Summary and Analysis
Part 1: Chapter V
After a Sunday that was more unusual than most of his Sundays, Meursault begins another week of work, another week of monotony, doing the robot-like actions that most people perform in order to make a living, the same monotony that Camus despises because of its intoxicating, suffocating effect on the human soul. Meursault, as we see from the beginning of this chapter, is what one might call a "good employee." He is annoyed that Raymond telephones him about a personal matter; this is not done. Such telephoning is frowned on by Meursault's superior and Meursault wants to have no trouble with him. He is not free, as he was at the beach, as he was when he ran to catch the fire truck, or when he leaves work and leisurely strolls home. Meursault's work may be dull, but it must be done, and he becomes, at the office, uneasy that he is violating office rules and wasting time. At home, he would not give the idea of chatting on the phone, or of wasting time, a second thought, but his freedom is restricted here.
Raymond's call has two purposes; first, he invites Meursault to spend next Sunday at the seaside with a friend; and, naturally, Meursault, as we have seen, is delighted at the prospect of swimming and sunning and also happy when he learns that he can bring Marie with him. Raymond's second reason for calling is typical of something Raymond might do; he thinks that he is being followed by some Arabs. Raymond, as we have seen, is highly emotional and would be fascinated by the thought of a threat to him by some Arabs. One of them, he tells Meursault, is surely the brother of the girl whom he beat up.
At this point, Meursault is summoned to his employer's office and he becomes queasy, sure that he is to be reprimanded for his personal telephone conversations. Meursault, for the present, is not the unemotional and indifferent Meursault whom we have seen so frequently. He wants no trouble at work. But he quickly metamorphoses into the familiar Meursault when he is told that his company is opening a branch office in Paris and that Meursault has been selected, if he chooses, to work in the Paris office. Most people would be ecstatic, if offered the opportunity to move from Algiers to Paris, but Meursault's reply to his superior is that he is "prepared to go." To us, Meursault seems to be saying that he doesn't care much one way or the other. We puzzle at his reaction — until we read farther and discover what Meursault was really thinking during his conversation with his superior.
Thus, already this morning, Meursault has two promises — one that includes good friends and swimming, and the other, a move to Paris. Most people associate Paris with romance, love, music, gaiety, and reveries. Not Meursault. He reacted to his superior as if his present life suited him and that one life is as good as another. Paris or Algiers — it would, seemingly, make no difference where Meursault worked and lived. It is probably true that he has no intense ambition to receive new promotions and amass a fortune by working his way up through the business ranks of his firm, but we do know that Paris is antithetical to everything we know about Meursault. The city would be repugnant to him; it is bleak, rainy, the sun is rare, and warmth and swimming are very important to Meursault's moments of happiness.
For the first time, we have a small nugget of Meursault's past slipped to us. He remembers once that he did have ambition, but that when he had to drop his studies, he gave up and decided that all of his ambitions were futile. Seemingly, from that time on, he has been the come-what-may, indifferent Meursault.
This nonchalance is emphasized even further when Marie asks Meursault to marry her. He says that he doesn't mind; if she wants to get married, he will marry her "if it will give her pleasure." This attitude is almost identical to Raymond's proposal that he and Meursault become friends. At that time, Meursault replied that he "had no objections."
Meursault's honesty is disarming, for whereas he did not mind one way or the other about writing a letter for Raymond that would punish a girl, fattening the letter, in all probability, with insinuations and, perhaps, even lies, Meursault cannot lie about his own feelings. He cannot please Marie by saying that he loves her; he will marry her, perform this physical and legal act, but he cannot lie and say that he loves her. Marriage, to him, is of no great importance, just as the exact day on which his mother died is of no great importance. Meursault is an unusually taciturn man. Raymond offered friendship; Marie herself, and now Meursault is offered a new position in Paris. And it all makes no difference, he says; he doesn't object.
