Friday, 29 March 2013

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


Raymond phones Meursault at his office to invite him to a friend’s chalet the following Sunday. He also warns Meursault that a group of Arabs, including the brother of his former mistress, has been following him (Raymond) around all day and wants Meursault to keep an eye out for them. After the call Meursault's boss asks to speak to him about a possible promotion that will involve a move to Paris. Much to the man's surprise and consternation Meursault turns him down. That evening Marie asks Meursault if he wants to marry her. He, hardly enthusiastically, replies that he doesn't mind. They walk through the town and she turns down dinner at Céleste's due to a prior engagement. In the restaurant Meursault observes and the follows a strange 'robotic' woman. Back home he bumps into Salamano who tells him that his dog is definitely lost and then opens up about his late wife and how he ended up with the dog. The chapter ends with Salamano revealing how some local people thought badly of Meursault for putting his mother in a home.

Raymond's phone call

Raymond begins the call with an invitation to his friend's beach chalet the following Sunday. It is during the visit to this chalet, after lunch, that Meursault will shoot the Arab with Raymond's gun. The real purpose of the call is to get Meursault's help. Raymond is worried by the brother of his former mistress (and his friends), these men have been following him around. In the next chapter we will see just how scared Raymond is of these men.

Note that Raymond has always made the first move in approaching Meursault and that he always seems to have an ulterior motive. He invites him in to his room so that Meursault will write the letter. He comes to Meursault's room after dishing out the 'punishment' to get Meursault to act as a witness for him (and to check what his neighbour thinks of him after the humiliating incident with the policeman). He invites Meursault to the chalet so that he won't have to travel alone and so that he enlist Meursault's help in staking out his building, checking for Arab threats.

The offer of promotion

Meursault's boss is surprised at his lack of ambition especially his turning down an offer to relocate to Paris. However, as we soon learn, Meursault has already been to Paris and he hates the place. Much has been made of his supposed lack of ambition however not many commentators have considered how good (or bad) the offer really is. If Meursault (a) doesn't particularly like his job, and (b) definitely doesn't like Paris, how great is an offer to move to Paris to continue doing his job? In addition, Meursault has lots of loyal friends in Algiers.

Note that Meursault mentions: “When I was a student, I had plenty of that sort of ambition. But when I had to give up my studies, I very soon realized that none of it really mattered.” We don't know why Meursault had to give up his studies. In A Happy Death Patrice Mersault had to give up his studies because his mother falls ill with diabetes. Camus had to give up his studies at 17 because he fell ill with TB. However, what we do know is that something happened during Meursault's student days that made him reassess his values. And that he does have values. If he didn’t, then why bother rejecting the promotion? In a meaningless world, Paris is a good as Algiers, and both are as good as a camel’s backside. Meursault doesn’t just shrug a ‘whatever’ to his boss, he tries to explain his motives for staying put.

There will be plenty of references to ambition in The Stranger, in fact it is one of the key themes of the novel. As we will see, the ambitious journalists and lawyers at Meursault's trial will play an important role in his fate.

Meursault notices the beautiful women

He points this out to Marie. She is a candidate for his long-term affection, the presence of other women puts her position in question. His decision to point this out just the women is game-playing on his part. Marie responds in kind by creating a rival for Meursault. She is somewhat successful. “She looked at me. 'Don't you want to know who what I'm doing?' I did want to know, but I hadn't thought of asking and now she seemed to be reproaching me for it.” As on other occasions, this courtship play ends with Marie laughing. Meursault is not doing too badly.

It is worth contrasting with Meursault's reaction the extreme jealousies that not only Patrice Mersault in A Happy Death but Camus himself felt when a woman he was involved in looked at other men.

The robotic woman

Most commentators have considered her to be a reminder of how we can fall into habit. She acts like an automaton, going through the motions – in Meursault's eyes. Perhaps she is supposed to ‘secrete the inhuman’. Is she like the man talking on the phone behind a glass partition, described in The Myth of Sisyphus? She will turn up again at as a spectator at Meursault's trial.

“I told old Salamano that he could get another dog but he rightly pointed out to me that he’d got used to this one.”

Meursault suggests that one dog is a good as another but Salamano ‘rightly’ points out that this is not the case. Note that the relationship between the old man and his dog has been juxtaposed throughout the novel with other couplings (Raymond and his mistress, Meursault and Marie); Just before this scene Meursault has pointed out other woman to Marie – she is just one woman among others – but as Salamano rightly observes other beings aren’t interchangeable.

“But according to him, its real trouble was old age and there’s no cure for old age.”

We discussed old age in our previous notes. Salamano’s wife gets old, his marriage gets old. She dies and the marriage is over. The puppy is young and vibrant but it too gets old. Death and decay are ‘real troubles’ for Camus.

“I told him that he could stay, and that I was upset about what happened to his dog”

Wait a minute! Meursault the nihilist, Meursault the man who cares only for his physical sensations allows a man who was “annoying” him, who was keeping him up, to stay with him? Not only this compassion but Meursault is upset over the disappearance of the dog! Camus noted that people often missed the ‘good will’ of Meursault.

Meursault’s relationship with this mother is now explicitly brought up. He hasn’t managed to feel upset by her death but he does feel this way about the dog. Compare Meursault’s treatment of the bereaved Salamano with the treatment he received from the care home staff.

Tomorrow - Day 6

[Text by Simon Lea]

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