by compelling him to submit to
their gaze. If this interpretation is true, then Camus is building up the
tension in the novel: the ‚Ęthey‚Ä™, the Arabs, are turning against the
‚Ęus‚Ä™, the French-Algerians.
However we are even more struck by the way the Arab‪s look
resembles Meursault‚Ä™s. If the Arab is characterized by indifference ‚Ä“
it is here that Camus rejoins the mainstream of French-Algerian
writing ‚Ä“ then he is another Meursault. Like him, the Arab takes no
account of inner life, but rather destroys the elements that are tradi-
tionally considered human. He does to Meursault what Meursault
had done to the pensioners. Further parallels between the two lie
in their cult of silence and their alienation from the values of work
and commerce. So not merely does the Arab threaten Meursault
because he is the agent of the mother and a rival claimant to the
womanhood and land of Algeria, but he is also Meursault‪s brother,
a more authentic Meursault. In this respect, too, he is a menace to
Meursault‪s identity.
After the account of the lunch, the language of the chapter
changes and grows ever more lyrical. Sense impressions take on
more than physical force, and a hallucination is created where Meur-
sault is brutalized. His enemy is the sun ‚Ä“ ‚Ęits glare reÔ¬‚ected from
the sea was unbearable‚Ä™ (85); it is ‚Ęoverwhelming‚Ä™ (89) and his head
‚Ęresounds with sun‚Ä™ (91); the light falls like ‚Ęblinding rain‚Ä™ (91). The
other objects of nature help to create an inferno: ‚Ęheat like stone
wells up from the ground‚Ä™ (85), while the sand is ‚Ęred-hot‚Ä™ (86).
Even the sea betrays Meursault, for ‚Ęa dense, Ô¬Āery breath rises up
from it‚Ä™ (95).
Meanwhile time is suspended: ‚ĘFor two hours the day had not
advanced‚Ä™ (93). In the previous sentence the adjective ‚Ęsame‚Ä™ is
repeated three times. Space has shrunk to the beach on which no
one is present except the three Europeans and the two Arabs. The
sense of ritual is heightened by the use of adjectives like ‚Ęequal‚Ä™ and
‚Ęregular‚Ä™ (86), while a colour structure is created by the domination
of red which is the colour of male sexuality and aggression.
It is more correct to talk of an inferno than of natural objects, be-
cause these pages are dominated by what Sartre calls ‚Ęword-objects‚Ä™.
48 THE STRANGER

They are clustered around the motif of disintegration: ‚Ęthe sun was
breaking itself into pieces on the sand‚Ä™ (89), while two pages later
there is ‚Ęan explosion of red‚Ä™ (91). And the Ô¬Āgure to be destroyed is
Meursault: ‚Ęall this heat weighed on me and barred my path‚Ä™ (92); a
page later the attack comes from the opposite direction ‚Ä“ ‚Ęan entire
beach alive with sunshine pressed me from behind‚Ä™ (93). His exis-
tence menaced, Meursault struggles to survive: ‚ĘI strained as hard
as I could to overcome the sun‚Ä™ (92). The metaphor of the sunlight
as a sword-blade is invoked to heighten the danger. As in Chapter 1,
but more clearly so, Meursault is near to death.
We are able to link the sun with the Arab in his complementary
roles as agent of the mother and enemy of the pied-noir. Each time
Meursault goes to the beach, it is to avoid remaining with the women.
The Ô¬Ārst time the reason is the male‚Ä“female division of labour, where
the women remain to wash the dishes. Although the second case
is less clear, Meursault‪s willingness to accompany Raymond may
be explained by his dislike of the emotion the women show at Ray-
mond‚Ä™s wound ‚Ä“ ‚ĘMadame Masson was crying and Marie was very
pale‪ (88). This reminds us of Meursault‪s refusal to weep at his
mother‪s funeral and also of his refusal to intervene, as Marie asks
him to do, when Raymond beats up the Arab woman. So his decision
to accompany Raymond marks a rejection of woman in her role as
creature of tenderness.
When Meursault returns to the beach for the third time, it is in
order not to ‚Ęapproach the women once more‚Ä™ (91), and later he adds
that he is seeking shade to ‚ĘԬ‚ee from the sun, struggle and women‚Ä™s
tears‪ (92). This juxtaposition sums up Meursault‪s dilemma. If the
sun be accepted as an image of the mother, then Meursault is Ô¬‚eeing
both the indifferent mother and the tender Marie. He is still unable
to free himself from the former by caring for the latter.
But the mother accompanies him to the beach: the colour white
is present in the sea-shells which throw back the sun and the colour
black in the boat that is out at sea. Moreover, the comparison with
the funeral is made via the key adjective ‚Ęsame‚Ä™: ‚ĘIt was the same
sun as the day when I had buried mother.‚Ä™ Jean Gassin is correct
in viewing Meursault‪s attack on the Arab as a gesture against the
mother who is bringing him close to death.
