BlogLearnThe Ultimate Guide to Analysing The Stranger for English: Summary, Themes & Analysis

The Ultimate Guide to Analysing The Stranger for English: Summary, Themes & Analysis

Sun - The Stranger Analysis

Are you working on your analysis for The Stranger by Albert Camus as part of your HSC Textual Conversations Module? 

Well, look no further! In this article we’ll take a look at everything you need to ace your Module A assignment, including the plot summary, key ideas, context and themes. We’ll also walk you through an easy step-by-step guide to analyse the text. 

PLUS we’ll provide you with a free sample analysis table (also called a TEE Table) and a sample paragraph that you can download! 

Let’s jump right in!

The Stranger by Albert Camus Summary
Key Characters in The Stranger
Context
Themes Explored in The Stranger
Studying The Stranger for HSC Module A: Textual Conversations
Essay Analysis of The Stranger

The Stranger by Albert Camus Summary

Part 1

Chapter 1
The novel begins in 1940s Algiers where Meursault, the narrator, receives news that his mother has died

The first lines are one of the most famous lines in The Stranger: “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.” 

Meursault attends her funeral and gets irritated by his mother’s friends, who are crying and mourning her death. He narrates that he does not remember much from the funeral, only the heat of the day as they walked to the church.  

Chapters 2 & 3

After returning to Algiers, he goes to the beach and runs into Marie Cardona, who he spends the remainder of the day with. As they spend time laughing and flirting, Marie is surprised to hear that Meursault’s mother just died

The next day, Meursault runs into his neighbour, Raymond Sintes, who invites him over for dinner. Raymond tells Meursault about how he found out his mistress was cheating on him and wanted to seek revenge on her. 

Raymond asks Meursault to help him seek revenge by helping him lure his mistress back. Meursault agrees and writes a letter to the mistress. Pleased by his support, Raymond now considers Meursault his friend. 

Chapters 4 & 5

Next Saturday, Meursault and Marie hear shouting from Raymond’s apartment as he beats up his mistress. A policeman arrives at the apartment and shames Raymond for beating up his mistress. 

Meursault agrees to testify on his behalf if he is summoned to the police station. That night Meursault bumps into another neighbour, Salamano, who is heartbroken that his dog has run away.

Salamano asks Meursault, “They’re not going to take him [his dog] away from me, are they, Monsieur Meursault? They’ll give him back to me. Otherwise, what’s going to happen to me?”. Seeing his sorrow reminds Meursault of his mother, however, he moves on quickly as he thinks about having to wake up early tomorrow for work. 

At work, Meursault is given an opportunity to transfer to Paris and around the same time, Marie asks him if he wants to marry her. In response to both, Meursault expresses his indifferences and says he is willing to move to Paris if his boss wants him to, and get married to Marie if she wants to.

Courtroom - The Stranger Analysis

Chapter 6

On Sunday, Meursault and Marie join Raymond to his friend Masson’s beach house. Later that day, they spot two Arabs on the beach and Raymond realises one of them is his mistress’ brother.

They get into a fight and Raymond is stabbed. After dealing with the stab wound, they decide to return to the beach and Raymond momentarily considers shooting the Arab. Meursault later wanders along the beach alone and is troubled by the heat of the day. 

The sun and heat get unbearable as he once again runs into the Arab and shoots him. He fires “four more times at the motionless body…like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness”. 

Part 2

Chapters 1 & 2

Meursault is then arrested and his lawyer is shocked by Meursault’s unremorseful and apathetic response to killing the Arab. But his lawyer is particularly disgusted by his unemotional behaviour at his mother’s funeral. 

Similarly, the court magistrate is startled by Meursault’s approach to life and also finds Meursault’s lack of religious belief unacceptable.

From here, the trial discussion moves away from the murder of the Arab to a discussion of Meursault’s beliefs, apathy, and his insensitive response to his mother’s death

Chapters 3 & 4

The prosecutor describes Meursault as a monster who lacks morality and is a danger to society. The trial concludes with Meursault being found guilty and sentenced to death. 

