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PLOT ANALYSIS (STRUCTURE)
The Stranger is written in two parts: the first part begins with the death of Mersaultís mother and ends with his murder of the Arab. The second part deals with Mersaultís imprisonment, trial, and sentence.
The novel follows the traditional pattern of plot development and is largely chronological. The first part consists of a description of what happens to Mersault in the first eighteen days after his motherís death. He travels to Marengo to attend her funeral, which takes place on Friday. At the funeral, he is more concerned with the heat of the day than with the funeral rituals. In fact, he admits that he feels no grief about his mother passing away. The entire section on the funeral serves as an introduction to Mersaultís unemotional, indifferent character.
The rising action begins on Saturday after the funeral. Mersault goes swimming, meets Marie, takes her to a movie, and makes love to her. During the week, he has dinner with Raymond, his neighbor, and learns that he has beaten his Arab girlfriend for her lack of faithfulness. He draws Mersault into his conflict by having him write the girl a letter of condemnation. During the next week, Mersault and Marie witness Raymond beating the girl again. Mersault later goes to the police station to testify in Raymondís behalf. The next morning, Mersault, Marie, and Raymond travel to the beach house of Masson, It is on the beach that they encounter the Arabs, one of whom is the brother of the Arab girl. The preliminary climax occurs when Mersault fires a shot at the brother and kills him. He then fires four additional bullets into the dead body, for no real reason. At this point, it is obvious that the plot will end in tragedy; but the depth of the tragedy is not yet revealed.
The second part of the novel, which spans eleven months, deals with Mersaultís imprisonment and trial. He is repeatedly questioned by the Magistrate and his defense attorney about the murder and about his callous attitude towards his mother and her death. Mersault is too honest and naïve to slant the truth in a favorable light. Instead, he admits that he felt no grief over the death of his mother and no remorse over the killing of the Arab. The magistrate judges Mersault to be the most taciturn, cold- hearted criminal he has ever encountered, calling him an "antichrist" who does not believe in God or have any morals. The trial is sure to be a disaster.
During the trial, the Prosecutor twists every detail into a condemnation of Mersault. When he takes the stand, Mersault states the truth about his motherís funeral, and the jury is horrified about his lack of emotion. When he is questioned about the murder, he can only say the sun caused him to do it and can give no explanation of why he fired four extra bullets into the body of the Arab. The testimonies of Perez, Marie, Raymond, and the Warden are also twisted against him. In spite of the ranting of the Prosecutor, Mersault is not prepared for the final climax of the action. He is convinced that he will receive a light sentence, for he does not believe he is a criminal. As a result he is totally unprepared for the final verdict. He cannot believe that the jury sentences him to decapitation by guillotine.
The falling action of the plot centers on Mersaultís waiting to be executed. He learns a new appreciation for the little thins in life and is delighted when he is spared another day. He also strikes out against the chaplain, who visits him without permission. He refuses to admit his guilt or ask for forgiveness. When the chaplain tries to pray for him, Mersault screams and grabs him by the neck. Since he does not believe in God and does not believe he has sinned per se, Mersault will not lie and try to save himself. Instead, he reflects on his absurd life and prepares himself for his absurd death. The novel is clearly tragic from beginning to end.
The book is held together by several factors. It is unified by place, for the entire tale takes place in Algiers and a beach town on its outskirts. The time of the novel is less than a year, and since the events are largely chronological, the time span is easy to follow. The novel is further unified by the voice of Mersault, who narrates the entire story. The theme of the absurdity of life is also clearly developed throughout. Finally, the repetition of events and images, such as the funeral of Mersaultís mother and the intensity of the Algerian heat, tightly weave the book into a unified whole.