The Stranger 49
But the political theme is also strong in these pages. Three times
the Europeans encounter the Arab amidst a stylized Algerian land-
scape of sea, sun and sand. The Ô¬Ārst time the Arabs are victorious
and the second time they conquer not by Ô¬Āghting the Europeans but
by taking possession of the landscape. ‚ĘQuite calm and almost happy‚Ä™
(89), they lie in the sand near a spring and a rock. Where Raymond
and even Meursault talk, the Arabs are silent, except that one of
them plays three notes on a Ô¬‚ute. The Ô¬‚ute is signiÔ¬Ācant because it
is Ô¬Ārst described as a reed and thus linked to nature, because music
might be considered free from the alienation of verbal communica-
tion, and because ‚Ä“ as Eisenzweig points out ‚Ä“ three constitutes a
cycle or a Ô¬‚ux but not ‚Ä“ at least to Westerners ‚Ä“ a progression or a
linear development.
To this we might add that three is a key number for Meursault: in
Part 2, Chapter 2, he three times repeats the statement that there are
things of which he does not like to speak; in the concluding chapter
he seems three times to refuse the chaplain, and here there are three
meetings on the beach with the Arabs. So this is another parallel
between Meursault and his rivals.
Certainly the Ô¬‚ute is linked both with silence and the running of
the spring: ‚Ęthe double silence of the Ô¬‚ute and the water‚Ä™ (91). Since
silence is associated with authenticity, the Arabs are reinforced in
their possession not of nature but of the speciÔ¬Ācally Algerian nature
and of its sources of life ‚Ä“ water and shade. When he returns the
third time Meursault, unable to bear the sun, discovers the single
Arab both better able to bear it and sheltered from it: ‚Ęhis forehead
was in the shade of the rock, his body in the sun. His dungarees were
smoking in the heat‚Ä™ (92).
So, although Meursault retains sufÔ¬Ācient awareness to note that
he does not understand what is happening, and although his doubt-
ing mind tells him ‚Ęit was stupid, I couldn‚Ä™t get rid of the sun by taking
one step‚Ä™ (94), The Stranger has entered its second lyrical phase and
another logic is at work. Meursault must take the shade, the source
of life, away from the Arab. Of the battle which follows we note the
male sexual overtones: the Arab‪s knife, which is linked with the
sword-blades of the sun, is a phallic symbol, as is Meursault‪s re-
volver. So the clash is once more for women and the land of Algeria.
50 THE STRANGER

Blinded by ‚Ęa curtain of tears and salt‚Ä™ (94), Meursault loses even
his lingering consciousness, and a fresh onslaught from the sun ‚Ä“
‚Ęthe sky opened right across to send Ô¬Āre gushing out‚Ä™ (95) ‚Ä“ causing
him to shoot.
In other books by Camus, like the short-story Le Ren¬īgat, loss of
e
intellectual clarity and succumbing to absolute belief are the factors
that trigger violence. Following this argument, Meursault kills the
Arab because he is threatened by a brother-rival whose claim to
Algeria is greater than his own. The pied-noir has to kill the Arab ‚Ä“
in this sense it is correct to use the term destiny ‚Ä“ in order to take
possession of the new Mediterranean kingdom. If Meursault is not
to die himself, he must carry out the political murder of slaying the
Arab.
Had Camus been able to offer a discourse on colonialism that
was in Foucault‚Ä™s words ‚Ęcombative‚Ä™ and liberated from ‚Ętaboos‚Ä™
(Foucault, p. 52), then it might have explained how the French-
Algerians were, in order to realize themselves as a new culture
and people, brutalizing the original occupants of the country. The
Stranger would have been a sombre warning to Camus‪s people. It
would have dragged into the open the fear of the Arab and the jeal-
ousy of an authenticity that is ascribed to him by the European. It
would have clariÔ¬Āed the relationship between Meursault‚Ä™s resent-
ment of his mother and his vengeance on the Arab.
To say this is, of course, absurd because no such text exists. The
thinker whose concept of literature best explains this aspect of The
Stranger is Pierre Macherey, who argues that a work of Ô¬Āction is of
necessity ‚Ęhollow‚Ä™ and ‚Ęabsent‚Ä™ (Macherey, pp. 75, 97). There can be
nothing harmonious that underlies it. Whether or not Macherey‪s
view is generally correct, it offers insights into this work and the
settler-colony from which it emerged.
Fear of the Arab, doubts about one‪s legitimacy and the probabil-
ity of violence could not be openly stated. So it would be as wrong to
explain away the sun as to conclude, as Ren¬ī Girard has done, ‚Ęthat
e
our efforts to make sense of Meursault‪s criminal action get nowhere‪
(Girard, p. 24). We may attempt, in Macherey‚Ä™s words, ‚Ęto say what
the work does not and could not say‚Ä™ (Macherey, p. 95), namely, the
well-nigh impossible historical situation in which French-Algerians
found themselves in the late 1930s.
The Stranger 51
By the 1950s, after the rise of an Arab nationalist movement
that offered open opposition to French rule, different literary works
could be produced. In The Exile and the Kingdom Camus deals some-
what more directly with Arab‚Ä“European conÔ¬‚icts, and in one of
these stories, The Adulterous Woman, the Arab is transformed by the
French-Algerian heroine into the incarnation of authenticity.
