The Stranger Summary and Analysis
by Albert Camus
Part Two, Chapters 1-3
Chapter 1 Summary:
Part Two skips to after Meursault has been arrested. He is quickly questioned to ascertain his identity. He is appointed an attorney though his case is so simple he does not think he needs one. He is taken into an interrogation room which reminds him of interrogations in books he has read. It goes quite pleasantly and he almost shakes the magistrates's hand upon leaving. His lawyer meets him in his cell and questions him as well so that he can help. He is disturbed by the answers Meursault gives in response to questions about his feelings at Maman's funeral. Meursault refuses to say that he had repressed natural feelings of sadness because it is not true. Although those details have little to do with the present case, the lawyer it explains it will come up in court. He leaves angrily and Meursault wishes he could tell him that he is just like everyone else but is too lazy to stop him.
He is then taken to the magistrate again who seems cordial, at first asking him to go over the details of the murder again. He is bothered by the fact that Meursault hesitated between the first shot and the following four. Meursault does not know what reason to give and does not think it really matters. The magistrate explodes. He grabs a crucifix and shoves it in Meursault's face, asking him if he believes in God. He is infuriated to learn that Meursault does not. Finally, hoping that he will stop, Meursault agrees with him at which point the magistrate encourages him to say that he will trust in God to which Meursault disagrees. The magistrate comments that Meursault's is the most hardened soul of any criminal he has met. Meursault has a difficult time realizing that he is a criminal now. Meetings with the magistrate run smoother after the first meeting. Meursault is always accompanied by his lawyer and most of the time is left out of the conversation. He enjoys the parts he participates in and comments that the whole process seemed very natural and he feels like "one of the family". He finds it strange to remember a time happier than the cordial moments with the magistrate.
The simple, almost listing manner in which Meursault lists the events which follow the shooting has a matter of fact tone. He is not injecting emotion or remorse into any of his comments. Again, he is completely objective and distanced. As he says in the previous chapter, he could have easily stayed at the house or ended up shooting someone. Yet the last chapter is separated from this chapter by the idea of book one and two. What division exists that separates the two modes of Meursault's life? In Book One we note that Meursault is honest to himself, indifferent, and nonjudgmental. In Book Two these characteristics are not dependent on him or his nature. He is the object and it is society's turn to decide how they will act in response to him. Here, it is Meursault who will be judged and his actions and choices questioned. He can no longer go on living the unexamined life. Ironically, the examination of his case will become that of his life and indict him on what he thinks more than what he did.
The questioning begins right off in chapter one of part two as the reader is skipped to the arrest. We see none of what happens to the others in the beach house or how they find out or react. We know only of Meursault because he is telling us and, fitting to his character, he thinks in a self-centered manner. After being taken away from the others, his thoughts are moved away as well. They do not affect him or make any difference, so he thinks little of them. Meursault admires how well the court takes care of details and stresses parts like this concerning his interrogation rather than much of anything unpleasant. He understands his case is simple but likes that the court will give him a lawyer. Meursault finds the entire situation surreal because he does not consider himself a criminal. Remember that he must keep reminding himself that he has killed someone and belongs in prison. The interrogation scene he enters does come right out of old crime story novels but he is not too affected by its severity. His desire to shake the guard's hand on leaving strikes the reader as peculiar but to Meursault these are simple human interactions and when someone is kind he appreciates it. He is still living moment to moment and does not concern himself with the past or future.
The lawyer is disturbed most by Meursault's inability to lie about how he felt at his mother's funeral. He is a representative of the French institution since he is provided by the state and Meursault's character is completely foreign to him. The trial is business to him and he wants Meursault to learn how to best succeed in court and is worried that is indifferent outlook will harm his chance of winning the case. Meursault tries being very direct with him and even tells him straight, "my nature was such that my physical needs often got in the way of my feelings." Here Camus is telling us what we have been guessing along. Meursault recognizes this difference from society but it is meaningless to try to change that. The lawyer does not get as upset at this comment though than the one where Meursault claims that he can not say that he repressed his natural feelings at Maman's burial because that would not be true. Meursault, above all, is true to himself. At this, the lawyer looks at him disgusted. Already he is being judged to be an inferior human being because he is refusing to go along with the game implied by the lawyer. Meursault plays by his own rules. As in Existentialism, he is an individual struggling against others in a finite world. It is a struggle for one's own identity and meaning. He wishes the lawyer could understand but is too lazy to try to make him. Apathy wins out over the state of another person or his own well-being.
