Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers

Help / FAQ


printable study guide online download notes summary




The Stranger
Albert Camus


THE STORY, continued

PART TWO

CHAPTER I

Does killing the Arab really change Meursault's life? Obviously, he's no longer free to follow his impulses: to go to the beach when he wants, to live for the pleasures of the moment. Yet in the first chapter of Part Two the tone he uses to describe his experiences is similar to the tone in Part One. He's still trying to make sense of the world. Only now he's involved in an area of society- prison, the law, the courts- where he's truly a stranger. Let's see how the restrictions of prison life and his dealings with the judicial procedure affect his attitude toward the world.

During his first interviews with the police, Meursault has the feeling that no one is particularly interested in him or his case. (This is in direct contrast to the circumstances surrounding his mother's death, when everyone- even people who didn't know her- was concerned about Meursault's feelings.) The police, and later the magistrate, all ask him the same questions: name, address, occupation, date and place of birth. The magistrate, however, does seem curious about him (as you read further you'll find out why) and asks whether he's hired a lawyer. Meursault answers that he has no lawyer and that it has never occurred to him to get one. He doesn't seem particularly concerned that he's about to go on trial for murder. He assumes his case is "simple" and that a lawyer isn't necessary.

The magistrate explains that, in keeping with the law, the court will appoint a lawyer to defend him. Meursault's attention shifts from what the magistrate is telling him to the physical surroundings. He notices the angle of the light from the lamp on the magistrate's desk, the armchair, and the curtained windows. You've seen this happen before: whenever Meursault begins to lose interest in the person he's talking to, he begins to take note of his surroundings. During the interview, he gets a close look at the magistrate's face and observes that the man has a nervous tic at the side of his mouth. The magistrate seems intelligent, almost likeable, and Meursault is even tempted to shake his hand on leaving.

The next day a lawyer arrives at Meursault's cell. Apparently, the case isn't as simple as Meursault thinks. According to the lawyer, the police have been investigating his private life and have learned that he showed "great callousness" at his mother's funeral. He asks Meursault whether he felt unhappy on the occasion of his mother's death. Meursault answers by saying that he'd been fond of his mother, but that "all normal people," at various times, have desired the death of those they loved.

Meursault obviously includes himself among the "normal people," yet you know that his attitude toward the world is anything but normal. Do you think that his response to the lawyer's question is honest? Is he wise to have answered so bluntly?

The lawyer is shocked by Meursault's response. He makes Meursault promise not to express any negative sentiments about his mother to the magistrate or at the trial. Meursault agrees, he tells us, but only "to satisfy" the lawyer. Recall how earlier in the book Meursault agrees to marry Marie to satisfy her and how he writes the letter for Raymond to satisfy him. What does this willingness to please tell us about Meursault's personality? Is he being honest with himself when he gives in so easily to other people's wishes?

Meursault explains to the lawyer that his feelings are influenced by his physical state at any given moment. When he was at his mother's funeral, he was in a state of near exhaustion and "hardly took stock of what was happening." This is one of the rare instances in the book that Meursault seems aware of why he acts and feels the way he does.

Meursault refuses to lie and explain his actions at the funeral by saying, as the lawyer suggests, that he had kept his emotions under control. He can't understand the connection between his behavior at his mother's funeral and the murder of the Arab. The lawyer is perplexed and irritated by Meursault's attitude. In his eyes, Meursault is being naive. He tells Meursault that the warden of the home and other members of the staff will undoubtedly testify at the trial, and that their description of Meursault's behavior on the day of the funeral will be used against him. The lawyer knows that the prosecutor will use anything he can to find Meursault guilty, and that the basis of the case will be his behavior at his mother's funeral.

Until his period of imprisonment, Meursault has not felt particularly alienated from society. Recall his surprise in Part One when Salamano told him of his neighbor's harsh criticisms. He has been vaguely aware that people like Marie and his boss thought he was odd because of the way he reacted to his mother's death, but otherwise he has had no sense that he is living his life in an unusual way. Only when he is confronted by the religious and judicial branches of society does he feel like an outsider.

NOTE: Camus has described Meursault as a person who "doesn't play the game" of society. In these initial interviews with the lawyer, you see a man who will not compromise his notion of the truth to save his own life. His mother's death is more of an annoyance to him than a source of real regret, and it's this shade of meaning that ultimately condemns him.

Later that day, Meursault has another interview with the magistrate. The first thing that strikes him when he enters the magistrate's office is that the room is flooded with light and is extremely hot. You know by now how sensitive he is to light and heat, and how frequently his present physical state determines the things he says and does. The magistrate tells him that his lawyer won't be present for the interview and that Meursault isn't required to answer any questions. But Meursault is indifferent about his lawyer's not being present.

