Summary – Chapter Six
On Sunday, it is an effort for Meursault to get up and Marie has to jog his shoulders and shout his name. They call for Raymond who, like Marie, is also in high spirits. Meursault went to the police station the night before to say the girl had been false and Raymond was let off with a warning (and Meursault’s statement was not checked). As they go to the bus stop, Raymond points out there are some Arab men across the street: ‘They were staring at us silently, in the special way these people have – as if we were blocks of stone’. Raymond whispers which one is ‘his man’ and Meursault thinks he looks worried, but Raymond assures him it is ancient history. Marie asks what they are talking about and Meursault tells her these men have a grudge against Raymond and she insists they go at once. Half way to the bus stop Raymond turns and says they are not following them. Meursault also looks back and sees they are ‘exactly as before, gazing in the same vague way at the spot where we had been’.
At the bungalow, Raymond introduces them to his friend, Masson, and Masson’s wife. She and Marie chat and when Meursault looks over, he considers marrying her for the first time.
After swimming, eating and drinking, Masson asks if Meursault will take a stroll on the beach, and Raymond joins them. It is midday and the light is ‘almost vertical’; the glare from the water is searing. The beach is deserted and heat wells up from the rocks and it is difficult to breathe. Raymond says something to Masson, which Meursault does not catch but notices two Arabs a long way down the beach and they are coming in their direction.
Raymond says ‘that’s him’ when Meursault gives him a look and Masson wonders how they have found him. Meursault presumes they saw them take the bus and recognized Marie’s bag, but says nothing. Raymond says if there is a ‘rough house’ he will tackle the one who is after him and Masson the second. He says Meursault can stand by to help.
When they are few steps away from the other men, Raymond goes straight up to ‘his man’ and Meursault sees ‘the native’ lower his head as if he is going to butt Raymond in the chest. Raymond lashes out and calls to Masson who then hits the second man twice. This one falls into the water and stays there for some seconds. Raymond continues to slog at ‘his man’ and glances to Meursault as if to say he has not finished with him yet. Meursault warns him he has a knife and Raymond is cut in the mouth and arm. Masson springs forward and the man in the water places himself behind his friend with the knife. These men back away and then run away.
Masson, Raymond and Meursault stand ‘stock still’ with the sunlight beating down on them. Later, Masson goes with Raymond to the doctor’s and when they return, Raymond is patched up but glum. He leaves the bungalow saying he going for a stroll on the beach and Meursault follows him out even though he has said he wants to be alone. They come across the same two Arab men again at the end of the beach. They look as though they bear no malice and the one who fought with Masson is blowing on a read. For a while nobody moves and Raymond puts his hand on his revolver pocket. He asks Meursault if he should plug the man he fought with and Meursault presumes if he tells him no, he might fly into a temper. He says it would be a low-down trick as he has not even spoken yet.
Raymond says that if that is how he feels he will say something insulting to his man and ‘loose off’ if he answers back. Meursault says ‘right’ and if he does not get his knife out he has no business to fire.
The other man continues to play three notes on the reed and they can also hear the trickle of a stream. Raymond fidgets and Meursault says that Raymond should take the fellow on the right and give him his revolver. He continues and says that if the other makes trouble or gets his knife out, he will shoot him.
The sun glints on the revolver as he hands it over to him, and nobody makes a move yet. They watch each other and then all of a sudden the two men disappear ‘like lizards’ under cover of the rock and Meursault and Raymond turn and walk back. Raymond is happier and when they reach the bungalow he goes up the wooden stair and Meursault halts on the bottom one. The light seems to be thudding in his head and cannot face the effort of going up the stairs being amiable to the women. The heat is so great, though, that it is just as bad staying where he is. He sees staying or moving as much the same thing and returns to the beach.
He walks towards the end of it and can feel his temples swell ‘under the impact of the light’. He clenches his fists in his trouser pockets and keys up every nerve to fend off the sun. He is not going to be beaten and walks steadily on. He is thinking of the cold, clear stream and wants to be rid of the glare.
When he gets nearer to the spot, he sees ‘Raymond’s Arab’ has returned. Meursault is taken aback as he thought ‘the incident was closed’ and had not given a thought to it on his walk back to the rock. The other man raises himself a little and puts his hand to his pocket on seeing him; Meursault grips the revolver in his pocket. The man then sinks back again and keeps his hand in the same place. Meursault is ten yards away from him and for most of the time sees him as ‘a blurred dark form wobbling in the heat-haze’. Sometimes ‘however’ he has glimpses of his eyes ‘glowing between the half-closed lids’.
The sun seems to have made no progress. It strikes Meursault that he only has to turn and walk away, ‘but the whole beach, pulsing with heat’ is pressing on his back. He takes some steps towards the stream and ‘the Arab’ does not move; ‘perhaps because of the shadow on his face, he seemed to be grinning at me’. Meursault waits and thinks the heat is similar to what it was like on the day of his mother’s funeral. He has the same ‘disagreeable sensations’, especially in his forehead where the veins seem to be bursting through the skin. He cannot stand it any longer and takes another step forward. He knows this is foolish as he will still be in the sun, and then ‘the Arab’ draws his knife and holds it toward him.
Light shoots up from the steel and it feels like a blade has ‘transfixed’ Meursault’s forehead. Sweat splashes in his eyes and his eyes are blinded. He is conscious only of the clashing of the ‘cymbals of the sun’ and the blade of light. He describes a fiery gust from the sea, and the sky cracking in two, and his grip closes on the revolver. The trigger gives and with the sound of the shot ‘it all began’. He knows he has shattered ‘the balance of the day’ and the ‘spacious calm’ of the beach on which he had been happy. He still fires four more shots into the body: ‘And each successive shot was another loud, fateful rap on the door of my undoing’.
Analysis – Chapter Six
This chapter is crucial for its representation of the events leading up to Meursault committing murder and the ‘reasons’, or rather the lack of them, as to why he did this.
Firstly, it is imperative to note the way the murdered man is depicted through Meursault’s first-person narration and how he is usually only referred to as ‘the Arab’ and is also compared to a lizard when he disappears from view. It should also be remembered that when Raymond, Marie and Meursault walk to the bus stop, Meursault considers how the Arab men are watching them in the ‘special way these people have’. He draws on a stereotyped and racist view of these men and this is later undercut when he looks back and notes the men are still looking at the same spot after they have gone. Their fear of these other men (the native-born Algerians) is tied up in the racism that is inherent in the French domination of Algeria. The orientalist fear of the other, of difference, is evident in Meursault’s initial reaction when he believes the men are watching them.
When Meursault commits the murder, it is made apparent that this was not what he intended to do when he returned to the end of the beach. It is described as not being pre-meditated, and is then a spur of the moment action that is not based on a thought for consequences. It is rather that the light and heat of the sun overtake his senses and his negative, racist associations of the man also come to the fore (in that he thinks he is grinning at him).