Not surprisingly, the lawyer is unable to come to his next meeting with the magistrate. The point at which the magistrate fails to understand is when Meursault explains that he hesitated after the first shot before firing the last four. Saying he had loved Maman the same as everyone (as he truly does love everyone the same) has less of an impact than his inability to answer why he would have waited like that. The physical stimuli of the moment on the beach return to his senses, he can feel the moment, but he cannot express his motivation because there was none. He could have shot or not shot, and he shot. The crucifix being brought out represents the hinge of Camus' philosophy that there is no God. He is not a nihilist but he believes that nothing divine or absolute exists and that many people use a faith in a higher being as a crutch to avoid living and taking responsibility for this life. Life is absurd, not controlled or monitored or rewarded, and Camus thinks that to live a full life, one must face the absurdity of death leading to nothingness instead of focusing all of one's energies on an abstract and unlikely concept. Why prepare and wait when we could live?
The magistrate gets very frustrated because he does not understand this worldview. Meursault does not even feel sorry for what he did. It was an inconvenience to him to be taken from his pleasurable life and dropped into the monotonous dirty cell. The times with the magistrate come to represent the only breaks from the dark damp world of the cell and he finds pleasure in the simple cordiality of their rare interactions. Each action and encounter that Meursault delights in is indeed an understatement of the manner in which most people live their lives, overlooking these moments by searching for their meaning or accumulation. Meursault's happiness and ability to grasp it is an understatement of Camus' larger message.
Chapter 2 Summary:
Meursault realizes that his time in prison is going to be the type of time he has never liked talking about. He is first put in prison with a bunch of people, mostly Arabs. They become quiet when they learn he is there for killing an Arab. A few days later, he is moved to his own cell with a wooden plank to sleep on and a barred window facing the far off sea. Marie comes soon to visit him and looks beautiful. It is hard to speak with her because of the amount of noise from others in the room. It is mostly Arabs, some screaming and others mumbling softly below all the rest. His eyes adjust to the brighter light of the visiting room and he has a forced conversation with. She tries to keep him hoping, which he believes must mean that he should hope he will be able to touch her again. She talks about everyday things which he answers when necessary. He is overwhelmed by the sound and light and wishes to leave but wants to take advantage of Marie being there too. Meursault pays close attention to the other inmates and their visitors. Finally he is told to leave and she tells him he will be acquitted and they will go swimming and get married. He responds uncertainly. After this, he receives a letter from her explaining that she can no longer visit because she is not his wife.
Meursault explains that life in prison could have been much worse for him. The first months were bad because he still thought like a free man. But then he began to think like a prisoner and looked forward to his walks or lawyer visits instead of swimming and cigarettes. He desired a woman most at first but puts it in perspective when he speaks to the head guard who mentions how missing women and cigarettes and so on was the point of prison. It takes away one's freedom. Meursault realizes he is right and soon gets over his first longings. He mentions that Maman had compared man's ability to get used to anything to living in an hollowed tree where one would get used to looking forward to a bird's flight. Meursault is happy enough in prison.
The main problem for him is killing time. He learns to concentrate on remembering every item and detail of his room at home and makes the catalog longer each time so that it becomes a habit. He is soon able to learn how to sleep in prison as well and progresses to sleeping two thirds of the day. He then has less time to kill. Part of that time he kills by rereading the Czech newspaper crime article he finds. The article contains a tragic story and convinces Meursault that it is never a good idea to play games. With this pattern of life, Meursault soon loses track of time as he had heard would occur in prison. Long and short begin to describe each day and when he is told that he has been in prison for five months he believes but does not understand. He looks at his reflection but no matter how he tries to smile the reflection still looks stern. He realizes too that he has been talking to himself and agrees with the nurse from Maman's funeral that there is no way out.
Chapter two is important to the reader because it fills in the details of the prison which are left out of chapter one. We had learned about the interrogations of the magistrate and the meeting with the lawyer but what occurred on a day to day, basic functions level for Meursault during the eleven month period he is held is avoided. The chapter begins with Meursault admitting that there have always been things he does not like to talk about. We are not surprised since he has always mentioned that he only speaks when he has something to say. The reader realizes that the time he is uncomfortable talking about in prison is when he has trouble convincing himself that he is in prison. He still feels he should be free and thus the prison is a punishment, he is being kept away from where he belongs. This he does not like talking about.