The magistrate begins to probe into Meursault's personality. "What really interests me," he tells Meursault, "is- you!" At the magistrate's request, Meursault recounts the story of the day on the beach, leading up to the death of the Arab. The magistrate listens intently and, after Meursault finishes, tells him that he has a special interest in the case and that he'll try to be of help. But first Meursault has to answer a few more questions. Like the lawyer, the magistrate brings up the issue of Meursault's mother. Did he love her? Meursault answers, "Yes, like everybody else."

Readers have commented on the presence of the clerk-typist who is recording the conversation between Meursault and the magistrate. When Meursault responds to the magistrate's question about his mother, the typist goes back and crosses something out. Meursault notes that the clerk probably hit the wrong keys, but most readers feel that he probably typed in Meursault's answer before Meursault said anything, an indication that Meursault's actual responses (in the eyes of society) were unexpected, or unconventional.

Why, the magistrate continues, did Meursault fire five consecutive shots into the body of the Arab? Meursault waits for a moment, then corrects the magistrate. No, he says, the shots weren't consecutive. After his first shot he paused. But why, the magistrate asks, did he pause? Meursault returns in his mind to the scene of that hot afternoon on the beach. But he doesn't answer the question. The magistrate again asks why: "I insist on your telling me." But Meursault says nothing.

Many readers have pointed out how difficult it is for Meursault to respond to a question with more than a few words. His brief responses to the magistrate's questions are almost childlike. As you read, ask yourself how Meursault's vocabulary and syntax contribute to the sense of alienation that is one of the novel's major themes.

What effect does Meursault's silence have on the magistrate? Remember, during their first interview, that Meursault thought the magistrate seemed like an "intelligent man." Now, this previously reasonable person takes a crucifix out of a filing cabinet and waves it in Meursault's face. (Recall how the Arab displayed his knife to Meursault when they were alone on the beach.) He rants about his belief in God and how even the worst sinners- and presumably he believes that Meursault is one of them- could obtain God's forgiveness, if only they would repent.

Meursault begins blocking out the magistrate's remarks. It's too hot in the office, big flies are buzzing around and lighting on his cheeks, and, anyway, the magistrate's behavior has become alarming. What does all this talk about religion have to do with the case? Meursault concludes to himself that the only real complication, from the magistrate's point of view, is why Meursault paused before firing four more shots.

Meursault wants to explain that it doesn't make any difference why he paused, but before he can speak, the magistrate asks if he believes in God. Meursault, without thinking twice, answers no, but the magistrate refuses to accept this. The foundation of the magistrate's understanding of life is that everyone believes in God. If he ever came to doubt the existence of God, the magistrate tells Meursault, his life would have no meaning. Doesn't Meursault believe that Christ suffered for his sake? he asks. Meursault is anxious for the interview to end and pretends to agree. But when the magistrate asks once more whether he believes in God, Meursault can't prevent himself from shaking his head no.

NOTE: Do you feel that the magistrate is being sincere? Is his performance with the crucifix, which Camus later implies he's repeated many times before, a way of seeking reassurance that his own beliefs are valid? The magistrate seems to view Meursault's unwillingness to play his game as an attempt on Meursault's part to undermine the meaning of life he's found for himself.

The magistrate tells Meursault that until now he's never known a criminal who didn't weep when he brought out the crucifix. In his eyes, Meursault is the most hardened criminal he's ever met. But do you think that Meursault, who didn't weep at his mother's funeral, is about to begin weeping now? Though Meursault is willing to agree with other people in some instances, he refuses to budge when his religious beliefs are questioned. Why do you think this issue is so important to him?

The interview ends with a final question: did Meursault regret killing the Arab? Meursault takes his time answering. No, he didn't feel regret, but "a kind of vexation." The magistrate doesn't understand what he means.

Over the next 11 months, Meursault, accompanied by his lawyer, has numerous interviews with the magistrate. Sometimes the lawyer and the magistrate ignore Meursault. At other times, they allow him to take part in the conversation. Never once, Meursault tells us, do they express hostility toward him. Camus doesn't tell us what's being discussed during these interviews, but you can almost imagine the two talking openly about Meursault in his presence. The magistrate never again mentions religion, except to address Meursault as "Mr. Antichrist" at the end of each interview. Meursault feels so comfortable at these hearings that he has the "absurd impression" of being "one of the family." As you read, note how frequently Camus refers to the absurdity of a particular situation, especially in Meursault's encounters with his lawyer, the magistrate, and the chaplain.

In his role as an anonymous officer worker, Meursault could limit and control his encounters with the world. But in his encounters with the legal system, he is forced, time and again, into situations where his "otherness"- his difference from the socially accepted norm- is particularly noticeable.

CHAPTER II

In this chapter, Meursault tells us what it's like for him in prison. At the end of the previous chapter, we learned that the examinations with the magistrate had gone on for 11 months. Now you will see whether the experience of being in jail for almost a year has affected Meursault or whether he's still the same person he was before he killed the Arab.