Chapter 5

As Meursault waits for his execution, he struggles to comprehend the absurdity of his situation and grapples with the certainty of his death. He imagines a fairer justice system and fantasises about winning a legal appeal that overturns the current verdict. 

One day, he receives a visit from the chaplain, who encourages Meursault to think about the afterlife and move away from his atheist beliefs. Meursault, infuriated by this, screams and shouts at the chaplain. 

He fully embraces the absurdity of his life and the meaninglessness of human existence, accepting the “gentle indifference of the world”. This realisation comforts Meursault and he accepts, even welcomes, his execution. 

Key Characters in The Stranger

Meursault 

Meursault, the protagonist and narrator, is a young man living in 1940s colonial Algeria.

He is a very apathetic character who describes people, places, events, and experiences from a detached perspective. He rejects societal assumptions and refuses to act in line with social and moral expectations.

As a result, he is often unemotional in social situations, and doesn’t form meaningful relationships with others in his life, including Marie, Raymond, and his mother. 

Raymond Sintés 

Raymond Sintés is Meursault’s neighbour, who asks him to help seek revenge on his mistress and adopts him as a friend.

Raymond acts violently and emotionally. His character contrasts significantly to Meursault’s apathetic and detached nature.

Marie Cordona

A former co-worker of Meursault, Marie is a young and lively woman who feels attracted towards Meursault despite, or maybe even because of, his unique and peculiar attitude.

While Meursault’s interest in Marie is largely because of her physical beauty, Marie feels a romantic love towards him and wishes to be his wife. Despite his indifference towards loving or marrying her, Marie still offers him support during his trial.

Context

Algeria in the 1940s

The Stranger is set in 1940s Algeria, during a period of French colonialism and World War II. During this period, the French territory was occupied by Nazi-Germany and experienced the violence and horrors of the war. 

As a French colony, 1940s Algeria is also characterised by racist ideas that see the French as superior to the Arab population. The Stranger embodies a lot of these contextual ideas and attitudes through its characters and their attitude towards Arabs in the narrative

Camus’s Philosophy and Absurdism 

Albert Camus, born in French-colonial Algeria, wrote The Stranger in the early 1940s, during WWII. The violence, death, and trauma of this period gave rise to emotions of futility, pessimism, and disillusionment.

Camus, influenced by the moral and intellectual bewilderment of WWII, contributed to the development of a philosophical theory called Absurdism, which is a major philosophical concept within The Stranger.  

Sea - The Stranger Analysis

Themes Explored in The Stranger

Here are some of the important themes in The Stranger to help your analysis: 

The Meaninglessness of Life and Death

The events that lead to Meursault’s death — such as, the sun making him trigger the gun, his abrupt imprisonment — as well as his detached attitude emphasise the idea that life has no purpose.

More accurately, we must find our own meaning in a meaningless world. In Camus’s philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus, he states “We build our life on the hope for tomorrow, yet tomorrow brings us closer to death and is the ultimate enemy; people live their lives as if they were not aware of the certainty of death.”

The Absurd and Irrational Universe

Absurdism refers to the idea that life is absurd and meaningless. For Camus, the universe is irrational and indifferent to our actions. Once we accept this and embrace the absurd, we are free to give meaning to life and portray our own value and meaning onto the universe. 

Religion and God

Seconding Camus’ view that one has to find their own meaning in a meaningless life, Meursault denies the existence of God and even argues that “it’s common knowledge that life isn’t worth living, anyhow.”

The Physical World

Camus focuses on the material world to drive the plot in The Stranger. For example, the heat and the beach gets to Meursault, leading him to kill the Arab.

This contrasts with the detached tone when Camus explores Meursault’s emotions and social interactions.

Studying The Stranger for HSC Module A: Textual Conversations

If you’re working on The Stranger analysis for HSC English Advanced Module A, you will be studying it with The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Doud.

For this Textual Conversations module, it’s super important to spend time finding connections between both texts. As the rubric describes it, this module is all about finding “resonances and dissonances” and identifying how one text can “mirror, align, or collide” with another. 

