The narrator and protagonist of Camus’s novel is named Meursault, a young man living in Algiers. The novel opens as he receives news that his mother has died. He goes to Marengo to the old persons’ home where his mother lived. After sleeping through nearly the entire bus ride, Meursault speaks to the director of the home. The Director takes Meursault to see the body of his mother, but he finds that she has already been sealed in her coffin. When the caretaker offers to open the coffin, Meursault tells him not to do so.
Meursault keeps vigil over his mother’s body through the night. The caretaker insists on staying with him and talking to him, which Meursault finds annoying. Meursault drinks coffee and smokes cigarettes until falls asleep. The nest day, Meursault meets with the director again just before the funeral. The director tells him that there is man, Thomas Perez, who had grown close to Meursault’s other, and he will be attending the funeral service. The process heads for a small village, where the funeral is to be held. In the stifling heat, Perez faints. Meursault later reflects that he remembers nearly nothing about the funeral. Happily, he returns to Algiers that night.
The next day Meursault goes to a public beach to swim. He runs into one of his co-workers, Marie Cardonna, and they agree to go out that night to see a comedy at a movie theater. After their night out, they sleep together. Marie is gone when Meursault wakes in the morning. He decides to just stay in bed until noon. Later, he sits on the balcony until evening just watching people pass by on the street.
On Monday Meursault returns to work. He eats lunch with his friend and then works through the afternoon. Later, on his way up to his apartment, he encounters his neighbor, Salamano, who is an old man who lives with a mangy old dog. He also runs into another neighbor, Raymond Sintes, who is widely regarded as pimp and a criminal. Raymond invites Meursault up to his apartment for dinner. Over dinner, Raymond tells Meursault that he had recently caught his mistress cheating on him, and he beat her. This incident, according to Raymond, led to a fight with his mistress’s brother. Raymond asks Meursault if he will write a letter for to his mistress for him in order to lure her back to Raymond because he wants to torment her further. Meursault agrees to write the letter and does it that very night.
The nest day, Marie pays a visit to Meursault. She asks him if he loves her. Meursault’s reply is strange and unsatisfying. He tells her that it does not matter, but probably not. Suddenly they hear shouting from Raymond’s apartment. As they go out look, they see that a police man has arrived. The policeman hits Raymond and tells him that he will be charged with hitting his mistress. Raymond asks Meursault to testify on his behalf. Later that day, Meursault sees Salamano who is grief-stricken that his dog has run away.
Marie continues to press Meursault. She asks him if he wants to marry her. Again, he is non-committal, but he tells her he will marry her if that is what she wants. They become engaged. A week later, Meurault, Marie, and Raymond go to a beach house that is owned by one of Raymond’s friends. They go swimming in the ocean and picnic by the sea. Later in the day, Raymond, Meursault, and Masson, Raymond’s friend, run into tow Arabs on the beach. One of thee men is the brother of Raymond’s mistress. A fight breaks out between the men and Raymond is stabbed. They tend to Raymond’s wound, then Raymond and Meursault go looking for the Arabs. They eventually find them, and Raymond thinks about shooting them with his gun, but Meursault takes the gun away from him. All seems diffused, but Meursault inexplicably returns to find the Arabs and he shoots the brother of Raymond’s mistress.
After Meursault is arrested, he is taken to jail. He gets a lawyer, but the lawyer himself is disgusted by Meursault’s apparent lack of remorse. He is further disturbed to find out the Meursault seems to no signs of grief over the recent death of his mother. Meursault is questioned by an agent who cannot understand any of Meursault’s actions. The magistrate shows a crucifix and demands that Meursault confirms his faith in God, but Meursault refuses, and states that he does not believe in God. The magistrate is shocked at Meursault’s lack of faith and calls him Monsieur Antichrist.
Marie eventually visits Meursault in prison. She tries to remain positive and expresses her hope that he will be acquitted and they will be married. As he awaits trial, Meursault becomes used to life in prison. He comes to grips with his isolation and life without women, nature, and cigarettes. Soon he does not even miss these things. He keeps his mind busy and sleeps most of the day.
He is finally taken to the courthouse for trial. The courtroom is filled with spectators and reporters. As the trial progresses, the focus shifts from the actual crime to Meursault’s character. The court is particularly interested in his reaction to the death of his mother. The director of the home and the caretaker each testify to the fact that Meursault showed no signs of grief. Marie is brought to testify and tells the court that the day after the funeral they had gone out to see a comedy. During his summation, the prosecutor describes Meursault’s complete lack of remorse and feeling, and he calls him a monster. Meursault is found guilty and is sentenced to death. He will be beheaded.
Meursault is taken back to prison where he will await execution. He does struggle with the reality of what he faces. He has difficulty accepting the inevitability of his fate. He thinks about trying to escape, and he wonders about a successful appeal. Against his wishes, Meursault is later visited by a chaplain who urges him to renounce his atheism and accept God. Meursault refuses. The chaplain simply cannot understand why Meursault will not turn to God and the hope of an afterlife. Meursault becomes enraged. He grabs the chaplain and yells at him. He says that he is right in believing in a meaningless and material world. With this, Meursault full recognizes that existence has no greater meaning beyond what it is. He comes to accept the “gentle indifference of the world,” and becomes content with his lot.