When Meursault first enters prison, he never imagines talking to anyone of his experiences there. Gradually, as time passes, this reluctance fades away. He tells us that during the first few days he was hardly conscious on where he was; he had the vague hope that something would happen to alter his circumstances. He credits the subsequent change in his attitude to the knowledge that Marie would not be allowed to visit him again, since the authorities have discovered she isn't his wife. When he learns this, he realizes that his prison cell is his home- his last home, possibly- and that he'll never have the pleasure of being with her again. On his first day in prison, he's put into a big cell with other prisoners, mostly Arabs. When asked the nature of his crime, he tells them, in his usual straightforward way, and without thought of repercussion, that he's in prison for killing an Arab. This is another example of Meursault's refusal to lie, regardless of the circumstances.

Some days later, he's moved into a small prison cell, with a plank bed and latrine bucket. From the small window, he tells us, he can view the sea, and "the sunlight playing on the waves."

One day Marie visits him, asks if he has everything he wants, and extends greetings from Raymond. The noise of the other prisoners and their visitors in the visiting room makes it hard for Meursault to concentrate on her. The people's voices are filled with anxiety, and Meursault and Marie have to shout at each other to make themselves heard. As Marie presses up against the rail that separates them, Meursault feels a great desire to reach out and squeeze her shoulders. Marie tries to reassure him by saying that "it'll all come right" and that when he gets out of prison they'll be able to get married and go swimming on Sundays. When the meeting ends, Marie blows him a kiss, while pressing her face to the rails and trying to smile.

NOTE: The image of sunlight is used here in various ways. Meursault notes its playful quality, as he stares from the window of his cell; yet during Marie's visit the sunlight creates "a harsh white glare" and makes him feel dizzy. In the visitor's room, the sunlight seems to be "surging up against the window" and "smearing the faces of the people... with... yellow oil." Most readers feel that the image of the sun, as it's used here, carries both positive and negative overtones, and reflects the instability and precariousness of modern life.

Soon after, Marie writes Meursault and says that she's not going to be allowed to visit again. Meursault now realizes that he has to change his way of thinking. His memories of what his life was like as "a free man" torment him, and he longs to go swimming. But eventually he realizes that he must adjust to life in prison and begins to look forward to the daily walks in the courtyard and the visits from his lawyer. His ability to make this adjustment gives him strength. If he can adjust to prison life, he can get used to anything.

Meursault passes the time thinking of all his old lovers. He makes friends with the chief jailer, who tells him that lack of sex is the subject prisoners complain about most. At first, Meursault doesn't understand why he should be deprived of sex. The jailer explains that sending people to prison is a way of depriving them of their liberty, Otherwise, Meursault finally realizes, jail wouldn't be a punishment.

Meursault also has a hard time going without cigarettes, but by the time he realizes that this form of deprivation is also a punishment, he's lost the craving.

The main problem, he tells us, is passing the time. His chief occupation is remembering all the objects in his former apartment. As a person who observes life from the outside, rather than participating in it fully, Meursault has an uncanny ability to notice the precise details of objects and people. This ability serves him well in prison. He spends hours listing and describing from memory the objects in his former bedroom. He concludes that, after a single day's experience in the outside world, a person could easily spend a hundred years in prison, because he'd have "enough memories never to be bored."

Sleep is also a way of passing the time. Meursault admits that after a few months in prison he's able to sleep 16 to 18 hours a night. That leaves approximately six hours to fill by eating and remembering.

The one unusual event that occurs during his stay in prison is the discovery of a newspaper clipping beneath the mattress. The clipping tells the story of a crime that took place in a village in Czechoslovakia. One of the villagers leaves home to seek his fortunes abroad. Twenty-five years later, a rich man, he returns to the village with his wife and child. He decides to surprise his mother and sister, who are now running a small hotel. Leaving his wife and child at another hotel, he takes a room, under an assumed name, at his mother's. Neither his mother nor his sister recognizes him. During the night, the two women murder their guest for his money. When the dead man's wife arrives the next morning and reveals his identity, the mother hangs herself and the sister throws herself into a well.

NOTE: Camus used the subject of this clipping as the basis for his play, The Misunderstanding, first produced in 1944. By presenting the story to us here, he gives us the circumstances surrounding another murder, and poses the question of why and how such an act takes place. The mother and sister are motivated by greed, and this blinds them (much the same way the sun blinds Meursault) to the identity of their victim. The story of the clipping echoes the parricide trial directly following Meursault's, and alludes to Meursault's own trial, during which the prosecutor attempts to condemn Meursault for not crying at his mother's funeral. (By his showing no emotion at his mother's death, it could be inferred that Meursault hated his mother, or wanted to kill her.)

Meursault rereads this story "thousands of times." Why do you think he finds it so fascinating?