Mod A

Link #1: Common Issues, Values, and Assumptions

Module A encourages you to consider how some ideas and themes are relevant regardless of the context of the text and author. 

In The Meursault Investigation, Kamel Doud carries forward key ideas from The Stranger, including absurdism, religion, atheism and God, and existentialism.

So when you analyse both texts, think about how these concepts resonate with the author and reader, and what makes them so intriguing for us, regardless of our context. Consider these points in relation to the narrators of both texts, since Meursault and Harun are characterised with a similar perception of life, particularly of religion and absurdism. 

Link #2: Disparate Issues, Values, and Assumptions

A major component of Module A is to think about how the texts might diverge or collide in their key themes and ideas. This is especially relevant with our pair of texts, since the texts have been composed in very interesting contexts.

While Albert Camus wrote The Stranger in the 1940s and set the story in 1940s French Algeria, The Meursault Investigation was published in 2013 and is largely set in Algeria after independence

As you study The Meursault Investigation, think about how Harun’s perspective and narrative voice criticises Meursault’s character and the colonial influences within The Stranger.

In The Stranger, Meursault shoots an unnamed Arab, who remains an anonymous figure until the end. During his court trial, the discussion quickly moves away from the killing of the Arab to Meursault’s immoral and insensitive response to his mother’s death.

Harun in The Meursault Investigation challenges this representation as Kamel Daoud writes from his postcolonial perspective.

Algeria - The Stranger Analysis

Essay Analysis: How to Analyse The Stranger in 3 Steps

Now that you’ve got a strong foundational understanding of The Stranger and its context, themes and key ideas, it’s time to start analysing! 

Having a good analysis is key to accessing those top marks, so it’s super important to spend some time perfecting your analysis. You might be tempted to jump into writing your thesis, but take some time to lay the foundations with your analysis! 

Step 1: Choose your example(s)

The very first step is to find good examples within your text. After all, your example is the evidence to support your argument. 

For this analysis, let’s take a look at how The Stranger explores the meaninglessness of human life and the absurdity of the universe through the characterisation of Meursault.

We’ve chosen the following quotes as an example: 

“Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe” and “…she asked me if I loved her. I told her it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so”

Need help finding good examples? Check out our list of 50 important quotes from The Stranger here!

Step 2: Identify your technique(s)

Once we’ve chosen our examples, we need to identify techniques within that example. 

When you’re finding techniques, make sure you’re not just choosing any old technique!

It’s about finding ones that best illustrate your argument. Identifying one or two relevant techniques to discuss will help you develop a sophisticated and nuanced analysis. 

In this example we’re focusing on characterisation and truncated sentences

Are you having some trouble finding techniques? Check out our literary techniques cheat sheet here!

Step 3: Carry out your analysis

Now that we’ve got the techniques and examples ready, it’s time to jump into carrying out our analysis!

Your analysis needs to delve deep into the text and link your example to the broader themes, ideas and meanings that the composer is trying to convey through the text.

So make sure to flesh out the effect of the techniques and explore what the example achieves and how it achieves this through techniques. As you analyse The Stranger, don’t forget to link everything back to your argument and thesis!

Instead of simply labelling techniques like this: 

Camus characterises Meursault and the meaninglessness of his life through the truncated sentence “Maman died today”. This characterisation is further achieved through his response to Marie, who asks if he loves her and he responds, “I told her it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so”. 

Try to expand on the effects of the technique and example by linking it to a broader theme and argument like this:

For Meursault, apathy becomes a medium through which he can embrace personal liberation and the absurdity of his condition to achieve a state of honest and existential living. His characterisation thus becomes representative of a philosophical truth that conveys the absurdity of the universe and the meaninglessness of human life. 

Need some help with your essay analysis of other texts aside from The Stranger?

Check out other texts we’ve created guides for below:

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Maitreyi Kulkarni is a Content Writer at Art of Smart Education and is currently studying a Bachelor of Media and Communications (Public Relations and Social Media) at Macquarie University. She loves writing just about anything from articles to poetry, and has also had one of her articles published with the ABC. When she’s not writing up a storm, she can be found reading, bingeing sitcoms, or playing the guitar.

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