Few novels have explored the difference between exterior reality and interior life as fully and as effectively as has Albert Camus' The Stranger. The story concerns an office clerk named Mersault (the reader is never given his first name), whose refusal to adhere to societal expectations regarding love, friendship and religion eventually leads to his imprisonment under a death sentence. The novel offers Camus an opportunity to exploit his perception of the world as inherently absurd. The absurdist sees the world as basically meaningless. Events, actions and decisions are all of equal value: one choice is as good as another, and, ultimately, none of the choices one makes has any transcendent purpose.
Still, people strive to impose an order on the world. People have an inborn expectation that the world ought to make sense and would make sense if they try hard enough, think hard enough, make enough of the right decisions, are disciplined enough. This is the absurdist condition; that humans are rational creatures doomed to reason out an irrational world. Meursault, then, is the ne plus ultra absurdist hero: a man whose disinterest in love and religion leads to rejection by society. By keeping his integrity, Meursault is doomed to die. Camus summed up the theme of his novel in an introduction to the work for the Bree and Lynes edition: "In our society, any man who does not weep at his mother's funeral risks being sentenced to death" (Camus, as cited in Showalter 14).
The novel begins with Meursault being notified by telegram that his mother has died. He takes a bus to the funeral, shares coffee and cigarettes with the doorman of the rest home his mother was living in, and decides against having his mother's coffin opened:
While he was going up to the coffin I told him not to trouble.
"Eh? What's that?" he exclaimed. "You don't want me to? . . . "
He put the screwdriver back in his pocket and stared at me. I realized then ...