The days slip by. Time, which in the past gave Meursault's life some semblance of meaning and order, is no longer important. Only the concepts of "yesterday" and "tomorrow" still have meaning. The most difficult time of day, for Meursault, is the early evening, when the sun disappears and the sounds begin "creeping up from all the floors of the prison in a sort of stealthy procession." Meursault stares at his reflection in his tin pannikin, or platter, and notes that his expression has become more serious, mournful, and tense. He hears a voice and realizes that it's his own voice, that he's begun talking to himself. Though he has found ways to occupy himself in prison, he obviously longs for the pleasures of his former life, for the freedom to act impulsively, and to live in the moment.

Some readers feel that killing the Arab had a positive effect on Meursault's attitude toward the world. His imprisonment, they say, made him realize that life was worth living. Others feel that Meursault had already come to terms with the outside world before the murder, and could be considered a reasonably well-adjusted person. Life in prison, according to these readers, deprived Meursault of a way of life that was basically healthy, and forced him to rely on his memories to stay sane. As you read, ask yourself whether Meursault has changed for the better or the worse.

CHAPTER III

A year has passed since Meursault murdered the Arab. On a day "of brilliant sunshine" the trial is finally about to begin.

Meursault's lawyer assures him that the trial won't last more than two or three days. He explains that Meursault's case isn't the most important on the courtroom agenda, The case immediately following Meursault's- a case of parricide, where a son is being tried for killing his father- is much more controversial and will take more time.

What is Meursault's attitude toward his trial? Notice how he compares the sounds in the courtroom to those of a small-town "social," or dance following a concert. Meursault tells one of the policemen that the prospect of witnessing a trial "rather" interests him, indicating a sense of detachment, as if someone else were being tried and he was merely in attendance as a spectator.

In the courtroom he notices the light filtering through the venetian blinds. The heat in the room is stifling. He's aware of the jury members, who stare at him in the hope of detecting signs that will prove he's a criminal. He looks around the crowded courtroom but doesn't see anyone he knows. He can't understand why so many people have come to the court on his account. When he mentions to a policeman his surprise at the size of the crowd, the policeman tells him that it's the fault of the press. One of the journalists, a friend of the policeman, comes over to Meursault's table. He tells Meursault that during the summer, when there wasn't much other news to write about, the newspaper he works for has been featuring stories about Meursault's murder of the Arab. Most of the journalists, however, are present to cover the trial of the parricide; and Meursault has the feeling that, despite the crowds, his own trial isn't very important.

Almost all the people in the court seem to know one another, and Meursault has the distinct feeling of being a "gate-crasher," a stranger who doesn't belong. Do you think this would make Meursault feel more or less apprehensive about the outcome?

Meursault's lawyer arrives, followed by the public prosecutor. Then the three judges enter the court. Meursault notices that all the journalists are sitting at attention, their pens raised, except for one. This particular journalist seems younger than the others and has his eyes directly fixed on Meursault. The journalist's face is emotionless, and for a moment, as Meursault stares back, Meursault has the impression of "being scrutinized by [him]self."

Meursault has a hard time following the opening phases of the court procedure and doesn't pay careful attention until the court clerk reads off the list of witnesses. Then, one by one, as their names are called, the witnesses rise: Raymond, Masson, Salamano, the doorkeeper at the nursing home, Perez, Marie, and Celeste. Meursault notices that the robotlike woman who sat at his table in the restaurant is also present in the courtroom.

The main judge begins the proceedings. The judge describes himself "as a sort of umpire." The courtroom is his arena: the lawyer, the prosecutor, the jury, and the witnesses are participants in the game. The journalists are the spectators. But it's a game, you will find, that Meursault refuses to play. Whether a jury finds him guilty or innocent isn't particularly important to him.

The examination begins. Meursault is forced to answer the same questions he's already answered a hundred times: name, occupation, residence. Though he admits he's sick of the formality of all these questions, he realizes it's important for him to identify himself, if only because it would be terrible for the court to be trying the wrong man. Notice, as you read, how much of Meursault's personality- his naivete, the shortness of his attention span- resembles that of a young child. You can see his concentration shift, even as the judge begins asking him these questions. His focus drifts to the spectators in the courtroom, to the journalists, and to the jury.

The judge shifts the line of questioning to the subject of Meursault's relationship with his mother. Why did Meursault send his mother to the nursing home? Did the parting cause Meursault unhappiness? Meursault tries to explain that neither he nor his mother expected much from each other and that both of them easily adjusted to the change.

It's the prosecutor's turn now. He asks Meursault whether he'd returned to the stream with the intention of killing the Arab. Meursault answers no but makes no attempt to explain himself further. In response to another question about why he was carrying a revolver and why he had gone back to the precise spot, Meursault observes that it was simply a matter of chance. The prosecutor dismisses Meursault abruptly and with disdain, as if the simplicity of Meursault's answers is somehow proof of his guilt.

