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The major theme of the novel is the absurdity of life, as evidenced by the life and death of Mersault. He works as a shipping clerk performing monotonous and mundane tasks, which he does not like. He tries to fill his weekends with activity, but often finds himself walking around his apartment, smoking, and staring out into his neighborhood. When he does form a relationship with Marie, it has no meaning to him. He tells her that he can never love her, for love is too vague of an emotion; he will, however, marry her if she insists.
His relationship with Raymond is equally absurd. Even though he knows his neighbor is a violent pimp, he allows himself to become involved in his problems, for he feels it makes no difference. In the end, he winds up killing the brother of Raymondís Arab girlfriend, even though he did not really intend to murder him. Since he shows no remorse or emotion over the murder of the Arab, the death of his mother, or anything else in life, the jury decides that Mersault is unfit to live and convicts him to death by the guillotine. His absurd existence comes to an absurd end.
The pain of being strange or alienated is the minor theme of the novel, as indicated by the total. Mersault knows that he is ostracized for being different. The neighbors criticize him for his treatment of his mother, and even Marie says she has fallen in love with him because he is odd. The knowledge that he is different makes Mersault feel even more alienated, which renders him unable to forge real human relationships. It is clear that he suffers from his sense of isolation and lack of emotion.
The mood of the entire book is bleak, dark, and absurd. Written as an existential novel, The Stranger questions the reality of God, the lack of meaning and purpose in life, and the absurdity of everyday existence.