He notes, after he receives Marie's letter that she can no longer visit him, he can accept the fact that the prison is his home but it is still not until later that he gets over his reluctance to talk about it. The combination of prison being his home and his thoughts being those of a prisoner will cause the adjustment. Meursault refers to many of Maman's anecdotes throughout his time in prison and it seems as if he gets the ability to adjust from the lessons his mother has taught him. They are probably closer now than they were during her life. He will wish for his one piece of sky to hold onto and make his own. For a man who lives in the present, he simply has to convince himself that the prison is his present and he can move on.
The meeting he has with Mary before receiving that last letter is chaotic and stifling. The room is filled with Arabs who are characterized as space consuming and loud. They are everywhere- on either side of Meursault, whispering below him, yelling above him. He is nearly drown out by their noise and presence. The damaging effect of the sun is highlighted again when he walks into the room and is blinded by it. It is so much brighter than his cell and he feels uncomfortable then nauseous. The human and physical presences in the room overwhelm him as he has been pulled out of this world and then suddenly interjected back into it. Mary's beauty more than anything else strikes him and he misses the physical feel of her body against his. They talk of trivial things, Meursault often responding simply and just observing her. With the distance of the glaringly crowded room, he cannot connect with her as he once had in the sea and longs for that unity. The trivial items she discusses do not interest him and he would leave except than he would miss her physical presence which still has pull on him. Their inability to communicate without the physical connection is presented as the strains of other conversations interest Meursault more than what Marie is saying. Meursault is forced to shout to Marie in order to be heard but often fails in this because of the surrounding noise. His connection with Marie has been mostly severed though she lingers smiling after him and he yearns for her face and presence long after.
The letter is the first break from his previous. Yet his free man thoughts are still linking him to that world and do not make the break a complete one. We remember the joy Meursault had found in the ocean, in the feel swimming gave him. The urges still are present within him making their denial even harder. This example stands with sex and cigarettes as well. Meursault is in free world withdrawal but he constantly insists that he did not have it as bad as some, that normally he did not take things so far, and that his mother's anecdote about the hollow tree did not even apply because his life in prison was fuller than that analogy. The reasons why he is able to get over the longings for the sea when he can view the waves from his window, and sex, and cigarettes is time and memory. Meursault applies a standard life structure which he had never before depended on. At this point in his existence, living moment to moment is not capable of satisfying him. He realizes that no matter how tantalizing the faces of woman he constructs in his mind are, they still work to pass the time and kill his boredom. He slowly learns to live without any physical stimulation besides that which he is able to create within his mind.
With these acceptances, he uses his memory to kill time and the lack of freedom is lessened. He admits that he is not so unhappy. His mental daily analysis of his room is a classic example of his ability to find value in life and possessions and memory where he had once never bothered to look. He had lived solely for one encounter after another, never examining or looking back to appreciate. By slowly reviewing each and every detail of his room, gaining knowledge each time, he gains back much of the quality of his life that he had allowed to escape him. The realization that a man who lived one day in the outside world would have enough memory to live on in prison is a monumental discovery for Meursault, a mental milestone. He finds value and creates meaning in a life where he had seen no reason for meaning. The clipping of the newspaper article on the Czechoslovakian tragedy is another example of his ability to see the value of examination and the preciousness of life. Time itself loses its meaning to him because the moment to moment function of his life no longer has a place. He lives in his ability to kill prison time through memory, the crime story, sleep and other ways. With time dead, he turns to himself. For the first time in the book, we see Meursault looking at himself. His introspection reveals that he can not make his face smile. By seeing the serious expression on his face and finally hearing his own voice ring out, he connects his body to his mind in the first true union of his life.
Chapter three Summary:
Meursault notes that the time from last summer to the present one went quickly. The weather becoming hot means something will happen to him. His trial is set for the end of June and meant only to last a few days. He arrives at the courthouse to start his trial and is surprised by the bustle of activity and further surprised to learn that they are all there to see him. The press has built his story up. Sun filters into the room and is stifling. Meursault notices the jury sitting in judgment of him like passengers of a streetcar. Once the court is in session, the press too stares at him coldly. The proceeding events are confusing to Meursault since he does not understand the process. When the judges read off the names of witnesses, he realizes that many people he knows are in the room ranging from the director of Maman's home to Marie and Raymond. The robotic woman who sat with him at Céleste's is also in attendance and stares at him throughout.
