The Mother

A Derived Text Sourced from The Stranger by Albert Camus

Note: This “derived text” is sourced from The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942). Essentially, the editor has excerpted each sentence in the book that includes the word mother and then presented those sentences in order in one long paragraph, thus isolating theme and focusing on a specific text element to form a creative commentary on the novel. Notes the editor: “I find it interesting to see that the narrative arc remains and that Camus' style and voice are also intact.”

Mother died today. The telegram from the Home says: YOUR MOTHER PASSED AWAY. For the present, it’s almost as if Mother weren’t really dead. There’s no one like a mother. I asked to be allowed to see Mother at once, but the doorkeeper told me I must see the warden first. When we lived together, Mother was always watching me, but we hardly ever talked. Now, I suppose you’d like to see your mother? That will enable you to spend the night beside your mother’s coffin, as no doubt you would wish to do. Just one more thing; I gathered from your mother’s friends that she wished to be buried with the rites of the Church. I remembered then that, before taking me to the warden, he’d told me something about Mother. But I wasn’t sure if I should smoke, under the circumstances — in Mother’s presence. You know, your mother’s friends will be coming soon, to keep vigil with you beside the body. Then he sat down facing me, on the far side of Mother. The old people, Mother’s friends, were coming in. She was devoted to your mother. She says your mother was her only friend in the world, and now she’s all alone. I hadn’t been in the country for ages, and I caught myself thinking what an agreeable walk I could have had, if it hadn’t been for Mother. Shall I tell them to wait, for you to have a last glimpse of your mother? But in this particular instance I’ve given permission to an old friend of your mother to come with us. He and your mother had become almost inseparable. So, as you can guess, he feels very badly about your mother’s death. Near him, looking constrained, almost bashful, was old M. Pérez, my mother’s special friend. I remember his saying that old Pérez and my mother used often to have a longish stroll together in the cool of the evening; sometimes they went as far as the village, accompanied by a nurse, of course. I looked at the countryside, at the long lines of cypresses sloping up toward the skyline and the hills, the hot red soil dappled with vivid green, and here and there a lonely house sharply outlined against the light — and I could understand Mother’s feelings. Is it your mother we’re burying? And I can remember the look of the church, the villagers in the street, the red geraniums on the graves, Pérez’s fainting fit — he crumpled up like a rag doll — the tawny-red earth pattering on Mother’s coffin, the bits of white roots mixed up with it; then more people, voices, the wait outside a café for the bus, the rumble of the engine, and my little thrill of pleasure when we entered the first brightly lit streets of Algiers, and I pictured myself going straight to bed and sleeping twelve hours at a stretch. Still, for one thing, it wasn’t my fault if Mother was buried yesterday and not today; and then, again, I’d have had my Saturday and Sunday off in any case. I explained that my mother had died. It suited us well enough when Mother was with me, but now that I was by myself it was too large and I’d moved the dining table into my bedroom. Behind them was their mother, an enormously fat woman in a brown silk dress, and their father, a dapper little man, whom I knew by sight. It occurred to me that somehow I’d got through another Sunday, that Mother now was buried, and tomorrow I’d be going back to work as usual. Really, nothing in my life had changed. He even inquired if I wasn’t too tired, and followed it up by asking what Mother’s age was. Then he explained that he had heard of my mother’s death; anyhow, he said, that was something bound to happen one day or another. For some reason, I don’t know what, I began thinking of Mother. He thanked me, and mentioned that my mother had been very fond of his dog. He referred to her as “your poor mother,” and was afraid I must be feeling her death terribly. When I said nothing he added hastily and with a rather embarrassed air that some of the people in the street said nasty things about me because I’d sent my mother to the Home. It was just the same sort of heat as at my mother’s funeral, and I had the same disagreeable sensations — especially in my forehead, where all the veins seemed to be bursting through the skin. They had learned that my mother died recently in a home. Inquiries had been conducted at Marengo and the police informed that I’d shown “great callousness” at my mother’s funeral. I could truthfully say I’d been quite fond of Mother — but really that didn’t mean much. For instance, on the day I attended Mother’s funeral, I was fagged out and only half awake. Anyhow, I could assure him of one thing: that I’d rather Mother hadn’t died. When I suggested that Mother’s death had no connection with the charge against me, he merely replied that this remark showed I’d never had any dealings with the law. He began by asking bluntly if I’d loved my mother. The youngster on my other side and his mother were still gazing mournfully at each other, and the murmur of the Arabs droned on below us. He called, Au revoir, Mother, and, slipping her hand between the bars, she gave him a small, slow wave with it. I remembered it had been one of Mother’s pet ideas — she was always voicing it — that in the long run one gets used to anything. Meanwhile his mother and sister had been running a small hotel in the village where he was born. He decided to give them a surprise and, leaving his wife and child in another inn, he went to stay at his mother’s place, booking a room under an assumed name. His mother and sister completely failed to recognize him. His mother hanged herself. And something I’d been told came back; a remark made by the nurse at Mother’s funeral. I guessed that he was going to talk about Mother, and at the same moment realized how odious I would find this. Why had I sent my mother to an institution? I explained that neither Mother nor I expected much of one another — or, for that matter, of anybody else; so both of us had got used to the new conditions easily enough. When asked if my mother had complained about my conduct, he said, Yes, but that didn’t mean much; almost all the inmates of the Home had grievances against their relatives. Then he explained that I hadn’t wanted to see Mother’s body, or shed a single tear, and that I’d left immediately after the funeral ended, without lingering at her grave. One of the undertaker’s men told him that I didn’t know my mother’s age. Replying to questions, he said that I’d declined to see Mother’s body, I’d smoked cigarettes and slept, and drunk café au lait. Pérez stated that, though he had been a great friend of my mother, he had met me once only, on the day of the funeral. He then observed with a would-be casual air that apparently she meant the day following my mother’s funeral. Gentlemen of the jury, I would have you note that on the next day after his mother’s funeral that man was visiting the swimming pool, starting a liaison with a girl, and going to see a comic film. Nor did they pay any more attention to Salamano, when he told them how kind I’d always been to his dog, or when, in answer to a question about my mother and myself, he said that Mother and I had very little in common and that explained why I’d fixed up for her to enter the Home. Not only did the man before you in the dock indulge in the most shameful orgies on the day following his mother’s death. Is my client on trial for having buried his mother, or for killing a man? I accuse the prisoner of behaving at his mother’s funeral in a way that showed he was already a criminal at heart. He began by summing up the facts, from my mother’s death onward. He stressed my heartlessness, my inability to state Mother’s age, my visit to the swimming pool where I met Marie, our matinee at the pictures where a Fernandel film was showing, and finally my return with Marie to my rooms. He proceeded to discuss my conduct toward my mother, repeating what he had said in the course of the hearing. This man, who is morally guilty of his mother’s death, is no less unfit to have a place in the community than that other man who did to death the father that begat him. According to him I was a dutiful son, who had supported his mother as long as he was able. When such thoughts crossed my mind, I remembered a story Mother used to tell me about my father. Perhaps the only things I really knew about him were what Mother had told me. Mother used to say that however miserable one is, there’s always something to be thankful for. What difference could they make to me, the deaths of others, or a mother’s love, or his God; or the way a man decides to live, the fate he thinks he chooses, since one and the same fate was bound to “choose” not only me but thousands of millions of privileged people who, like him, called themselves my brothers. And what difference could it make if, after being charged with murder, he were executed because he didn’t weep at his mother’s funeral, since it all came to the same thing in the end? Almost for the first time in many months I thought of my mother. With death so near, Mother must have felt like someone on the brink of freedom, ready to start life all over again.

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