NOTE: Some readers feel that Camus uses the trial as a way of examining the hypocrisy and cynicism of judicial procedures. The prosecutor isn't interested in finding out the truth; he just wants to win the case. Meursault's loyalty to the truth, however, prevents him from playing the courtroom game. He refuses to tell the prosecutor, the judge, or even his own lawyer what they want to hear.

After a short adjournment, the warden from the nursing home is called to the stand. In response to the judge's questions, the warden states that Meursault's mother had frequently complained about her son's treatment of her. He notes that Meursault showed no interest in seeing his mother's body and that he hadn't cried at the funeral.

The judge asks the prosecutor if he has any questions to pose to the warden. The prosecutor bellows triumphantly, "I have all I want," and glowers at Meursault, who has a sudden impulse to burst into tears. For the first time, Meursault realizes how much "all these people" hate him. Based on what you know about Meursault, does this sudden rush of emotion seem out of character?

The next witness is the doorkeeper at the home. He states that Meursault smoked cigarettes, drank coffee, slept, and showed no interest in seeing his mother's body. Meursault's lawyer tries to win a point with the jury by establishing the fact that it was the doorkeeper who offered Meursault a cup of coffee. The prosecutor, however, makes light of this fact; if offered coffee, Meursault should have refused, out of respect for his dead mother.

Thomas Perez, Meursault's mother's companion at the home, takes the witness stand. He tells the court he was too preoccupied with his own feelings to take much notice of what Meursault was doing during the funeral. He's fairly certain, however, that Meursault didn't cry.

Perez is followed by Celeste, the restaurant owner. He describes Meursault as a person who wasn't "one to waste his breath," but he doesn't think Meursault was particularly secretive. He offers his opinion of the murder as "just an accident, or a stroke of bad luck." (Is Camus relating this to the newspaper clipping in Meursault's cell, in which a man is "accidentally" murdered by his mother and sister?) When the judge cuts Celeste short with the comment that the purpose of the trial "is to try such accidents," Celeste feels embarrassed at not being able to help Meursault more. For his well-intentioned effort, Meursault has the impulse to kiss him.

Marie is the next witness. Not surprisingly, the prosecutor's questions involve the day Meursault and Marie first slept together. The prosecutor observes that their affair began on the day after Meursault's mother's funeral. Not only did they sleep together, but they went to the movies to see- a comedy! A stunned silence fills the courtroom. The prosecutor turns to the jury and repeats this damning bit of evidence. Marie bursts into tears, claiming that the prosecutor misunderstood her statement and that she was certain Meursault hadn't done anything wrong. But no one is listening. The court officer leads her away and the trial continues.

Masson and Salamano are the next witnesses. Their testimony, although favorable to Meursault, seems to make no impression on the jury.

Raymond is the last witness. He tries to explain that it was he, not Meursault, who had an argument with the Arab, and that Meursault's presence on the beach was merely a coincidence. But didn't Meursault, the prosecutor asks, write the letter to Raymond's girlfriend? Raymond answers that this also was due to chance. Was it also by chance, the prosecutor goes on, that Meursault did not intervene when Raymond was beating up his mistress? And that Meursault testified on Raymond's behalf at the police station? The prosecutor attempts to depict Raymond as a man who "lived on the immoral earnings of women." At the prosecutor's prodding, Raymond admits that he and Meursault are "the best of pals." Consequently, the prosecutor claims, Meursault killed the Arab "in pursuance of some sordid vendetta in the underworld of prostitutes and pimps." In the prosecutor's eyes, Meursault is "an inhuman monster, wholly without a moral sense."

Meursault's lawyer leaps up to defend his client. Meursault is on trial for murdering an Arab, he claims, not for the way he acted at his mother's funeral. The prosecutor can't believe that Meursault's lawyer doesn't see the connection between these two aspects of the case. A man who didn't cry at his mother's funeral- according to the prosecutor- is surely "a criminal at heart."

Is there anything that could be said in Meursault's favor at this point? Why doesn't Meursault's lawyer argue that his client killed the Arab in self-defense? Some readers feel that if Meursault is guilty because he didn't cry at his mother's funeral, then others are guilty as well: Marie, for suggesting they see the Fernandel movie; the doorkeeper, for offering Meursault a cup of coffee; Raymond, for asking Meursault to write the letter to his girlfriend. But in each of these instances, Meursault had the chance to refuse. This trial could be regarded as the consequence of his indifference.

The court adjourns for the day. Returning to his cell, Meursault remembers what it felt like on other summer evenings when he would sit outdoors and watch the sky change color. The evening is a special time for him, and all the sounds of the town- the cries of sandwich vendors, the bird calls, the shouts of the newspaper boys- have a special meaning. He realizes that, previously, he'd been truly content with his life, but in a way he never really appreciated it. Now he realizes that all these small pleasures have been taken away from him forever. Instead of a night of dreamless sleep, he can only look forward to "a night haunted by forebodings of the coming day."