The heat increases and the examination begins. The judge reads over Meursault's testimony and Meursault agrees to each section. He then asks why Meursault put Maman in a home and he explains that he did not have enough money to care for her, that they had not needed each other anymore, and that they both got used to their new lives. The prosecutor asks if he intended to return to the Arab and kill him. Meursault replies no, it just happened. The session is adjourned until the afternoon when it is hotter but otherwise the same. The witnesses are called, the home's director being first. He testifies that Meursault was very calm at the funeral: not crying, not wanting to see Maman, and leaving right after. Meursault feels like crying for the first time in years when he perceives the hatred so many people feel for him. The caretaker is the next witness and testifies how little Meursault seemed upset at Maman's coffin. Meursault confirms that he did offer the caretaker a cigarette and the caretaker admits that he did offer Meursault the coffee. Thomas Pérez is next and testifies that he could not see what happened because he had been too overwhelmed by grief. The lawyers go back and forth and prove that he neither saw Meursault cry or not cry.
The defense is called next and Céleste testifies first for Meursault. He states that the crime was just a case of bad luck. He wishes he could do more for Meursault, who thinks that it is the first time he has ever wanted to kiss a man. Marie's testimony is focused most on the day she met Meursault with the prosecutor pointing out that it was the day after Maman's funeral and Meursault had swam, started a disreputable affair and gone to see a comedy in the cinema. Marie becomes upset at her words being used against her and is taken out crying. Masson declares that Meursault was an honest and decent man. Salamano pleads with everyone to understand that Meursault had simply run out things to say to Maman but no one seems to understand. Raymond tries to convince the jury that Meursault had simply been on the beach by chance but the prosecutor notes that it is too coincidental that he wrote the letter to Raymond's girlfriend, did not stop his beating her, was a witness at his summons, and so on all by chance. Meursault is called his accomplice and Raymond is termed a "procurer" of women by the prosecutor. Meursault agrees with the prosecutor that they were friends. Meursault's lawyer attempts to move the focus from Maman but the prosecutor turns it back by saying that Meursault had carried a crime in his heart even then. Things do not look good and the trial is adjourned. Upon leaving the courthouse, Meursault is struck by the smell of the summer night and the happy memories it brings back. The paths he once followed, it seemed, could have led as easily back there as to the prison he returned to.
With his time killing methods in hand, the year passes quickly for Meursault. The case is set though giving Meursault some kind of endpoint to contain time more realistically. The trial opens with the sun glaring outside and the reader would likely have learned by this point that it is foreshadowing a negative occurrence. Immediately following the mention of the sun, the lawyer says the trial will go quickly since it is not the most important case. His words are also tainted with doubt and this feeling sets up the environment for the trial. When Meursault arrives it seems like a circus and, for all intents and purposes, it is. The press has built up the story to such proportions that spectators are interested because of that. Furthermore, as we will learn, Meursault's case is one of interest because he has denied the social codes and human faculties which society feels bounded by. They push in to see the man who will not play the game. He does not even realize first that the crowd are for him because to him, his behavior seems perfectly normal. Meursault pictures the image of a streetcar because he subconsciously realizes that he is under judgment from these people who do not even know him but to whom his fate has been given. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the courtroom, symbolizing the narrow-minded, judgmental atmosphere, makes Meursault dizzy for good reason.
Similar to how Camus' title is translated into The Outsider in England, we notice how much outside of society Meursault is in this trial opening. He recognizes no one's face nor feels one's approval of him. He is, as he says, "a kind of intruder", like he is being left out of the game. He is the stranger to society and the courtroom. He as the criminal is less on trial than he as the person and the alienation he feels stresses this point. The existential man must struggle alone to reach meaning. The Absurd can only be conquered if one is forced to look at their meaningless struggle in life to form meaning. He must be alienated in order to reach the depths we will require of him later. Meursault notices that the reporters all wear the same indifferent faces. One would not have thought indifference would seem remarkable enough to him to comment on before but in this case it points to his alienation. The young reporter who looks closely at him bothers him even more because he is under examination.
The judge declares that "he was there to conduct in an impartial manner the proceedings of a case which he would consider objectively." This statement rings eerily of Meursault's method of dealing with the world, letting none of it have value or touch him too closely. This parallel places Meursault at the center -- a paradox as he is also an outsider. The examination begins right after Meursault's notice that the day has become even hotter, another ominous sign. Instead of feeling threatened, Meursault observes that the proceedings start very naturally except that he cannot stop thinking about the feeling of being watched, especially by the young reporter and robot. Each moment and encounter proceeds as always with Meursault's life, until time slows when the subject of Maman is broached. Hardly ever affected, this line of questioning highly irritates him. Still, he answer honestly as always without leaving out details that may upset or disturb the jury such as that he and Maman did not expect anything from each other anymore so it was not hard on him when she moved to the home.
