Places: The Stranger

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: L’Étranger, 1942 (English translation, 1946)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Existentialism

Time of work: Late 1930’s to early 1940’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Algiers

*Algiers. Stranger, TheCoastal capital of Algeria, a country in North Africa. Although not specifically described, Algiers serves as a general backdrop not only to the main action but above all to Meursault’s struggle with the collective forces of nature arrayed against him.

Beach

Beach. Outside Algiers, where Raymond, Meursault’s friend, has a bungalow. When the sun beats down on Meursault, the reflecting light gouges into his eyes, the lazy sea waves turn him lethargic, the fiery beach presses him forward, and the cloudless sky pours a sheet of flame on him. Under this onslaught, he has no other choice but to react in self-defense, first, by erasing the source of the attack (the Arab and his shining knife) and then by firing four additional shots for the four elements of nature.

Prison

Prison. Tiny cell in which Meursault awaits his execution. Only a confined space can allow him to concentrate on the essential and to think philosophical thoughts, unmolested by outside distractions and pointless discussions. After his final metaphysical revolt he is ultimately at peace, as evidenced by the stars shining on his face like a celestial projector, instead of the relentless and punishing sun, and by the heat now being replaced by the refreshingly cool night breeze on his cheeks. This Meursault calls “the benign indifference of the universe.”

*Marengo

*Marengo. Retirement home and cemetery located some fifty miles west of Algiers. Before and during his mother’s funeral Meursault shows a strange callousness and lack of sorrow about her death. The unbearable heat and the blinding glare of the sun further aggravate this insensitivity, as he matter-of-factly attends the ceremony. Apparently unmoved by the occasion, he also observes the arid landscape around him, noting the green cypresses, the red soil, the humming insects, the rustling grass, and the various smells.

Swimming pool

Swimming pool. Part of the harbor complex. Rather than mourn over his mother’s death, he spends the next day with a female former coworker at the pool. The two then go to a movie theater to see a comedy and lastly to his apartment, where they spend the night together.

Detention center

Detention center. Jail in which Meursault is held before his trial. He and his court-appointed lawyer discuss his defense, which given his general apathy, does not look promising. Progressively, as he understands the purpose of his imprisonment, he adapts to his new environment by killing time and by sleeping.

Courtroom

Courtroom. Room in which Meursault’s trial takes place. Again, the heat is stifling, increased by the hour of the day and the large crowd of spectators and reporters. Again he responds and reacts in an all-too-aloof and unconcerned manner. This is why he is considered a “stranger,” quickly found guilty, and sentenced to death.

Examining magistrate’s office

Examining magistrate’s office. The first time Meursault is formally interrogated, the nondescript, ordinary room is so hot, with flies buzzing around, that he nods to any statement, from accepting Christ as his personal savior to being vexed over having shot a man.

BibliographyBree, Germaine, ed. Camus: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962. An early collection of essays by outstanding critics. Includes a translation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s influential “Explication of The Stranger.”Ellison, David R. Understanding Albert Camus. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. An overview of the development of Camus’ themes and writing style. Focuses on Camus as a literary man whose works embody a consistent philosophical outlook. Especially useful for first-time readers of Camus.King, Adele, ed. L’Étranger: Fifty Years On. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. Twenty original essays by leading Camus scholars. Offers a variety of viewpoints and provides a valuable companion to a study of the novel.McCarthy, Patrick. Albert Camus: The Stranger. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the novel. McCarthy is especially good on the novel’s political aspects and on how Camus manages to transform an unsympathetic protagonist into an Everyman.Rhein, Phillip H. Albert Camus. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1989. Relates The Stranger to the whole of Camus’ philosophy and focuses on the novel as a reflection of that philosophy. Provides an enlightening companion volume to Ellison’s Understanding Albert Camus.
Categories: Places