“Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: “Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.” That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.”
These are the opening lines of the novel. Spoken, or perhaps thought, by Meursault, these lines indicate the tremendous indifference he shows toward everything. That he cannot properly remember when his mother (“Maman”) died shows us his remarkable detachment. The line in which he says that this doesn’t mean anything can be taken on two levels: the telegram announcing the death of his mother does not properly tell when his mother dies. It can also mean that nothing means anything. The whole of life and death is ultimately meaningless.
“She said, “If you go slowly, you risk getting sunstroke. But if you go too fast, you work up a sweat and then catch a chill inside the church.” She was right. There was no way out.”
The nurse says this to Meursault in Part I, Chapter 1 as they are heading out for the funeral procession. As with so much of the novel, the lines seem quite matter of fact. This is a simple statement about the dangers of the heat. But taken with the rest of the novel, these lines speak to the inevitability of the death. There is no way out. All of the effort we make to cheat death will fail because death is a complete certainty.
“I said that people never change their lives, that in any case one life was as good as another and that I wasn’t dissatisfied with mine here at all.”
In Part One, Chapter 5, Meursault says this to his boss in response to his boss’s offer to give him a position in Paris. Meursault’s response is crucial because here he explains that nothing really changes the facts of one’s existence. Here or there, life remains always what it is. Further, he claims that people never really change and that all of the efforts people make to “improve” themselves and their world are absurd illusions which divert them from the only reality which is that life is a meaningless existence and will end in death for everyone, no matter what they do.
“As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.”
These are the final lines in the novel. Here we see Meursault finally accept the indifference of life. Following his rage at the Chaplain, he is relieved and even happy to make this great recognition, that life is completely indifferent to him and everyone else. Having removed the final constraints of illusion, he feels happy. He is comforted by the fact that there is nothing to weigh him down as he faces death.