Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapter II


After showing us Meursault's reaction to death, Camus shows us a day during which Meursault reacts to life. Meursault wakes up and realizes how exhausting the funeral has been, physically. It would be nice to go swimming. There are no introspective feelings about his mother, about how she looked when she was alive, how she smiled, the expression in her eyes, the things which she and he talked about years ago, his childhood with her — or even her absence, forever. Right now, swimming would be pleasant.

By chance, on the swimming raft, Meursault meets a girl who worked for a short time in his office and they go to a film that night, a comedy of all things, and then they go home and have sex.

We have seen Meursault's casual reaction to his mother's death; now, we see him manage a casual pickup. Marie knows that Meursault's mother has just been buried because she asks him about his black tie, but she's unconcerned, for the most part. Note, too, that Meursault tells Marie that his mother "died yesterday." It's of so little importance to him that he confuses, absently, the day of her funeral with the day of her death. Today is Saturday. Meursault's mother died, probably, Wednesday or Thursday; she was buried "yesterday."

Next morning, Meursault awakens; it is Sunday. There is nothing very exciting or special about Sundays, except for the fact that he dislikes Sundays. He has awakened after having had sex with Marie, but he is not disappointed about Marie's not being there when he wakes up. And he does not tell us how satisfying their lovemaking was. Yet he is responsive to the smell of the salt from Marie's hair. He falls asleep again and, when he wakes again, smokes in bed until midday.

Recall that on the bus, traveling to his mother's funeral, Meursault was so sleepy he could hardly keep his eyes open; in fact, he thinks he dozed off for a while. He lives rather like an animal; if he's sleepy, he dozes. Remember, too, that Meursault had fleeting guilty feelings about dozing off during the ordeal of the vigil and during the funeral itself, but today, he stays in bed because it is pleasant to lie there and smoke.

When Meursault does get up, he doesn't know what to do. He wanders around the apartment, reads an old newspaper, and cuts out an advertisement for a scrapbook that he keeps of amusing things. Then he goes out on the balcony. He is uneasy, unhappy on Sundays. Sundays are unstructured. Weekdays may be monotonous, but there are certain things to do at certain times; Saturdays are for fun. But then comes Sunday, completely unstructured.

Depicting this kind of mechanical, day-to-day living is important for Camus' purpose. In his Myth of Sisyphus, he said that the discovery and the disgust of this monotony — "rising, tram, four hours in the office or the factory — is absolutely essential for an understanding of the Absurd. Meursault has not yet made this discovery, but Meursault is not, by nature, introspective; he likes small pleasures — sex, swimming, a good night's sleep, and smoking. He will eventually make his discovery about the meaningless routine of his life, but it will come later in the novel. For the present, Camus wants us to see Meursault's restlessness on a day when there is no routine — no "rising, tram, four hours in the office."

When Meursault goes out on the balcony, he observes the people below him. Sundays, for them, seem to have a routine: young men going to the movies, a waiter sweeping sawdust, a tobacco seller bringing a chair out onto the pavement, and the empty streetcars going by. This has happened many Sundays.

Meursault watches during the afternoon, he smokes, he watches the evening come, and then he eats some bread and macaroni. He says that he's "managed to see another Sunday through." In a word, he is bored.

The tone of this chapter is, again, largely a tone of indifference, except that today Meursault enjoys smoking in bed and smelling the salt from Marie's hair on the pillow beside him. But read again the passage describing his perception of this Sunday afternoon. He is aware, even if passively, that the street lights reveal "little pools of brightness," that the lights of the streetcars shine, "lighting up a girl's hair, a smile, or a silver bangle"; the sky becomes "velvety black." These fragments of sensitivity might go almost unnoticed. Meursault enjoys basic pleasures, but he also has a poetic perceptiveness within him — despite his passive reaction to his mother's death and his having had sex with Marie and his comment that "nothing had changed."

Yet what meaning has Meursault given to this Sunday? He has slept and smoked and sat on his balcony, and watched — alone. He is not deeply troubled about such things as — my life is wasted; I am bored; or I am lonely; in contrast, he has an ability to sit and watch, delighting, in small degrees, to colors, to the sky, and to the feel of the air. Meursault is not like an ordinary major character in a novel, and this "sitting and doing nothing" will be used in Part Two to condemn him. But one must still deal with the present, for this is what matters most to Meursault. Has Meursault done anything that has been especially enjoyable today? Has he chosen to make this day, in any way, significant, even in a small way, memorable? No. It has been just another Sunday and Meursault has "gotten through it." As he says, "It's all the same to me: makes no difference much." Life. Death. He faces them with the same easy indifference. Just as his mother's death was meaningless, so is his life, except for the few sensual pleasures and the fact that he lives the way he wants to. Meursault has yet to realize that he can make his life have meaning, that it can have intensity. Before that happens, however, he must confront this monotonous, meaningless routine day-to-day living and be disgusted by the waste he has made of each day, even Sundays, in order to be liberated. When this awakening comes, it will shatter the drifting rhythm of his life. But Camus must show us, first, Meursault's going through the empty motions of living so that we will have a perspective of Meursault's realizing and becoming aware of the possibilities of what life can contain.

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