The Stranger, however, can do no more than point towards the
dilemma that French-Algeria was so reluctant to face; the reader
must complete the journey himself. It seems to me that it is a red
herring to agonize over Camus‪s attitude towards colonialism. But,
if one were to do so, one‚Ä™s Ô¬Ārst statement would be that he deserves
credit for questioning, however obliquely, the ideology of assimila-
tion. That he could not conduct a freer discussion of this taboo and
that he could not reconstruct the colony from the viewpoint of the
colonized by depicting Arabs as they perceived themselves, merely
prove how intractable are the problems posed by a settler-colony.
As for the issue of Meursault‪s moral responsibility, it is also mis-
placed. In Part 1, Chapter 6, Meursault is not the free being able
to choose between good and evil, who is presupposed by Western
legal systems and by the Judaeo-Christian heritage. Even during
Chapters 2 to 5 he was not a complete character nor a narrator
capable of drawing moral distinctions.
In the last sentence of Chapter 6 comes a moment of awareness:
‚ĘI understood that I had destroyed the harmony of the day, the ex-
ceptional silence of a beach where I had been happy‚Ä™ (95). As the
onslaught of the sun ends, Meursault reasserts himself as an in-
dividual and is able to examine the experience he has undergone.
There is no reason to think he appreciates the political nature of
the Arab‪s death, but he does understand that the life that has been
described in Part 1 is now over, and restrospectively he perceives its
value. SigniÔ¬Ācantly, he describes the way it ended as the irruption
of sound and hence language into silence.
In a gesture that mingles despair and awareness, he Ô¬Āres four
more shots into the Arab‪s body. The extra shots have greatly pre-
occupied critics of the novel and we may agree with Eisenzweig‪s
explanation of the number. Four does, unlike three, constitute a lin-
earity rather than a cycle, so the shots mark Meursault‪s entry into
the world of the boss, the warden and the priest.
52 THE STRANGER

By Ô¬Āring again he changes the nature of the killing, which ceases
now to be the work of the sun and becomes a common crime. Or
so it will appear to the judges, who will see in the extra shots the
evidence of a murder that has been deliberately executed. But, since
the key shot was the Ô¬Ārst and since the reader knows that, what-
ever the crime was, it was not in the conventional sense of the term
deliberate, Meursault will remain a man of dissidence and the con-
Ô¬‚ict with authority will now become the main theme. Meursault is
imprisoned by the language of authority, as is indicated when he
uses the banally literary metaphor of striking ‚Ęfour rapid blows on
the door of misfortune‚Ä™ (95). But if this clash is to become the main
theme of Part 2, the relationship between mother and son must be
resolved and the dead Arab must vanish, must be murdered all over
again.


8 An Arab forgotten and a mother appeased
The real murder of the Arab takes place now, carried out partly by
the state and partly by Meursault. The state‪s role is obvious: it puts
Meursault on trial for not weeping at his mother‪s funeral. This,
Meursault‚Ä™s lawyer tells him, will be ‚Ęa mighty argument for the
prosecution‚Ä™ (101). And so it proves, for the prosecuting lawyer
summons the warden, the caretaker and P¬ī rez to demonstrate
e
Meursault‪s insensibility and then concludes his cross-examination
of the witnesses by declaring that Meursault had ‚Ęburied his mother
with the heart of a criminal‚Ä™ (148).
Neither the prosecution nor the defence raises the question of
why the dead man is an Arab rather than a pied-noir. Indeed, the
prosecutor depicts the crime as a settling of accounts among men
who are on the fringes of the underworld and are linked with prosti-
tution, while the defence lawyer does not even mention the Arab in
his speech. This reÔ¬‚ects the ofÔ¬Ācial ideology of assimilation, and it is
a concerted effort to deny the Arab any existence. Neither the dead
man‪s sister nor his friend is summoned by either side as a witness.
Such factors corroborate Eisenzweig‪s view that the Arab is killed by
writing, although this is only part of the explanation and it is true
of Part 2 and not of Part 1, Chapter 6.
The Stranger 53
Another part of the explanation is that in the prison and trial
chapters the rivalry and identiÔ¬Ācation between pied-noir and Arab
are shrugged off. This is all the more jarring to the reader because
the issue is raised in Part 2, Chapter 2.

First of all I was shut in a room where there were several other prisoners,
most of them Arabs. They laughed when they saw me. Then they asked
what I had done. I told them I had killed an Arab and they were silent.
But a moment later it was evening. They showed me how to arrange the
mat I was to sleep on. (114)

This is a key paragraph because it reveals the identiÔ¬Ācation be-
tween Meursault and the Arab. In a colonial society the prisons
will be populated chieÔ¬‚y by the colonized, who will not recognize
themselves as criminals guilty of speciÔ¬Āc crimes but will consider it
normal to be in prison. So they welcome Meursault as one of them
and, even when he tells them he has killed an Arab, they do not ask
for explanations because they do not believe in the pseudo-logic of
the French state. In this they are different from the judges and akin
to Meursault.
By sleeping in the same way as they do, Meursault becomes,
albeit brieÔ¬‚y, an Arab. Thus the pied-noir‚Ä™s quest for authenticity
is realized, but in a paradoxical manner. A prisoner of the state, he
shares the condition of the colonized.
However, the theme is dropped in the same chapter when Marie
visits Meursault. Again most of the people present at visiting hour
are Arabs, whether prisoners or family. Accustomed to prisons,
many of the Arabs communicate despite the noise of the crowd:
‚Ęthey did not shout. Despite the hubbub they managed to make
themselves heard while speaking in low voices‚Ä™ (116). Although
Meursault admires this and is troubled by the noise, he and Marie
cannot imitate them and Marie has to raise her voice. Thus she and
Meursault are once more prisoners of language and separate from
the Arabs.
This is the last time that the text shows any awareness of Arabs,
and during his trial Meursault asserts his non-comprehension of the
murder. Once more it is not a question of the guilt or innocence of
the character Meursault, but rather that his guilt or innocence,
54 THE STRANGER

whichever it may be, is measured by his conÔ¬‚ict with the judges.
More crudely, Meursault becomes innocent as Part 2 goes on and as
the judges are more clearly branded as false. But in this conÔ¬‚ict the
Arab plays no role at all, his death becoming ‚Ä“ like his life and his
sister‚Ä™s life ‚Ä“ a non-event. He is not even the issue over which Meur-
sault and the judges Ô¬Āght, for that role is monopolized by the mother.
The Arab, whose death had some ill-deÔ¬Āned political signiÔ¬Ācance in
Part 1, Chapter 6, is now a non-person.
This is a further example of what Macherey calls ‚Ęhollowness‚Ä™.
For the reader cannot help being aware that something is missing in
the text, even if Camus is adept at hiding the void. A contemporary
critic, who was writing in the magazine ConÔ¬‚uences, pointed out that
the imposition of the death penalty on Meursault was implausible,
because the Arab had a weapon and the murder was perceived by the
court as a dispute among criminals. Ren¬ī Girard has stated that the
e
sympathy Meursault wins from the reader is illegitimate because he
has, after all, killed a man. Girard ignores the speciÔ¬Ācity of the Arab,
but this is the main theme of Conor Cruise O‪Brien‪s book which
argues that no French-Algerian court would ever have condemned
a pied-noir to death for killing an armed Arab.
The simplest explanation for the relationship between Part 1,
Chapter 6, and Part 2 is given by Brian Fitch, who argues that the
murder of the Arab is merely a pretext that allows Meursault to be
technically guilty of a crime and hence condemned, while appearing
innocent to the reader. Yet the neatness of such a view masks difÔ¬Ācult
questions. The reason for choosing an Arab as victim would seem
then ‚Ä“ for the choice must still be explained ‚Ä“ that the Western
European or North American reader will more easily forgive the
murder of an Arab than the murder of a European.
This may indeed be true, for Camus‪s admirers have demonstrated
an extraordinary Ô¬‚air for proving that the Arab‚Ä™s death is ‚Ędevoid of
all moral signiÔ¬Ācance‚Ä™ (Fitch, ‚ĘL‚Ä™Etranger‚Ä™ d‚Ä™Albert Camus, un texte,
p. 132). Arab observers might Ô¬Ānd such zeal misplaced and they
might note too that the vast majority of readers in the 1940s, in-
cluding Sartre, never pose the question of why the death of an Arab
furnishes the correct pretext. The short answer is that books are read
within historical parameters and, until the outbreak of the Algerian
The Stranger 55
War and more generally of decolonization, criticisms like O‪Brien‪s
could scarcely have been made.
From the comfortable vantage-point of the 1980s I am in partial
agreement with Fitch: in the second but not the Ô¬Ārst part of The
Stranger the murder of the Arab is a pretext that allows Meursault to
be condemned while retaining the reader‪s sympathy. But I also feel
that the shift in the murder, which had political signiÔ¬Ācance when
committed but becomes non-intelligible later, is felt by the reader
as an ‚Ęabsence‚Ä™. The shift explains, however, how The Stranger was
to be read as a novel of the Occupation rather than as a novel of
colonialism. But to demonstrate how this took place we must make
a detour via the Ô¬Āgure of the mother.
SuperÔ¬Ācially, the evil mother pursues her son throughout Part 2.
She has enlisted lawyers and magistrates, who succeeded in pun-
ishing him for loving her incestuously ‚Ä“ they are the agents of his
father ‚Ä“ or for not loving her sufÔ¬Āciently ‚Ä“ they are her agents.
Moreover, Meursault accepts his guilt, as he demonstrates in his
interpretation of the text that will become Le Malentendu. Although
the mother pillages and murders the son, Meursault considers that
the son ‚Ęhad deserved it a bit‚Ä™ (125). So the lawyers and magistrates
are the voices of his subconscious, and the incident of the criminal
who is to be tried for murdering his father reinforces the theme that
Meursault is being tried for murdering his mother. His seeming lack
of interest in the trial reÔ¬‚ects his desire to follow her into death. For
Jean Gassin there is no triumph in the second half of The Stranger,
which ends with ‚Ęthe death of the hero who gives up a life that has
become impossible because of his mother-Ô¬Āxation‚Ä™ (Gassin, p. 212).
Although this view is plausible, one cannot help agreeing with
Fitch, who considers that such a reading ignores the ‚Ęintentions of
the work‚Ä™ (Fitch, ‚ĘL‚Ä™Etranger‚Ä™ d‚Ä™Albert Camus, un texte, p. 89) because
it Ô¬Ānds Meursault guilty, whereas the text declares him innocent. As
already stated in Chapter 1, there is in Camus‪s writing both admi-
ration and hatred of the mother, and it seems to me that the former
dominates in the second half of The Stranger. After the colonial issue
has been resolved, however inadequately, the mother can switch
from being identiÔ¬Āed with the Arab and can now become her son‚Ä™s
ally in his battle with the judges.
56 THE STRANGER

His indifference, which becomes less an alienation and more a
protest in Part 2, is no longer directed against her; instead, she helps
in his struggle against the court‚Ä™s hypocrisy. At Ô¬Ārst Meursault Ô¬Āghts
his battle alone: ‚ĘI would have preferred that mother not die‚Ä™, he
says, and his lawyer ‚Ęlooked displeased‚Ä™ (102). He loved his mother
in the same way as everyone else did, he says, and the court clerk
‚Ęmishit the keys of his typewriter‚Ä™ (105). But near the end of his trial
Meursault invokes his mother to justify his conduct towards her.
Asked yet again if it had not hurt him to place her in a home, he
replies that ‚Ęneither mother nor I expected anything any longer from
each other or from anyone else‪ (135). So Meursault‪s indifference
is now explicitly presented as a reÔ¬‚ection of hers.
This may also explain another aspect of Marie‪s prison visit. She
is Ô¬‚anked by a mother who is visiting her son and by a woman who
seems to be the wife of another prisoner. Whereas the wife shouts,
the mother and son (the mother dressed in black) look at each other,
and she never speaks. Between the two are Marie and Meursault,
who are neither mother and son nor husband and wife, and who are
forced by the noise to raise their voices. If one follows the language
values of The Stranger, then the mother‚Ä“son bond is the deepest and,
although Marie does not disappear from the novel after the visit,
she does write a letter ‚Ä“ the only time she uses the written word
outside her work ‚Ä“ to say she will not be visiting Meursault again.
This might indicate that, as in The Plague where Rieux‪s wife leaves
and his mother arrives before the town is sealed, the mother‚Ä“son
relationship dominates.
But it is not perceived as a conÔ¬‚ict. Foreshadowing the reconcili-
ation comes a brief moment of sympathy for the father. Contrasting
with the false father-Ô¬Āgures of the judge and the priest, Meursault‚Ä™s
father appears in the last chapter as an antagonist of the guillo-
tine. SigniÔ¬Ācantly, this story is told via the mother, so that all three
family members are drawn together by it. The father attends the
execution although ‚Ęhe felt ill at the idea of going to it‚Ä™ (168). His
act is not vulgar sensationalism, but an investigation of capital pun-
ishment such as his son will undertake during his meditations in
his cell. On his return the father ‚Ęhad thrown up for part of the
morning‚Ä™ (168), thus putting himself in the opposite camp from the
judges.
The Stranger 57
The reconciliation with the mother, which takes up the episode
of her evening walks with P¬ī rez, comes in the closing pages. In Part
e
1, Meursault did not interpret her actions, but here he does: ‚ĘSo near
death, mother must have felt liberated and ready to live everything
over again‚Ä™ (185). Her afÔ¬Ārmation of life is a model to her son, and
she anticipates him as a Ô¬Āgure of the absurd.
This theme will be raised in our discussion of the Ô¬Ānal chapter, but
here one may note that the foundations for this reconciliation were
laid earlier during the prison and trial chapters, where Meursault‪s
victory over his judges is won by pitting his own and her indifference
against the language of authority.


9 Meursault judges the judges
The structure of Part 2 gives precedence to this conÔ¬‚ict, for Chap-
ter 1 depicts the early interrogations of Meursault by his lawyer and
the magistrate, while his Ô¬Ārst days in prison, which take place be-
fore these meetings, are reserved for Chapter 2. The chronology of
this chapter is blurred and the Ô¬Ārst page depicts events like Marie‚Ä™s
letter which take place after her visit. Since this is the chapter where
Meursault repeats that there are things ‚ĘI have never liked talking
about‚Ä™, we might conclude that Camus wishes to retain something
of the doubt that lingered over the narrative form of Part 1.
However, this chapter possesses a clear thematic progression, for
it depicts Meursault‪s evolution during his months in prison and
traces a growth in his awareness that prepares us for his attitude
during the trial. Chapters 3 and 4 depict the trial, the former ending
with Meursault‪s attempt to distance himself from the court and the
latter with the imposition of the death penalty. So not only is Part 2,
Chapters 1‚Ä“4, more like an orthodox journal novel, but its subject
is authority versus dissidence.
