Thursday, 28 March 2013

"The Stranger" by Albert Camus - One Chapter per day | Day four

Summary

It is Sunday. Meursault's been at work all week and gone out to the cinema a couple of times with Emmanuel. During the week Raymond stopped by to tell Meursault that he'd given the letter to his mistress. Yesterday, on the Saturday, he and Marie went out of Algiers to spent the day at the beach. She stays the night and they plan to have lunch together. On his way to the shop to get food Meursault hears a woman in Raymond's room and later the dog in Salamano's room. When he gets back Marie asks him if he loves her. Meursault replies that love doesn't mean anything. She looks sad but then she laughs as they prepare lunch. At this point they hear a commotion from Raymond's room. Raymond is carrying out the 'punishment'. Due to the loud screams coming from Raymond's room, Marie asks Meursault to call the police, which he refuses. Someone has called the police because a policeman arrives at Raymond's door.  Raymond tries to act coolly, in front of his neighbours, but the policeman humiliates him with a slap. Marie has gone off the idea of lunch so Meursault eats most of it. She leaves and he takes a nap. Raymond knocks on his door at three to discuss what happened and ask Meursault to act as a witness for him. Meursault agrees and they go out together ending up in a bar. Later they bump into Salamano who has lost his dog. That evening, after he has said goodnight to Raymond, Meursault gets a knock at his door. It is Salamano looking for some piece of mind over his missing dog.

Meursault and Marie

The chapter opens on a Sunday but Meursault talks briefly about the day before. That Saturday was spent at the beach with Marie. The previous Saturday he met her and picked her up on a different beach. Although he knew of her, she worked in his office, he has only gotten to know her for one week. So when she starts talking about love it's a bit premature. Some commentators have made much of Meursault's indifferent comments on love at this point but considering how early on the two are in the relationship (are they even in a relationship at this point?) his response isn't all that strange. Indeed, even though Marie looks a bit sad she is soon laughing again. It is much more likely that rather than showing Meursault's 'alienated, detached or emotionally numb' response to love, Camus is commenting here on the 'games' young lovers play. Jan, in Cross Purpose, in a misguided attempt to reach out to his mother, plays a game that has deadly consequences. Meursault himself will comment on this in chapter two of the second half of The Stranger. In the next chapter Marie will ask Meursault if he wants to marry her. This has often been interpreted as a marriage proposal but it is more likely to be closer to trying to work out Meursault’s future ‘intentions’. Later on Marie will play other ‘game’, testing to see if Meursault would be jealous if she had a date with another man.

Raymond’s punishment backfires

The intention was to lure his girlfriend back into his arms and then to humiliate her at the crucial moment. However, things don’t go according to plan. Instead of playing her part, the woman is outraged and fights back. The police are called and it is Raymond who is left humiliated with a slap to the face from the cop. He is truly a pathetic character. In chapter six, Marie will laugh at the slight of him. Raymond wants to be thought of as a man but instead is a figure of fun – a little man in a silly hat going to the beach with pasty white skin.

Call the cops!

Marie asks Meursault to call the police on Raymond but he refuses. Why? Because he doesn’t like policeman. This is an odd value-judgment for a character who is supposed (by some commentators) to believe he lives in a meaningless universe.

Salamano’s escape-artist dog

Camus was very concerned about the humiliation of infirmity and old age. Salamano is suffering from both. The elderly become ‘strangers’ living alone and ignored by society. In ‘Summer in Algiers’ Camus writes about how a man has basically played all his cards by the time he is thirty. In an earlier essay ‘Irony’ we read about the humiliation of various elderly people. The absurd has a sense of the ridiculous about it; note how Salamano’s dog wriggles out of his collar while his master is distraction by ‘the Escape King’.

Note that Meursault bothers to help the old man, to talk to him and share his problem. Salamano will choose Meursault to come to that evening. Perhaps he knocks on Meursault’s door because their isn’t anyone else’s he can knock on but still, he feels Meursault is someone he can turn to.

Couples

Camus keeps drawing our attention to different kinds of relationship couples: Meursault and his mother, Meursault and Marie, Meursault and Raymond, Raymond and his mistress, Salamano and his late wife, Salamano and his dog. Previously, we have had Meursault’s mother and Thomas Perez; we will have Masson and his wife. There is also the Arab and his sister and even the young court reporter and the robotic woman.

Tomorrow - day 5

[Text by Simon Lea]

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