Meursault, Salamano, and the Foil

Camus uses other characters in his novel The Stranger to highlight Meursault’s lack of care. For example, Meursault notices a woman who sits with him as she eats at Celeste’s. In particular, he notices how she does everything with assurance. She eats purposefully, she marks her magazine completely, and she prepares her bill to the exact penny before she begins eating (43). Meursault follows her outside as she swiftly walks away, and notes how strange she is, but nothing else happens involving the lady. At first, it seems odd that Camus would add this strange detail that takes up a page of his story and appears to amount to nothing. However, the purpose of this encounter is to provide contrast to Meursault’s indifferent personality. Meursault responds to everything with short sentences that say he doesn’t really care. This lady, on the other hand, seems to care about everything she does. By including this woman into the story, Meursault’s indifference is only made clearer.

Another character that contrasts Meursault is Salamano. In the beginning of the novel, the old man seems like a bad person with no heart. He abuses his dog and calls him a “lousy bastard” all the time. However, on page 39, Meursault hears him crying after he lost his dog. Camus makes a clear point to take this character who seems heartless and give them emotions and vulnerable moments too. This surprising revelation causes the reader to wonder: if even Salamano cares about things, how come Meusault does not?

If the syntax of the novel and Meursault’s own thoughts aren’t enough to show his indifference to everything, the stark contrast between him and others completes the job.

2 thoughts on “Meursault, Salamano, and the Foil

  1. Isabel K

    It is fascinating to look at Meursault’s indifference in comparison to the attitude of the characters around him. I agree that his thoughts and the writing style of the piece already indicate this clear air of apathy with which Meursault perceives the world. And I think that as you suggested, looking at Meursault in contrast to the other characters makes this even more apparent. I think it is interesting to view the strange woman that Meursault meets at Celeste’s as a foil for his own indifference.

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  2. Sam S

    Good points about the foils Nick, I agree. Why do you think Camus tries to highlight Meursault’s apathy? Based on Meursault’s inner dialogue it does not seem he is malicious. In fact, his apathy could even be characterized as quaint and attractive in some ways, as evidenced by the way that Mary says she is attracted to him essentially “because of the way he is different.” What are the principals that guide Meursault ethically, and if there are none then why considering his many opportunities to form some ethical system?

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