Who is Mersault Anyway?

“The Stranger” begins with a long, drawn-out summary of Mersault’s mother’s (Maman’s) death and the days that followed it. It’s not an anecdote, it doesn’t have any emotional detail. Mersault sees the death of his mother as more of an inconvenience than anything – he seems apologetic when he tells his boss that he needs time off work, telling him “‘It’s not my fault'” (1). During the procession, he seems more focused on simple grievances like the heat and how long the walk is than anything else. He returns from his trip, checks another thing off his to-do list, and returns to his normal life as if nothing significant has just happened. He acts like an outlier, simply an observer of the raw emotion around him even though the death holds the most significance in himself.

Even throughout the first part, Mersault has no characteristic of his own; when he is alone, he just sits by his window and observes. He is truly the embodiment of who we would consider a “stranger:” someone who exists and has his own life outside of his little interaction with us that we can’t imagine or understand, because we simply don’t know him.

The detail that stuck out to me most was how after his late mother moved into a home, he packed his entire apartment into one room. “It was just the right size when Maman was here,” he says. “Now it’s too big for me … I live in just one room now, with some saggy straw chairs, a wardrobe whose mirror has gone yellow, a dressing table, and a brass bed. I’ve let the rest go” (21). Another object that Mersault has kept in his tiny room, however, is a “notebook where I put things from the papers that interest me.”

Mersault describes putting an advertisement for a salt company into his notebook. And every other worn out object in his little room has one everyday use that helps him in his survival.

We don’t know anything about Mersault’s life. The salt advertisement that he puts into his notebook gives us absolutely no clue as to what his interests actually are. He has no forms of recreation or entertainment in his apartment – it’s all just basic necessities. Why is he showing no emotion or sense of reflection at his mother’s funeral?

In short, the first part of this novel gives us no insight into Mersault’s past. The reader cannot connect with him on a personal level, or make inferences as to why he lives the way he does. Evidently he had a strained relationship with his mother, but I want to know why. All I can say is that so far, the title has fit the character.

2 thoughts on “Who is Mersault Anyway?

  1. LucaL

    I really connect with your analysis. I feel that Camus intentionally projects Meursault as this man behind a curtain. I think that Meursault’s lack of care in many situations enhances his image of a Stranger in Part 1. When Camus writes that “It was then that I realized that you could either shoot or not shoot,” Meursault’s indecisiveness comes to light (56). He does not show any emotion, which definitely makes reading this story more intriguing for me, as it is hard to determine a logical progression of events and make a guess as to what might happen next, or how Meursault might respond.

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  2. THOMAS S

    I agree with your analysis of Meursault. I think it is very strange that a person can not only show his emotion but not show interest in anything besides what is currently happening in his life. The only time that you see him show any emotions towards anything is when it is the present. As soon as an event is in the past, even his mother’s death, he sees it as unimportant. However, the first part of the novel does not see him thinking or worrying about the future at all. Even when he is presented with an opportunity to work in Paris, which is life-changing, he simply does not care. I think that later in the novel we will get insights into his interests or at least what causes this peculiar thought process.

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