Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapter III


Camus moves us in this chapter through one of Meursault's work days. It opens on a Monday and there are references to the age of Meursault's mother. Meursault does not know how to answer when he is asked how old she was; it is a matter that never seemed of importance to him. But do not label Meursault a nihilist or a cynic. He is indifferent to his mother's age and he is probably ignorant of how old she really was. And he can't understand why his employer looks relieved when Meursault answers, without any knowledge, "round about sixty." Moreover, why his employer would ask such a question is a mystery to Meursault. He could have answered fifty, and he would have heard "how terrible; so young." Had he said that she was eighty, he would have heard, "well, she led a long life." The age of his mother is simply of no consequence to Meursault.

Note what Camus is doing here; he is showing us that Meursault, instead of bothering with deep guilt about not knowing his mother's age, is annoyed. And, in contrast, he is happy and enjoys the physical pleasure of washing his hands at work, and he enjoys this act less at the end of the day because the roller towel is sopping wet. This small act is what is important to Meursault. In fact, he has mentioned this business of the soggy towel to his employer, who considers it a mere detail; to Meursault, the age of his mother is a "mere detail."

In the same way that Meursault, rather impulsively, thought that swimming would be pleasant, after leaving work for a lunch break, he and another employee, Emmanuel, pause a moment to look at the sea, an ever-fascinating phenomenon for Meursault; they endure the "scorching hot" sun for a moment, then decide to do something irrational; they run, half-dazed by the heat, and madly jump onto a big fire truck coming toward them. They achieve a small goal, a fun game, following a child's instinct to dare to do something wild and sudden. What they accomplish makes them feel proud. Who else that afternoon decided to run and jump on a fast-moving fire truck? Probably only Meursault and Emmanuel. This is another facet of Meursault's uniqueness; his job as a shipping clerk may be dull, but, spontaneously, he acts without thinking, doing something that is both physical and satisfying.

After a nap and a cigarette, Meursault endures the rest of the afternoon in an office that is "stifling," making his slow, cool evening stroll home even more satisfying; again, Camus focuses on Meursault's physical reactions rather than on an introspective analysis about himself or his relationship with Marie or with his mother.

There is a bit of black humor injected into the novel when Meursault reaches his apartment. A neighbor of his, Salamano, and a dog also lead a routine life. But, unlike Meursault's life, which is usually solitary, Salamano is, as it were, almost married in a love-hate relationship with his dog. And, Meursault tells us, they resemble one another (hairless, scabby, and hunched up), and, most important, they seem to fiercely detest one another.

This routine of living together has lasted eight years, the dog being walked regularly and beaten regularly. This does not particularly matter to Meursault; they are merely a curious couple of neighbors. Unlike Meursault, Raymond Sintès, an acquaintance of Meursault's, is disgusted by Salamano's living eight years with his dog — loving him, hating him, and beating him. But not Meursault. Salamano and his dog choose to live that way; otherwise, the dog would run away. At any rate, it would be ridiculous to worry a lot or try to solve a situation that has lasted eight years.

A rebel, without knowing or caring about being one, Meursault enjoys listening and talking with Raymond Sintès, a pimp who is disliked in the neighborhood. When asked what his profession is, Raymond says that he is a warehouse man. It makes no difference to Meursault that Raymond lies, or that Raymond is a pimp. He likes him; that's reason enough for their casual friendship.

Unlike Meursault, Raymond is a violent person. One can almost see him pacing the room, ready to smash his fist into a wall to release his frustrated anger, while Meursault sits this evening, enjoying some wine, half-listening to Raymond's harangues. Meursault seems to be in the room and, yet, not in the room. He is an observer (remember, for example, how he noted that the sky was "green" on his way home from work, as he also notes the color of the scabs on Salamano's dog), and he is an outsider to Raymond's intensity. Raymond, on the other hand, says that he's merely short-tempered, but admits that he has just fought with a fellow who annoyed him, and, while the man was lying on the ground, Raymond continued kicking him: "He was bleeding like a pig when I'd done with him." Besides being somewhat of an outcast in this neighborhood, it would seem that he does not have many friends at all. Thus he comes to Meursault, only a casual friend, for advice and says that if Meursault will help him, he will be Meursault's "friend for life." Meursault's lack of a comment is typical; he has no objection to helping the fellow and has already agreed to eat supper and have some wine with Raymond.

Raymond's desire for revenge against his girlfriend is revealed as soon as supper begins. Like the man whom he continued kicking, even though the man was lying beaten on the ground, Raymond now says that he wants to further punish this girl, whom he has beaten on occasion until "the blood came," but, he adds, he beat her "only affectionately-like."

To say that Raymond is violent is an understatement; he is a sadist. Because the girl slept with someone else, he wants to turn her in to the police as a common prostitute, and he has also considered branding her. Once more, Meursault offers no opinion as to a course of action. What is Meursault's opinion? In his own words, "I said I hadn't any," continuing, however, that he finds the story interesting.

Meursault does not judge; he has no strongly positive or negative reactions to the girl's plight. One can never be sure what to do — this is Meursault's comment, as he drinks more wine. And, with more wine shared between the two men, Meursault agrees to write a scathing letter, making the girl repent of her unfaithfulness; then if she does, Raymond will spit in her face and throw her out of the room. Meursault agrees that such a plan would punish her, but he writes the letter mainly to satisfy Raymond. Why not? Meursault has no reason not to satisfy Raymond because Meursault doesn't really care one way or the other.

For Meursault, what he has done is merely a gesture; it takes no trouble to write such a letter, and, besides, Raymond has been generous with his wine and food and cigarettes. Thus we view two very different men as the chapter closes: one is full of fury and revenge; the other has just composed a "real stinker" of a letter, with no personal malice.

At this point, one might ask why Meursault writes a letter discrediting the girl. Raymond, we must remember, is not a close friend; the letter is an attempt at deep revenge. This act is unlike Meursault, for usually he is a truthful man, yet here he fabricates a letter to be used for one purpose: to humiliate a girl. Meursault is not, we realize, a thoroughly honest man. His indifference, in this case, is an indifference to truth, for Raymond asks him to write a letter "that'll get her on the raw." Meursault does so, with the help of Raymond's wine; he composes a letter that states not facts, but a letter that will arouse violent emotions. And why? For Meursault, what he has done is a simple act, seemingly, of no great importance; for Raymond, what Meursault has helped him accomplish is monumental. In fact, what Meursault has done, is, indeed, very monumental, for had he not written the letter, he would not have found himself later intertwined in Raymond's problems; he would not have shot an Arab friend of the girl, and he would not have been guillotined.

The chapter ends poetically; whether this is Camus or Meursault commenting, one cannot be certain, for Meursault describes the "sleep-bound" house and the moans of Salamano's dog rising slowly "like a flower growing out of the silence and darkness." We have seen rare moments of deeply poetic sensitivity within Meursault, so perhaps Meursault is far more intelligent and sensitive than we have seen until now. Yet this sentence is almost startling, coming from a man who says, in effect, frequently, that most things "don't matter much." If the night moans are compared to fruitful beauty, surely Camus intends irony, for this chapter initiates Meursault's doom.

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