Meursault is a lower rank French official who lives in the Algerian suburb. He receives a telegram telling him about the death of his mother. Three years ago Meursault, unable to support her financially, sent her to the nursing home. Now he has the two weeks of vacation to organize funerals and mourn the deceased.
Meursault goes to Marengo where the nursing home is situated. At first, he decides to spend all the night on the grave of his mother, but he even refuses to look at his mother for the last time, drinking coffee and smoking while talking to the cemetery watchman instead sitting next to the coffin all the night. Finally, Meursault falls asleep. When he wakes up, he sees that the friends of his mother gathered near the door and thinks that they came to judge and shun him but it is just the beginning of the funeral ritual. At the funeral, Meursault surprises everyone including himself with his eerie tranquility and even detachment. He doesn’t shed a single tear and later he isn’t able to remember anything except the scorching heat. Right after the funeral, Meursault returns to Algeria.
He feels exhausted and sleeps almost the whole day. Waking up later, he listens to his feelings and discovers that he is still detached and can live as if nothing changed in his life. Meursault goes to the public beach to swim and rest and meets the former typist from his office named Marie Cardona. He invites her to the cinema and sleeps with her that very night. In the morning, Marie is gone. Meursault spends his day looking at the street from his window of his suburban home. He decides that Marie’s disappearance doesn’t bother him either.
The next day Meursault goes to work. He has lunch with his colleague Emmanuel and then indifferently works for the rest of the day. On his way home in the evening he meets his neighbour, an old man named Salamany, who is walking his dog as always. Another neighbor he sees near his house is Raymond Sintes. Raymond is rumored to be a pimp but this worries Meursault no more than his mother’s death. Sintes invites him to the dinner, they talk a bit and Raymond tells him that he wants to punish his Arab mistress for her adultery. He says that he already beat her, but isn’t satisfied, because her brother protected the woman. He wants to catch her again and beat to half-death, but needs assistance. Raymond asks Meursault to help him compose a false letter to lure the Arab woman back to him. Meursault agrees and writes the letter at night.
Next evening Marie returns to him. She is confused and wants to hear if Meursault has serious intentions or, at least, if he loves her at all. Meursault answers that it probably means nothing but it seems he doesn’t love her. The talk is interrupted with the shouting from Raymond’s place. Meursault rushes there just in time to see the policeman who slaps Sintes and says he will be put on trial because of severely beating his mistress. When the policeman goes away, Raymond asks Meursault to testify on his behalf. The man agrees without hesitation.
Walking around the house next evening Meursault sees Salamany who is searching for his dog and is very worried because the dog escaped. The man doesn’t feel any compassion (though we, as readers, are probably getting used to his indifference at this point).
Meursault’s boss offers him a promotion and a new appointment in Paris, but the man refuses. He doesn’t believe in any changes in his life and just doesn’t care. Marie asks Meursault again if he is going to marry her but he doesn’t care either.
Still the woman doesn’t want to surrender until she gets the answer. On Sunday, she goes to the seashore with Meursault and his new friend Raymond to visit a man named Masson. The day seems to pass happily, they all swim, lunch and socialize, but later Raymond and Meursault notice two Arabs nearby and one of them, according to Raymond’s words, looks like his mistress’ brother. Santes begins to worry after that encounter.
Masson offers them to stroll along the seashore. At the end of the beach they see those two Arabs again, now in blue robes of the workers. It seems that they tracked Raymond down. The fight begins and one of the Arabs slightly injures Raymond with a knife, but Masson and Meursault manage to make them flee.
After a while, they see the same Arabs again. Raymond gives Meursault a gun but the Arabs don’t seem aggressive anymore. Meursault starts to feel strange, even more sleepy and detached than always. The heat becomes unbearable, just like at his mother’s funeral. The friends leave him alone to rest. Behind the rock near which he lies he notices the Arab who injured Raymond. For no apparent reason Meursault steps forward, pulls out a gun and shoots the Arab four times.
Meursault is arrested immediately. Several times he is interrogated but he even doesn’t understand why the court considers his case complicated. The investigator who thinks of Meursault as of clever and handsome man just can’t wrap his mind around his motives of the crime. Finally, he gives up and starts a conversation about God, but Meursault says that he doesn’t believe in any gods.
The investigation continues for eleven months. Meursault gets used to his prison cell as to his new home and his life seems to stop. He is worried but after meeting with Marie, who comes to see him in prison, he has a drastic change of mind. Tired of boredom, Meursault understands that a man who has lived at least one day at his fullest has enough memories to spend even a hundred years in prison. Meursault lets himself sink in his happy memories and gradually loses the very concept of time.
The last trial is conducted in a stuffy hall where lots of people are crowded to hear the final of such an unusual case. Meursault looks at the crowd but is unable to distinguish a single person. He feels depersonified himself, like a stranger who observes something happening to another man.
After the long interrogation of witnesses: the director of the nursing home, the cemetery watchman, Raymond, Masson, Salamano and Marie, the prosecutor angrily concludes that Meursault is the most horrible criminal he ever seen. Never weeping at his mother’s funeral, not wishing to look at her face for the last time, meeting and sleeping with an almost unknown woman the next day after her death, befriending a pimp and killing a man for an insignificant occasion, the man seems to have no understanding of human feelings and morality. Horrified, the prosecutor demands the death penalty for such an insensitive beast who, probably, doesn’t even possess a human soul.
Meursault’s lawyer, on the contrary, bases his defense speech on the positive traits: a honest worker and caring son who supported his mother as long as he was able to. He calls the murder the moment of his weakness and says that Meursault will be eternally punished by inescapable remorse.
After the break, the judge reads the verdict: Meursault will be beheaded publicly in the main square. Meursault doesn’t object, he doesn’t show any other feelings. In his prison cell, he mechanically thinks if he is able to avoid his death penalty. The idea of unavoidable death is the only thing that finally manages to bother him. Soon, however, he resigns to the idea of death because life, in his opinion, isn’t worth to cling to. Since everyone has to die, it doesn’t matter when and how it happens.
In the morning before the execution, a priest comes to Meursault’s cell. But the prisoner is still not interested in God, converting to Christianity and confessing his sins. For Meursault the eternal life has no meaning, the priest just irritates him and finally Meursault grabs him, angrily shouting at him that he is right in his belief in the material, almost mechanical world where there is no afterlife, no gods and no justice at all.
On the verge of death, Meursault feels how the abyss opens to embrace him and realizes that this is his single and only possible destiny. He is ready to let everything go and opens his soul to the emptiness that comes accepting the gentle indifference of the world.