The next day, Meursault is quick to note, is even hotter and more stifling than the first. The reader gets the feeling that she is heading toward an inevitable, ominous, and suffocating verdict for poor Meursault. And yet should we feel sorry for him? It is true that he has shown no remorse. He never did care when his mother died and he did kill a man. Why care that the line of questioning is somewhat irrelevant? The witnesses called against Meursault are solely from his mother's home and based on the one day they met Meursault, at his mother's funeral. Does not it seem ironic that the prosecution of the case does not have one witness who in any way pertains to the actual crime? Note no one in the courtroom notices or objects to this fact. In truth, thus, it is quite evident that Meursault is not on trial for his crime. Sources note that during this period in history a French man would have gotten off rather easily for killing an Arab man. But in this case, the lawyer, with public support, goes in for the kill. The crime is Meursault's lack of morals and refusal to participate in a moral code, reflecting the quotation Camus gives about his hero. The man with knowledge of the Absurd does not give into the game or the program but acknowledges that his actions on Earth do not amount to much or matter for anything or anybody. This singularity is not fleshed out for Meursault yet because he has not come to terms with facing the Absurd, but the basic Camus ideals of no belief in hope or the divine are put on trial so that the author can give them meaning through the resolution that is to come. It is absurd to put on trial the lack of meaning in order to give it meaning through book form which has no meaning unless one gives it their own meaning as Camus is doing.
The ridiculous tone taken in this trial comes to a head during the testimonies of the home caretaker and of Pérez because of the inane details of their testimony harped on by the lawyers. The prosecutor asks the caretaker to testify that Meursault ate, drank, and slept at his mother's coffin but did not want to look at her. He does and Meursault's lawyer points out that the caretaker smoked with him. He defends himself and Meursault admits out loud that he did offer the cigarette to him. The caretaker is surprised when Meursault says the statement which is true but does not help his own case. Instead he supports the caretaker. This honesty in a courtroom where the game is being played is a shock and guilts the caretaker into admitting that he offered the coffee to Meursault. The caretakers response gives us a glimpse of the normalcy which the courtroom is forgetting as they harangue Meursault. Pérez, after stating that he could not see how Meursault reacted, is asked whether he saw Meursault cry. This question by the prosecution is in itself ridiculous since it would contradict Pérez's first statement and therefore make his whole testimony void. Yet the prosecutor uses his answer that he did not see Meursault cry as evidence of his being unfeeling. Meursault's lawyer contradicts this but the whole machinery of the courtroom and the sentiment behind the case is ridiculous beyond control, setting out to prove that Meursault is a man who does not deserve to be a member of society.
The defense does little to help Meursault's case because his witnesses, like he himself, can give little reason to justify Meursault's actions besides comments which are immediately thrown out such as Céleste's idea of bad luck and Raymond saying it was all just chance. But did chance or bad luck cause him to shoot the man five times? This idea is also ridiculous, so that neither side of the case can truly be taken seriously by the reader. He is not on trial for his real crime but for his moral character and his defense can offer no redeeming testimony. Each of his companions is also a bad moral character in the eyes of the room. The major point of the case is that Meursault is not being tried fairly, as Salamano shrieks, "you must understand." But no one can or will. The room is impressed by the prosecutor's allegation that Meursault is on trial for burying his mother with a crime in his heart. Normally this would be far from viable in a court of law, but here it makes sense to the crowd. As a man with no faith or hope who lived indifferently and without judgment, society could not accept his existentialist survival. On his way back to the prison, as he is reminded of the summer air and days when he was happy, Meursault realizes again that the paths of life could lead as easily to a life of innocence or crime. Fate does not exist. Where the path leads is not important. Instead, he must learn to value what the journey means to him.
The Stranger Essays and Related Content
- The Stranger: Essays
- The Stranger: Questions
- The Stranger: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Albert Camus: Biography
- The Stranger Summary
- About The Stranger
- Character List
- Summary and Analysis of Part One, Chapters 1-3
- Summary and Analysis of Part One, Chapters 4-6
- Summary and Analysis of Part Two, Chapters 1-3
- Summary and Analysis of Part Two, Chapters 4-5
- Related Links on The Stranger
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources