The characters in Albert Camus’ ”The Stranger,” with the exception of Meursault, belong to their community.
They are passionate and interact with one another. Meursault stands apart, indifferent to his environment, thereby standing among the other characters of the novel as a stranger, or outsider.
Everyone is unique in some particular manner.
This generally doesn’t prevent us from wanting to be a part of our community. We don’t separate ourselves from those around us and remove our emotions or feelings. In contrast, the main character of Albert Camus’ The Stranger does just this. Meursault appears indifferent to everyone and everything around him. He has shut himself off from any sort of emotion or feeling he might have for others.
Meursault doesn’t want to fit in with everyone else. He stands apart from his community and culture. He doesn’t cry when his mother dies. He doesn’t pay ‘his last respects at her grave.’ His involvement with Marie Cardona is purely sexual. He tells her that ‘love doesn’t mean anything.
‘ His interactions with neighbors and co-workers are simply based on whether he happens to find them annoying at that particular moment.Meursault is an honest person. Perhaps this is why characters such as Marie and Raymond Sintes get along with him. He expresses what he is thinking and doesn’t pull any punches.
You always know where you stand with someone like Meursault. When he murders an Arab man, he sees the firing of the gun as ‘knocking..
.on the door of unhappiness.’ He doesn’t express any sort of remorse or guilt. Perhaps one might perceive the emptiness in Meursault’s heart as ‘an abyss threatening to swallow up society.’
This supposed emptiness of Meursault doesn’t affect Raymond Sintes. Raymond lives on the same floor as Meursault, and is perceived by others in the building as ‘living off women,’ perhaps a euphemism for his involvement in running a prostitution ring.
He attempts to establish a relationship with Meursault. They have dinner together, and Raymond has Meursault write a letter to his mistress, asking her to come back. Meursault knows that Raymond intends to physically assault her for cheating on him, but doesn’t seem put off by this.Raymond drags Meursault into a confrontation with the Arabs, who seek revenge over Raymond’s assault on a Moorish woman. The woman is sister to one of the Arabs. It is interesting to note that Camus never gives a name to any of the Arab characters, a means to demonstrate the gulf between the French and Arabs in Algiers at the time Camus wrote this novel. Meursault ends up murdering the brother.
For his part, Raymond testifies on behalf of Meursault, but does little else to help his ‘pal.’The relationship between Raymond and Meursault would be difficult to define as friendship. It is more an arrangement of convenience.
Raymond needs someone on his side. Meursault sees no reason why he shouldn’t lend help to a neighbor, especially one who offers food and wine. Raymond gets help with a problem he is facing, and in the end, doesn’t have to face any of the consequences or responsibility for any of his actions. Based on this, it would seem the rumors of Raymond being involved in criminal activities might be substantiated.
Marie Cardona becomes a loyal and devoted friend to Meursault.
She used to work at the same firm where Meursault works, and Meursault believes she ‘had a thing for him.’ When he meets her at a public pool, they become close and end up going to the movies. Afterward, she goes back to his place and spends the night.
This occurs the day after Meursault buried his mother. To Marie, this is the start of a relationship with a man she has hopes to marry.She asks Meursault about marriage, and his answers all amount to the same.
He is indifferent toward it. If she wants to marry, they ‘could do it whenever she wanted.’ She finds his answers ‘peculiar.
..(and) probably why she loved (him).’ As opposed to the violent and criminal nature of Raymond, Marie brings light and hope into Meursault’s life. She wants him to be happy, just as he makes her feel.When Marie visits Meursault while he is in prison, she tells him ‘that he needs to have hope.’ This is what keeps Marie optimistic.
She believes that the future holds endless possibilities. Anything can happen. She tries to instill this in Meursault, but he lives in the moment, and has no use for the past or the future.
Unfortunately for her, Meursault’s heart ‘feels nothing, and (he can’t) even return her smile.’
The other characters in the novel make brief appearances and have little interaction with Meursault. Salamano is another neighbor of Meursault’s.
He has a mangy spaniel, and both of them have a skin disorder that makes them difficult to look at. Salmano is always beating his dog, and treating it poorly. When the dog runs away, Salmano feels remorse and realizes what he has lost.
He worries about the safety of the dog, and the emptiness its absence brings. All these emotions contrast with the stoic nature of Meursault.Celeste owns the restaurant where Meursault regularly eats. He even testifies at Meursault’s trial, referring to him as ‘a friend and the murder simply being bad luck.
‘ Masson is an acquaintance of Raymond’s, and invites Meursault and Marie to his beach house. It is at this beach where Meursault will murder the Arab. Finally, there is Meursault’s mother, although deceased, who plays a big role in the novel. It is his indifference to her death that plays a large role in his conviction, perhaps more so than the murder itself.
Meursault, perhaps deliberately, separates himself from all those around him, and perhaps even from life itself. His attempt to be a stranger comes into focus when one looks at the other characters around him and how they contrast with his characteristics and indifferent attitude.Marie Cardona and Raymond Sintes show different types of passion, neither of which Meursault can reciprocate. He remains indifferent to their advances and takes from them only what he needs. The other characters interact with him, and have no complaints since he treats them fairly.
Meursault is an island unto himself.