Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapter IV


A work week passes and Camus resumes his story on Sunday. It has been a busy week: the letter which Meursault wrote for Raymond has been sent, and Meursault has seen two movies with Emmanuel. Emmanuel doesn't seem too bright because Meursault has to explain what is happening on the screen. Remember, too, that in the last chapter, it was Emmanuel who suggested that he and Meursault try and run fast enough to jump on the fire truck, a rather foolhardy, impulsive act, even if they did it for sheer fun. Meursault, though, doesn't complain that he has to explain to Emmanuel throughout the movies; likewise, he didn't consider the danger of jumping on a fast-moving fire truck. In both cases, Meursault enjoys himself — the physical exertion of running for the truck and the quiet, monotonous, running analysis of the movies.

Meursault remembers the day before, Saturday, primarily because of Marie's sensuality. Her bright-colored dress, her leather sandals, her breasts, and her tanned face remind him of a "velvety brown flower." Meursault's sensitivity is sensual as he recalls their sucking foam from the sea waves and spouting it toward the sky. This is not the indifferent Meursault of so many situations. This is a man who has an authentic, almost spiritual intimacy with the world. What he describes is a game that he and Marie played, but it was a game of much value for Meursault. Marie and the sea are, in a sense, both sexual partners for him. But, instantly, when the sea becomes too salty, Meursault reacts; he does not enjoy it any longer. And when Marie's kiss is finished, he is ready to swim back to the beach, catch the bus, and, at home, make love, feeling the cool air on their sun-browned bodies. Stimulating moments, like these, are rare for Meursault, but they have a richly primitive and personal value for him and enable us to understand this man.

Later, when Marie asks him if he loves her, Meursault answers, honestly, that he supposes that he does not; he says, "that sort of question [has] no meaning, really." The sea, the sun, the waves, kisses, sex — Meursault can touch and feel, but love is too abstract, too ambiguous, and too all-encompassing to ponder. When Marie laughs, Meursault wants to kiss her; that he can understand and delight in. Love, however, is only a word, an over-used word, defined with a sense of permanence. Meursault is permanently bonded to no one — except with moments of spontaneous joy.

Following this scene, centering on love and love-making, Camus juxtaposes a violent battle scene between Raymond and his girlfriend. This becomes a loud battle that quickly gathers a crowd of people. Marie, seeing the woman being knocked about, reacts as most people would. She thinks that this is horrible and that someone should call for a policeman. Quite in character, Meursault observes the battle and comments that he isn't going for a policeman; he doesn't like them. Meursault doesn't care if the girl is being beaten up. Furthermore, it was Meursault who wrote the letter that caused this quarrel. The fate of the girl is of no concern to him. What matters to Meursault is that he dislikes policemen. Note also that the girl is an Arab. Meursault and Raymond and Marie are French. The girl is a native, the police are native; why inject one-self, a Frenchman, into a stormy lovers' quarrel with an Arab?

When a policeman does arrive to settle the argument, he makes a telling observation about Raymond. He accuses Raymond of having drunk so much that Raymond cannot stand steady. Raymond admits that he is trembling but denies that he has been drinking. His rage has so infuriated him that he has become like a madman. He is, in fact, a man of uncontrollable urges and temper.

There is also a short, revealing scene following the battle. Marie is so upset that she has no appetite for eating her lunch; Meursault eats nearly all of his lunch. Earlier, when Raymond explained to the policeman that his trembling was "only natural," we realized that it indeed was. Now, Meursault's appetite, after just witnessing the end of a fight, has not changed and this does not bother him, nor is he bothered that Marie has no appetite. Meursault would say of his actions and attitude exactly what Raymond told the policeman, "That's only natural."

Still later, when Raymond is discussing the fight and Raymond questions Meursault as to whether Raymond should have hit the policeman for knocking a cigarette out of Raymond's mouth, Meursault can only verbally shrug: "I told him I hadn't expected anything whatsoever and, anyhow, I had no use for the police." This is a typical reply for Meursault. His lack of interest, however, does not disturb Raymond, who suggests their taking a stroll, then confesses that he wants Meursault to act as his witness.

Meursault's answer is exactly the same as when Raymond asked if the two men could be friends: "I had no objection." Meursault didn't know what to expect the policeman to do, and he doesn't know what Raymond expects him to say. He is not a "programmed" individual, in the social sense. He does not envision or consider the varying consequences of a given situation.

Raymond's pleasure at Meursault's reply is evident. He has a witness for himself; he punished his girlfriend and feels absolutely justified and Meursault will bear witness that the girl provoked and deserved the beating. Raymond is even happier later in the evening when he wins a game of billiards with Meursault. And he laughs when Salamano tells them that he has lost his dog at the fair and that he, Salamano, will not pay for a dog he hates — even if the dog dies at the dog pound.

Later, while Salamano paces his room, wheezing, even weeping, there appears a crack in the often abstracted neutrality of Meursault's character. He thinks of his mother and he has no appetite and goes to bed without supper. This is all we know. He tells us no more. Like the short-worded telegram that Meursault received at the beginning of the novel, we feel a sense of loss at not knowing more. But Camus' novel is not a journal of Meursault's feelings; it is not an illuminating confession; instead, it is often more like an album of black-and-white snapshots.

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