CHAPTER IV

As the trial progresses, Meursault feels more detached than ever. He's tempted, at times, to try to speak up; but he can't seem to do it. At first, he finds it interesting to hear himself being talked about, but after a while that, too, wears thin.

NOTE: In 1939, when he was writing The Stranger, Camus wrote and published essays on Franz Kafka, the noted author of The Trial and The Castle. In The Trial, the main character, Joseph K., is arrested and tried for a crime that is never revealed to him. It might be interesting for you to read The Trial and to pick out any similarities between Kafka's book and The Stranger.

First the prosecutor and then Meursault's lawyer deliver their closing speeches to the jury. The prosecutor repeats most of the evidence against Meursault. In his eyes, the case is "as clear as daylight." Notice the way the image of "light" is used in this context. Daylight, after all, was as much a "cause" of the crime as anything else, and Meursault's relation to light is anything but clear.

The prosecutor's speech bores Meursault. It is only his flamboyant gestures that catch Meursault's attention at all. The prosecutor stresses the notion that the murder of the Arab was premeditated. He describes Meursault as "an educated man" who knew exactly what he was doing when he killed the Arab. Not once, the prosecutor continues, has Meursault shown signs of remorse "for his most odious crime." In his own defense, Meursault is tempted to say that he's never felt remorse for anything in his entire life. He's been too preoccupied with the present and the immediate future to mull over things he's done in the past.

The prosecutor tells the jury that he's made a close study of the prisoner's soul and found it to be a complete blank. Thus Meursault, according to the prosecutor, can't be blamed for lacking a conscience, since he had no power to acquire one. Nonetheless, a man who is unable to feel regret for what he's done must be considered "a menace to society." As he ends his speech, the prosecutor refers to the case of parricide that directly follows Meursault's case on the court agenda. He implies that Meursault is not only morally guilty of the death of his own mother, but indirectly responsible for the second crime- the murder of a father by his son- as well, by having "set a precedent." The prosecutor begs the jury to find Meursault guilty and to sentence him to death.

The judge asks Meursault if he has anything to say. Meursault, who feels overcome by the heat as well as amazed at the prosecutor's statements, answers that he had no intention of killing the Arab. He tries to explain that the killing occurred "because of the sun," but of course no one in the court understands what he means. His lawyer merely shrugs and asks the judge to adjourn the court until the following afternoon.

The next day, the trial continues. In the heavy air, Meursault can barely pay attention to his lawyer's closing speech. He feels even more excluded from what's going on when he realizes that the lawyer is using "I" when referring to Meursault. He also realizes that his lawyer is much less talented than the prosecutor. The lawyer rehashes all the positive points about Meursault, but fails to say anything about Meursault's reason for killing the Arab. The lawyer also fails to call to the jury's attention that Meursault is on trial for murder, not for his actions toward his mother or with his friends. If you were Meursault's lawyer, what would you have done differently? It's possible, as some readers point out, that the killing of the Arab could be justified as self-defense. Remember that Meursault only fired after he saw the Arab's knife. But the lawyer mentions nothing about this. Instead, he tries to establish some connection between Meursault's soul and the excellence of government-financed nursing homes. He describes Meursault as a "steady, conscientious worker" who was "popular with everyone and sympathetic in others' troubles."

NOTE: Camus's description of the trial is an attempt to define the nature of truth and justice. Meursault's sense of detachment at his own trial may seem extreme, but Camus makes it clear that Meursault, given his own code of ethics, cannot participate in the trial without being untrue to himself. The trial is a game with a specific set of rules that have nothing to do with finding the truth, and Meursault refuses to play by any rules other than his own.

Toward the end of the lawyer's speech, Meursault is momentarily mesmerized by the sound of an ice cream vendor's horn in the street. The sound embodies all the pleasurable memories from his past and makes him realize the futility of everything that's going on in the courtroom. He feels like vomiting. All he wants to do is return to his cell and sleep.

While waiting for the verdict, Meursault looks around the courtroom. Celeste, Raymond, Marie- they are all still there. Meursault realizes that he hasn't thought much about Marie during the trial, and when she waves at him, smiling, he can't bring himself to smile back. He admits that his heart has "turned to stone." Some readers think that Meursault is acting callously when he doesn't return Marie's wave at this point, while others feel that he's just steeling himself against the verdict that will soon be delivered against him. By now we know that all of Meursault's responses have a number of possible meanings. When you're out of step with the rest of the world, Camus seems to be saying, nothing is clear.

The judge announces the verdict, "'In the name of the French people,'" he says, Meursault is "to be decapitated in some public place." No specific date is announced for the execution. Are you surprised at the verdict? Is the punishment justified? Do you think that if Meursault had "played the game"- if he'd shown some remorse at the trial- the jury would have been more sympathetic?

Meursault notices that everyone around him, now that they know he's going to die, treats him with "respectful sympathy." Meursault, however, shows no visible reaction. As he leaves the courtroom, he admits only that he's stopped thinking.

