Albert Camus’ The Stranger (1942) Ending Explained | Why is Meursault happy about his death sentence?

French writer Albert Camus’ first published novel, The Stranger is an ocean-deep novella that tells the story of a detached, indifferent settler, Meursault. The novel very intricately questions the true meaning of life. That said, for the most part, the text hints at the inherent meaninglessness of life.

Considered to be one of the best contemporary novels, The Stranger is an evergreen piece that was, is, and will be relevant for the foreseeable future. So, let’s get right into Camus’ texts of wisdom.

Who is Meursault?

Meursault is an enigmatic settler who is indifferent to emotions and feelings. He keeps himself detached from society – so much so that he doesn’t feel much even after his mother’s death. He has a girlfriend named Marie. He himself isn’t sure whether he really loves her even though he enjoys her company.

How does Meursault react to his mother’s death?

After he receives the telegram of his mother’s death, Meursault travels from Algiers to Marengo to attend her final rites. By the time he reaches the location, she is already sealed in the coffin. He declines the offer to view her body. He keeps vigil over his mother’s body that night drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. The man doesn’t show any signs of grief or shed tears.

Post-funeral, Meursault returns happily to Algiers where he reconnects with his former co-worker, Marie. The two go for a swim and a comedy movie, and soon start a romantic relationship. His smooth life is struck out of balance when his neighbour, Raymond Sintès asks him for help.

What does Meursault help Raymond with?

Raymond, a rumoured pimp and Meursault’s neighbour, tells Meursault that he physically assaulted his mistress after discovering she was having affairs with other men and that he got into a fight with her brother due to that. He asks Meursault to write his mistress a letter luring her back to him so he can torment her again. Meursault agrees and writes a letter. Later when police get involved, Meursault also testifies on Raymond’s behalf.

What does Meursault do on the beach?

One Sunday, Raymond invites Meursault and Marie to a beach cabin owned by one of his friends. They have a great time swimming in the ocean and having lunch. However, they later run into two Arabs one of whom is Raymond’s mistress’ brother. Raymond is stabbed after a fight breaks out. Raymond tries to shoot the man, but Meursault calms him down and takes away his gun. Later, however, while cooling off at the beach, Meursault shoots the brother of Raymond’s mistress. Consequently, he is taken into custody and sent to jail.

What happens after Meursault is caught?

Everybody including his own lawyer is disgusted over Meursault’s unbelievable lack of emotions. The examining magistrate is unable to find a reason as to why he did what he did. Talking with him, as expected, doesn’t provide any answers. The prosecutors focus more on how he reacted to his mother’s death than anything else. He is tagged a dangerous ‘monster’ who should be put to death. Meursault’s atheism, remorselessness, and silence over his crimes help prosecutors make a strong case against him. 

What’s Meursault’s fate?

Meursault is sentenced to death by beheading. Initially, he finds it hard to come to grips with his impending doom. But that changes when a chaplain visits him to urge him to renounce atheism and accept God. An agitated Meursault accosts the chaplain and shouts at him for imposing his views on people about the nature of life. He feels since death is the eventual fate for all living creatures, there’s no meaning in what we do in our lifetime. He’s ready to embrace his fate, he’s free.

Why is Meursault happy about his death sentence?

Meursault’s angry confrontation with the chaplain made him realize that he has always been and will be happy. And, the reason for his happiness is his indifference. The man ponders the parallels between his and his mother’s lives falling into the lap of death. He no longer hopes for freedom or mercy –  he is simply prepared to be beheaded.

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