The outlines are set in Chapter 1. The Ô¬Ārst questions asked of
Meursault have to do with his civil state ‚Ä“ his name, address, age
and profession. Such details appear arbitrary to him ‚Ä“ ‚Ęit all seemed
like a game‚Ä™ (100) ‚Ä“ and the motif of the game versus nature recurs,
although it is handled ironically, for Meursault describes the legal
system as ‚Ęnatural‚Ä™ (110). Another recurring motif is the sun which
is present in the magistrate‚Ä™s ofÔ¬Āce ‚Ä“ ‚Ęhis ofÔ¬Āce was full of light which
58 THE STRANGER

was barely Ô¬Āltered by a thin curtain‚Ä™ (103) ‚Ä“ and which will grow
stronger throughout the trial. Associated again with death, the sun
here regains its traditional masculine quality, for it is primarily the
agent of the judges.
Writing re-appears in the shape of the clerk who transcribes
Meursault‪s language in this other even more distorted form. The
verb ‚Ęto understand‚Ä™ is prevalent and, if on page 103 the lawyer
cannot understand Meursault, then on page 104 Meursault can-
not understand the magistrate. Present too is the strategy of indif-
ference, for Meursault thinks of explaining and defending his point
of view to the lawyer before concluding that ‚Ęall that didn‚Ä™t really
serve much purpose and I gave up the idea out of laziness‚Ä™ (103).
The novelty of Part 2 is that Meursault‪s indifference ceases to be
instinctive and becomes a reasoned world view. Major developments
take place in Chapter 2, triggered by Marie‪s visit, which has already
been discussed twice. It remains only to add that, once he receives
Marie‚Ä™s letter, Meursault starts to feel ‚Ęthat I was at home in my cell
and that my life stopped there‚Ä™ (115). Now he begins to have ‚Ęonly a
prisoner‪s thoughts‪ (120). Learning how to do without cigarettes
and sexual pleasure and how to while away the hours, he becomes
a model prisoner and yet this adaptation to the world of power is
made with great alienation.
This is the sense of the episode of the mess tin whose rounded
and hence distorting surface serves as the second mirror of The
Stranger. If on the Ô¬Ārst occasion Meursault constituted an image of
his mother and had no conscious view of himself, he can here per-
ceive himself but only as someone other than himself: ‚Ęit seemed to
me that my reÔ¬‚ection remained serious even when I tried to smile at
it‚Ä™ (126). Awareness is thus accompanied by a form of schizophre-
nia: the separation of Meursault the model prisoner from another,
freer Meursault.
His true character is discovered a moment later: ‚ĘBut at the same
time and for the Ô¬Ārst time in months I distinctly heard the sound
of my voice. I recognized it as the one that had been ringing in my
ears throughout long days, and I understood that for all that time
I had been talking to myself‚Ä™ (126). This is the monologue which
cannot be written down and of which The Stranger is a faint echo. Its
content is ‚Ęthe hour without a name‚Ä™ (126), the horrors of evenings
The Stranger 59
in prison as recognized by the Meursault who is still, in spite of what
he said earlier, a free man. This unwritten text does Ô¬Ānd its way into
Chapter 3, where Meursault will be able to describe the evenings of
his former life, the value of which he is now better able to appreciate.
During the trial chapters his sense of the conÔ¬‚ict between his
freedom and the power of the state grows. At the outset he has the
‚Ębizarre impression that I was superÔ¬‚uous, a bit like a gatecrasher‚Ä™
(130). Then he Ô¬Ānds an ally in one of the journalists who is con-
spicuously unlike the others. As stated in Chapter 1, Camus was a
self-critical journalist and in The Stranger he satirizes the reporters
who have ‚Ęplayed up‚Ä™ (130) Meursault‚Ä™s case. The worst of them
is the Parisian, but there is one who is not carrying his fountain
pen and who is thus not participating in the pseudo-objectivity of
the others. Indeed he is, like Rambert in The Plague, not writing
at all.
This is the one whom Meursault looks at and whose eyes he can
perceive. When the journalist looks at Meursault ‚Ä“ as he will do
until the death sentence is pronounced ‚Ä“ Meursault has ‚Ęthe bizarre
impression of being looked at by myself‚Ä™ (132). This is not a case
of fraternity but rather one where this non-journalist conÔ¬Ārms in
Meursault the new awareness of himself as an outsider, who does
not Ô¬Āt the categories of prisoner or murderer to which the other
journalists and the lawyers have relegated him.
The sense of fraternity comes in Chapter 3 when Meursault has
quite different reactions to the prosecuting lawyer and to C¬ī leste. e
Each time he seems surprised at his own emotion. When the lawyer
triumphs, Meursault notes: ‚ĘI had a stupid urge to weep, because
I felt how much all these people detested me‚Ä™ (138). If the verb ‚Ęto
feel‚Ä™ is signiÔ¬Ācant, his reaction to C¬ī leste‚Ä™s evidence is stronger: ‚ĘI
e
said nothing . . . but for the Ô¬Ārst time in my life I wanted to kiss a man‚Ä™
(143). In this sentence lie the reafÔ¬Ārmation of silence as honesty, a
moment of working-class solidarity and an unusual emotion.