NOTE: The fact that Meursault is sentenced to death for murdering an Arab has been criticized as unrealistic. Although a European in that era might have been condemned for such an act, it is unlikely that he would have been sentenced to death under these circumstances. Most readers feel that Camus cast the victim as an Arab so that the full absurdity of the judicial system, rather than the crime itself, could be emphasized. Meursault is sentenced mainly for not conforming to the rules of society, rather than for murdering someone. The death of an Arab meant little to the jury. But a European victim could not so easily have been dismissed. Notice that during the trial, no Arab witnesses are called to describe the murder.

CHAPTER V

Some time has passed since the end of the trial. Meursault tells us that he's just refused to see the prison chaplain for the third time. He's been transferred to a different cell, where, lying on his back, he can see the sky. He spends his days fantasizing about escaping. He blames himself for not having paid more attention to stories of public executions. Possibly, he reasons, he would have come across at least one story where- at the last minute- the prisoner escapes. He knows, realistically, that even if he did make a desperate attempt to escape, he'd most likely be shot down before he got too far.

Meursault cannot "stomach this brutal attitude." He knows that the effects of the verdict are as certain as the wall of his cell, but this knowledge, more than anything else, triggers a part of his imagination that been relatively dormant until this time. He can no longer live for the pleasures of the moment, so he retreats into a fantasy world where anything is possible.

He remembers a story his mother used to tell him about his father. This is the first mention of Meursault's father in the book, and Meursault admits that he never set eyes on him. Apparently, Meursault's father witnessed the execution of a murderer, and the experience made him violently ill. Meursault tells us that at the time he thought his father's reaction "disgusting," but that now he realizes "nothing was more important than an execution." Some readers feel that Meursault's feelings about executions, and the reference to his father, is an attempt, on Meursault's part, to relate to his family, and to the father he never knew. Meursault, these critics think, would like to witness an execution in an attempt to prove that he could experience this event without becoming ill. Other readers feel that Meursault's desire to attend an execution indicates his hope that his own execution will be well-attended.

Just the thought of his own freedom, however, frightens Meursault, and he begins trembling. To imagine freedom, while condemned to death, has become a form of self-torture to him. Yet what else can he do? Does his desire to be free indicate that his attitude toward the world has changed?

NOTE: Camus's father dies when Camus was an infant. One of the few things Camus knew about him was that he'd witnessed an execution and had become sick afterwards. Reread "The Author and His Times" and note how much Meursault's relationship with his parents resembles Camus's relationship with his.

When he first heard the verdict, in the previous chapter, Meursault told us he "stopped thinking." Yet now, in the privacy of his cell, his thoughts occur so rapidly it's hard to keep track of them, His thoughts have become the "events" in his life.

He remembers once seeing a picture of a guillotine and how shiny it seemed, like "some laboratory instrument." Previously he had imagined that the criminal had to climb up steps to be guillotined. But in the picture "the machine is on the same level as the man." His attempt at imagining what his own execution will be like is a way of creating order and of giving these final moments of his life some meaning.

He knows that "they" will come for him at dawn. But which dawn? He gets into the habit of sleeping during the day and staying up all night, so he'll be ready when "they" arrive. With the passing of each dawn, he realizes he has another twenty-four hours to live.

He argues with himself about whether life is worth living. What difference does it make if you die when you are thirty or when you are seventy? Yet this argument gives him little consolation. He wants to go on living. Even if he had to spend the rest of his days in a prison cell, staring up at the sky, he would still have his thoughts, his dreams, and his memories. He fantasizes about the possibility that his appeal might be successful. But the thought that he might one day be a free man again makes him overexcited, and he reminds himself of the importance of keeping his thoughts under control.

He thinks also of Marie, and wonders why she hasn't written him in such a long time. Probably, he guesses, she grew tired of being the mistress of a condemned murderer. It occurs to him that she might be ill, or even dead. He realizes that if Marie were dead, that it would be pointless for him to even think about her. In Meursault's way of thinking, only the living matter. (Relate this to his feelings about his mother when he learns of her death.) He realizes, too, that after he dies everyone will forget him.

The chaplain arrives, unannounced, interrupting Meursault's train of thought. He assures Meursault that he's just making a friendly visit and asks Meursault to sit beside him. Meursault refuses, although he has nothing against the man and, in fact, finds him amiable and mild. After a long silence, the chaplain asks Meursault why he hasn't allowed him to visit previously. Meursault explains that he doesn't believe in God. The chaplain, much like the magistrate in an earlier chapter, refuses to accept Meursault's answer. He asks whether Meursault's lack of spirituality is due to a feeling of desperation. Meursault corrects him: he isn't feeling despair, only fear. The chaplain insists that everyone in a similar position has turned to God, but Meursault isn't interested. He doesn't have the time to enter into a conversation about God.