Meursault's attitude confuses Marie and it seems a bit unusual to Raymond, but Raymond doesn't mull over the matter as Marie does. Marriage, for her, is a very serious business. She is most ordinary and is described in the most matter-of-fact terms. She likes sex and wants a home and a husband and children. She is unusual only in that she is willing to marry Meursault even after he admits that he would marry any girl that he had been sleeping with and who proposed to him. She rationalizes that perhaps it's Meursault's strangeness that fascinates her, but she is not truly satisfied with the explanation. She threatens Meursault that she may hate him one day, but even that taunt has no emotional thrust, for Meursault says nothing, for a while, until he tells her of the move to Paris, which he describes as dingy, full of masses of pigeons and dark courtyards and pasty-faced people.
Marriage and Paris! Marie's evening is complete. She has her ambitions fulfilled. But she cannot dine with Meursault and wonders why he doesn't ask her why, implying that she might have a date with another man. Meursault merely looks embarrassed and admits to us that he did want to know. It is one of the few times that we see him being dishonest.
Camus finishes the chapter with two episodes — one, involving a woman who eats at Meursault's table in Céleste's restaurant, and, afterward, Meursault's conversation with Salamano about the lost dog. Camus gives a great deal of attention to this woman and to Meursault's observation of her. Meursault is curious, fascinated by the woman. She is robot-like, moving jerkily, raptly attentive, adding up the bill in advance, wolfing down her food voraciously and checking off from a radio magazine which programs she intends to listen to (which seem, to Meursault, to be practically every one). Robot-like, in fact, is the word that Meursault uses to describe her exit from the cafe. On the surface, this is an incident with no meaning, a strange person who shares his table and whom he watches and someone whom he says he will soon forget about. Later, in Part Two of the novel, she will be watching Meursault himself as he stands trial for the murder of an Arab.
The love-hate relationship between Salamano and his dog is an illustration of how very different, emotionally, old Salamano is from Meursault. Because Meursault has nothing to do, he listens to the old man's tale. In fact, Meursault offers to the grieving old man a gesture of a so-called white lie: he tells Salamano that his dog looked "well bred." This is not how Meursault described the dog heretofore. Salamano's grief over the dog is a contrast to Meursault's lack of grief over his mother's dying and, in both cases, there are uncertainties. Salamano does not know if his dog is dead, found and housed by someone else, or merely lost; Meursault isn't sure when his mother died. But he listens to Salamano, not because he was concerned about the dog but because, he says, he wasn't sleepy anyway.
Salamano acquired the dog after his wife died; he didn't get along well with her either. To Salamano, who fed the dog, at first from a bottle, the dog was like a child or a baby, but because a dog's life is short and the man was getting old, they both became very old at the same time. Once, he had taken pride in the dog's appearance (and probably in his own), then the dog developed skin trouble that was incurable. When Salamano leaves, Meursault tells us that he "could feel the scales on his skin." The old man hopes that the dogs won't bark in the night, for he always thinks of the dog barking as possibly being his. He wants no false hopes, no false promises that the dog will return. This time the chapter ends on a sad note of resignation, rather than earlier, when the dog's moan was described as being like "a flower growing out of the silence and the darkness."
Perhaps one of the most important, but small bits of information that we receive in this chapter is Salamano's off-hand comment that some of the people in the neighborhood have begun to say nasty things about Meursault now that his mother is dead. Meursault is not an invisible man anymore. He is already marked as someone who cared so little for his mother that he sent her away. Salamano's affirmation of his friendship and his saying that he knows that Meursault was devoted to his mother is of little comfort to Meursault. The man is clearly disturbed. He tries to explain that he could not afford to keep her any longer and that, for years, they hadn't spoken to one another, and that at the Home, he hoped that perhaps she could make friends. Here, in a capsule form is an important part of Meursault's defense in Part Two. Salamano only half-listens to Meursault; he has his own troubles. It will not be an easy night for either man.