In the first chapter of The Stranger, it says:

The director stopped at the door of a small building. "I'll leave you now, Monsieur Meursault. If you need me for anything, I'll be in my office. As is usually the case, the funeral is set for ten o'clock in the morning. This way you'll be able to keep vigil over the departed. One last thing: it seems your mother often expressed to her friends her desire for a religious burial. I've taken the liberty of making the necessary arrangements. But I wanted to let you know." I thanked him. While not an atheist, Maman had never in her life given a thought to religion.
The Stranger, part 1, chapter 1

What is happening here? Why would Maman have "often expressed to her friends her desire religious burial" if she's never given a thought to religion? (Who talks about what kind of burial they want often anyway?) Is this meant to imply that the director is lying?

What's happening here?

2 Answers 2


During the first half of the 20th century, 90% of the French were Catholics and 95% of burials in France were religious burials (Wikipédia: Église catholique en France). Assuming that Catholicism and catholic burials were just as widespread in French Algeria as in "mainland" France, Maman's wish for a religious burial would be completely unremarkable.

The novel, in a way, also tells us why Meursault would not have known about his mother's wish for a religious burial. First, he is an atheist, as he admits to the investigating magistrate in Part Two, chapter I.

Second, during the trial Salamano (Part Two, chapter III) says that Meursault no longer had anything to say to maman and that he had sent her to the old people's home for that reason ("je n’avais plus rien à dire à maman et que je l’avais mise pour cette raison à l’asile"). Meursault had mainly invoked financial reasons when asked about that decision, although he at one point also admitted that he and maman no longer expected anything from each other ("j’ai répondu que ni maman ni moi n’attendions plus rien l’un de l’autre").

Finally, after sending his mother to the old people's home in Marengo, Meursault had eventually reduced the frequency of his visits; in the last year before his mother's death, he had hardly visited her at all ("C’est un peu pour cela que dans la dernière année je n’y suis presque plus allé." Part One, chapter 1). If he had visited her more often, he might have heard what maman supposedly only said to her friends.

For this reason, it seems that Meursault's comment says more about himself than about his mother. It shows that Meursault has become so estranged from his mother (a tendency that had started even before he sent her to Marengo) that he was unaware of a wish that would be perfectly natural for French citizens in the early 1940s.


Camus was secular even though he maintained an interest in spiritual matters. After all, he called Simon Wril, 'one of the truly great spirits of our time.'

Given his interest in the figure of the rebel, of transgression, of revevaluating the norms of bourgeois society, I'd say he was a Nietzschean and here, he was suggesting that religion be given a decent burial, and by doing so, he was acknowledging it's greatness, but also that its time had passed.

He was interested in the new man, of the new century. Hence his interest in the promethean figure of the rebel who would put aside all old things as though they were toys.

Given that this new century was a century full of atrocities, one might say he was being a little hasty in thinking the new was to be rapturously and blindly welcomed.

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