At the end of Chapter 3 Meursault begins to separate himself from
the court and to assert his other identity: his kinship with the Meur-
sault of Part 1. It is now that he remembers the Algiers evenings:
‚Ęall of the familiar sounds of a town I loved and of a particular time
of day when I often felt happy‚Ä™ (148). He then lists concrete impres-
sions such as the cries of newspaper vendors (a form of language
60 THE STRANGER

that is resolutely unsophisticated) because he does not attempt to
idealize or dramatize the life he had lived. Rather it is the immediate
experience, uncluttered by intellectual categories, that he asserts,
even if the act of assertion is intellectual.
Concomitantly, Meursault withdraws from his trial as he per-
ceives that it has nothing to do with him: ‚ĘEverything was unfolding
without any intervention from me. My fate was being decided with-
out my opinion being asked‚Ä™ (151). The mechanism by which this
takes place will be discussed later, but in Chapter 4 Meursault is
able to explain that mechanism, and before the death penalty is
announced he has already abandoned the identity of Meursault,
the murderer-on-trial: ‚Ęthe uselessness of what I was doing there
welled up in my throat‚Ä™ (161). By now his other identity is fully de-
veloped, built out of concrete memories: ‚Ęthe smells of summer, the
neighbourhood that I liked, an evening sky, Marie‪s laughter and
her dresses‚Ä™ (161). So, when the death penalty is pronounced, he
has already circumvented it.
It is this Meursault who as well as escaping also vanquishes the
judges by imposing his language on theirs, thus revenging the defeat
suffered at the trial by his working-class friends, whose language is
shattered by the false rationalism of the court.
Even before they begin to speak, C¬ī leste, Marie, Salamano,
e
Masson and Raymond are out-of-place. C¬ī leste has put on the suit
e
that he wears to race-tracks (another association between sport and
happiness), while Marie is obliged to hide her long hair under a hat,
the values of the body having no place in the courtroom where her
sexuality is perceived as a crime. The declarations which the friends
make reiterate basic tenets of working-class culture: friendship, sol-
idarity, fatalism and resignation. Nowhere in this culture is there
the sense that the universe may be understood, which is the sig-
niÔ¬Ācance of Salamano‚Ä™s comment: ‚ĘYou have to understand‚Ä™ (145).
The judges cannot understand that Salamano means the opposite of
what he is saying, namely, that there are areas of life that lie beyond
human comprehension and judgement and that must therefore be
treated with sympathy.
Both C¬ī leste and Raymond reiterate the non-intelligibility of the
e
crime, C¬ī leste describing it as a ‚Ęmisfortune‚Ä™ (142) and Raymond
e
as the fruit of ‚Ęchance‚Ä™ (146). Each time these non-explanations
The Stranger 61
are dismissed by the court which is too busy constructing its own
false explanations. C¬ī leste goes farther by expanding in his inarticu-
e
late way on other values of working-class life. When asked whether
Meursault was his ‚Ęcustomer‚Ä™, he replies that Meursault was also
his ‚Ęfriend‚Ä™ (141), thus transforming the economic relationship of
commerce into a personal one. The stress on friendship, even in the
debased form that Raymond represents, is a yardstick by which to
measure the insincerity of the court, which condemns Meursault
for not mourning his mother with the appropriate external signs of
emotion.
C¬ī leste raises another conÔ¬‚ict when he declares that Meursault
e
is ‚Ęa man‚Ä™ and adds that ‚Ęeveryone knew what that meant‚Ä™ (141).
This is a plea for the universality of C¬ī leste‚Ä™s values, and the irony
e
is that it is rejected by a bourgeois court which is itself pleading the
universality of such values as legal guilt or innocence.
Class conÔ¬‚ict is sharp at this moment, but the court‚Ä™s victory
is complete. By his cross-examination of Marie, the state‪s lawyer
turns her relationship with Meursault into a shameful ‚Ęirregular
liaison‚Ä™ (144), thus re-establishing traditional taboos on sexuality
and branding Marie as little more than a prostitute (and hence link-
ing her with the Arab woman). Her sobs reveal her understanding of
what is happening ‚Ä“ ‚Ęshe said it wasn‚Ä™t that at all, it was something
quite different, she was being forced to say the opposite of what she
thought‚Ä™ (145).