The chaplain tries to convince Meursault about the inevitability of dying and asks Meursault how he'll face death when it arrives. Meursault responds, brusquely, that he'll face it as he's facing lit now. Has the chaplain forgotten that Meursault has been sentenced to die? In an attempt to intimidate Meursault, the chaplain stands and stares him straight in the eyes. He asks if Meursault really thinks there's no life after death, and when Meursault, undaunted, says yes, the chaplain sits down again.

Meursault begins to lose interest in the chaplain's endless questions. His attention returns, however, when he realizes that the chaplain is becoming truly upset. The chaplain says that he's certain Meursault's appeal will succeed but that in his view "man's justice [is] a vain thing; only God's justice matter[s]." Meursault must appeal to God to free himself of the burden of guilt for sinning. Meursault insists that he hasn't committed any sin. He's been found guilty of committing a criminal offense- a murder- and is paying the penalty.

NOTE: The chaplain (like the magistrate, the prosecutor, and the warden of the nursing home) attempts to persuade Meursault to fall into line, to respond in a way the chaplain feels is in conformity with society. These men treat Meursault like a child who needs the guidance of a father. Despite the chaplain's assertion that his visit to Meursault's cell is informal rather than official, his dress underscores his identity as a representative of the Church. He attempts to divert Meursault's attention from the earthly to the mystical, but Meursault can only acknowledge what he knows physically. Rather than seeing a divine image in his cell, Meursault sees "a sun-gold face, lit up with desire- Marie's face."

At the start of the visit, the chaplain appeared calm and self-possessed. At this point he becomes a little frantic, as if he's used up all his best arguments and doesn't know what to say next. He stubbornly refuses to believe that Meursault doesn't wish for a life after death. Meursault answers that the question has no more meaning to him than wishing to be rich. Finally, Meursault begins to lose control of his own feelings and shouts at the chaplain that his only image of the afterlife is "a life in which I can remember this life on earth." He tries to explain that he doesn't want to waste his last days on earth thinking about God.

The chaplain puts his hand on Meursault's shoulder and tells him that he's going to pray for him, no matter what Meursault says. At this point, Meursault can't control himself any longer. He grabs the chaplain by his cassock and "in a sort of ecstasy of joy and rage" pours out the thoughts that have been simmering for so long in his brain. The chaplain has acted so "cocksure," but it's really Meursault who is sure of himself. What difference does it make how people choose to live their lives? Nothing has any meaning; life is finite. All people are privileged just by the fact that they are alive, but all people are also condemned to die. It doesn't matter whether he was condemned because he refused to cry at his mother's funeral or condemned because he committed a crime. Some readers see an important change in Meursault here. He no longer is so detached from other people but makes a very important connection with others, who, with him, share the predicament of an absurd life on earth.

NOTE: Camus believed that the anti-hero must be in continual revolt against the absurdity of the world. Meursault's outburst against the chaplain is his first show of outward rebellion against the forces in society (as symbolized by the chaplain) that control human beings. Until this point, he has acted passively in relation to these forces. His striking out against the chaplain parallels his act of violence against the Arab. In the earlier instance, he is controlled by the forces of nature. In the second instance, he is controlled by the man-made conventions that rule the world. For Camus, both nature and society are ultimately indifferent to the plight of the individual.

The jailers enter the cell and rescue the chaplain from Meursault's grasp.

Meursault falls asleep, exhausted. When he wakes, he hears the sounds of the countryside and feels the cool night air. At dawn, he hears the sound of a steamer's siren, and he thinks of all the people starting on journeys, living their lives in ways that no longer concern him. He thinks for the first time in a long while about his mother and understands now why she chose to have a "fiance" at the end of her life. He realizes that she probably felt happy in the face of death, and that there was no reason for him, or anyone else, to cry for her. And Meursault, as well, feels happy with the knowledge that he's lived his life according to his own rules. Society has condemned him for not being obedient to its values, but Meursault no longer cares. "For the first time, the first, [he says] his heart open to the benign indifference of the universe." He understands how intensely his way of being provokes other people. He imagines the day of his execution and hopes that, as he approaches the guillotine, a huge crowd will greet him with cries of hatred.

Readers have interpreted this last sentiment as expressing a wish, on Meursault's part, for some kind of recognition from the world. Others feel that it's a sign of repentance on Meursault's part, that he feels he deserves condemnation for not appreciating his life before killing the Arab. Still others feel that his wish to be greeted with cries of hatred is a final act of defiance on Meursault's part.

A STEP BEYOND

THE STORY


ECC [The Stranger Contents] [PinkMonkey.com]

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of PinkMonkey.com, Inc. is prohibited.

Google
  Web PinkMonkey.com   
Google
  Web Search Our Message Boards   

All Contents Copyright © 1997-2004 PinkMonkey.com
All rights reserved. Further Distribution Is Strictly Prohibited.


About Us
 | Advertising | Contact Us | Privacy Policy | Home Page
This page was last updated: 5/9/2017 8:52:04 AM