The language of the lawyers is a banal ‚Ä“ perhaps too banal ‚Ä“
rhetoric. Addresses to the jury abound, as do questions that re-
quire no answers and emotive adjectives like ‚Ęsacred‚Ä™ (156), ‚Ęsqualid‚Ä™
(147) and ‚Ęsordid‚Ä™ (147); such adjectives are frequently used in the
superlative ‚Ä“ ‚Ęthe lowest kind‚Ä™ and ‚Ęthe most shameful debauch-
ery‚Ä™ (147), and ‚Ęthe most abominable of crimes‚Ä™ (156). The defence
lawyer uses similar language and displays adjectives that are mirror
images of the prosecution‚Ä™s. So Meursault is described as ‚Ęhonest‚Ä™,
‚Ęreliable‚Ä™, ‚Ęindefatigable‚Ä™, ‚Ęfaithful‚Ä™ and ‚Ęsympathetic‚Ä™ (159). The in-
gredient of authority in this language comes from the fact that its
emotional tone admits of no reply. Not only is it, as stated earlier,
akin to the telegram in that it is remote from concrete experience,
but it Ô¬‚aunts its own preconceived judgements. Of these there are
two which form part of the state‪s ideology: that men are primarily
62 THE STRANGER

spiritual beings endowed with souls and that men‪s actions possess
a coherence.
Sartre‪s view of souls, which was quoted in Chapter 1, might
be the best comment on the perorations which both lawyers make
about Meursault‚Ä™s soul. SigniÔ¬Ācantly, neither of them has any trou-
ble comprehending it but, whereas the prosecution Ô¬Ānds in it ‚Ęnoth-
ing human‚Ä™ (153), the defence discovers ‚Ęa model son‚Ä™ (160). This
satire on the idealization practised by society prepares for the second
myth: the supposed coherence of human behaviour.
Once more defence and prosecution agree, demonstrating that
the conÔ¬‚ict is never between them but between Meursault and the
entire court. The defence argues that the crime was ‚Ęa moment of
aberration‚Ä™ (161) in a life that otherwise possesses a clear logic. In-
coherence may then be admitted, if it declares itself as such, does not
last long and expects to be treated as if it were coherent. The lawyer
does not declare that Meursault should not be punished or that he
should not feel remorse. As for the prosecution, it reconstructs a
Meursault who shows no trace of incoherence. He is a hardened
criminal who refuses to weep at his mother‪s funeral, engages in
irregular liaisons the next day, has underworld connections and
commits a premeditated murder. One remembers Barthes‪s view
that the death of the Arab is left unexplained precisely in order to
accentuate the conÔ¬‚icts between Meursault and society. While it has
been argued that this is not true of Part 1, Chapter 6, it is a correct
interpretation of Part 2. One is also reminded that in the Discourse on
Language Foucault warns us against the quest for causality and sug-
gests that an important part of any discourse lies in its ‚Ędiscontinuity‚Ä™
(Foucault, p. 54).
The view that Meursault acted while ‚Ęknowing exactly what he
was doing‚Ä™ (153) receives support from the extra four shots which
must be considered again. They are the crux of the discussion in Part
2, Chapter 1, with the magistrate. Following Eisenzweig‪s interpre-
tation, the four shots are the Ô¬Ārst sign that Meursault is entering the
world of rationality and power; if this is precisely the aspect of his
crime that is held against him, it is because society does not wish to
recognize itself for what it is but rather perceives its version of rea-
son as universal and of power as justice. To this one might add two
small footnotes. First, in conÔ¬Ārmation of Eisenzweig‚Ä™s interpretation
The Stranger 63
of the number four, we may remark that the magistrate repeats the
word ‚Ęwhy‚Ä™ four times (106), when he asks about the extra shots.
Secondly it is revealing once again that the magistrate ignores the
speciÔ¬Ācity of the Arab to concentrate on a statistic ‚Ä“ the number of
shots. In response, Meursault says nothing but thinks that the point
‚Ęwas not very important‚Ä™ (107), indicating already that the trial will
be fought over false issues, over the four shots rather than over the
Ô¬Ārst shot and the sun.
Another way to consider the interpretations of the lawyers is
as stories, pieces of Ô¬Āction made up for the jury and public, with
the journalists as book-reviewers. As such they are the kind of Ô¬Āc-
tion that Camus and Sartre most disliked: omniscient authors have
created a puppet-character called the murderer, Meursault, who is
allowed no freedom and is to be justly punished. Meursault invites
us to consider the trial in this way, for he notes ‚Ä“ in his role as reader
of such Ô¬Āction ‚Ä“ that the prosecutor‚Ä™s way of ‚Ęlooking at the events
did not lack clarity. What he was saying was plausible‚Ä™ (153). The
difference between the puppet-character and Camus‪s character-
narrator is that, whereas the former has no language, the latter
does and he uses it adroitly. His aim is to undermine the lawyers‚Ä™
Ô¬Āction by irony, and to reappropriate the power they exert over him
by relaying their rhetoric in the form of free indirect speech.
This is a conscious attempt, because Meursault knows that he is
being guillotined in advance by the lawyers‚Ä™ language. The defender
uses ‚ĘI‚Ä™ when he means Meursault, who comments: ‚ĘI thought it was
removing me from the whole business and reducing me to noth-
ing‚Ä™ (159). So Meursault launches a counter-attack and avenges
his friends C¬ī leste and Marie. Indeed it may not be too exagger-
e
ated to see in the pages that depict them a critique of another kind
of Ô¬Āction: populism. Their shortcomings are precisely those which
characterize populist writing: sentimentality, defeatism and a sense
of its own illegitimacy in the face of high culture. If this be so, then

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