The Stranger Summary and Analysis
by Albert Camus
Part Two, Chapters 4-5
Chapter 4 Summary:
Meursault starts out by saying that it is always interesting when people talk about him. He is annoyed however that his lawyer will not allow him to interject anything. He is the accused and that should count for something. Yet he does not have that much to say and people would probably lose interest in him as he does with the prosecutor's speech. From what he hears, the prosecutor tries to prove that Meursault's crime was premeditated. His evidence is the facts of the crime and his criminal soul as shown through his actions toward his mother. He gives a spin on Meursault's relationship with Raymond which could be plausible since, judging from the facts, he could be Raymond's accomplice. Meursault realizes that he is being condemned for being intelligent -- a positive quality for a normal man is an indictment for a guilty one. The prosecutor then cries that worst of all, Meursault never felt remorse for his crime. His attack was so relentless that Meursault wishes he could explain that he has never felt remorse for anything and often his mind just moves on to the next moment. The prosecutor says that Meursault's soul is empty of man's proper moral principles. He moves the speech to Meursault's attitude toward Maman and speaks for much longer than he had about the crime. He concludes by comparing Meursault's case to the parricide trial to follow, resolving that Meursault's lack of humanity is much worse than, and a precursor to, the parricide. Meursault has no place in human society since he upholds none of its rules, he states before calling for the death penalty and calling Meursault a monster.
When asked if he has anything to add, Meursault asserts that he never intended to kill the Arab. He is flustered when asked why he did kill and finally says the sun. The room laughs. His lawyer asks for his summation to be delayed until the afternoon. At that time, Meursault notices how endless his lawyer's speech is and how he oddly uses the pronoun "I" for Meursault. Meursault feels as if it reduces and excludes him in a courtroom from which he was already greatly distanced. His lawyer seems ridiculous and less talented than the prosecutor. The lawyer hits upon each point made by the prosecution except the funeral, which Meursault feels is a mistake. Yet what he remembers most from the trial is being dazed and hearing the outside noises of an ice cream vendor instead of his lawyer. He is reminded of his previous life where he had found simple, lasting joys. The court process he is a part of seems utterly pointless. He wishes he could go back to the cell and sleep. The lawyer calls for the jury to not condemn a man who lost control for just a moment and is already suffering eternal remorse.
At the end of the speech, Meursault remembers he had forgotten about Marie and catches her eye. He is unable to return her smile. Meursault is led out of the room to wait for the jury to decide and his lawyer seems very affable, explaining that they would not be able to overturn an unfavorable verdict but they could always appeal. Meursault accepts that and finally is called back into the court to hear his sentencing. He is not allowed to hear the verdict which precedes. He has a strange feeling when walking in and hears the announcement that he will be decapitated publicly in the name of the French people. The judge asks him if he has anything to say and Meursault thinks and then replies that he does not. They take him away.
Characteristically, Meursault is interested to hear the summations made by the two lawyers because he wants to hear people talk about him. Devoid of fear or urgency or apprehension, Meursault solely thinks it will be interesting as if he were someone in the audience. He has somehow been even further distanced from the courtroom than he felt before because the agency of voice has been stripped from him. He can not speak in his defense because his lawyer keeps telling him he will hurt the case. His notion that the accused should have a right to speak is put in perspective when we realize that he has little to do with the proceedings. The entire first half of the novel will be rewound and retold by other narrators, the lawyers, and twisted into the story they want to tell the jury: one of a monstrous, unfeeling man and the other of a man suffering from deep remorse. Neither account is true.
The subjectivity of judgment becomes increasingly obvious in this chapter as even Meursault notes that the series of events and motivations that the prosecutor sets up are plausible. The insensitivity portrayed to the jury concerning his actions the day of and following the burial of Maman is true though irrelevant to the crime. Meursault's actions are easily twisted into a devious plan, creating a man with intentions of future action and past revenge, qualities that we know Meursault has never shown. Ironically, Meursault is condemned for being immoral and insensitive but he is indicted by evidence strictly to the contrary of the persona which is under fire. Meursault works on a moment to moment basis and knowing his foundation in the Absurd we can understand how it was not his nature to interfere with Raymond beating up his girlfriend or to cry at the funeral. Meursault picks up on another inconsistency in the prosecution as well. He is indicted because he is intelligent. The moments of the first chapter are twisted, distorted, and thrown back in Meursault's face. He is not allowed to have acted without intent if he is intelligent. Yet he is allowed to be empty of soul. The creation of qualities in Meursault's character by the prosecution parallels the meaning and value that Meursault will later find he has the power to create in his own life. Paradoxically, he must be defaced in this manner before he can find that power.
Not surprisingly the prosecutor talks for much longer about Maman than about the crime, highlighting the true purpose of this trial. He even states that the trial has superseded in importance and vial nature the parricide trial to follow. The moral killing of his mother, according to the prosecutor, is more odious than the physical killing of a father or an Arab. Thus we see the metaphor for Camus' theme of the moral is given precedence over the physical. The argument is used against Meursault because he was incapable of living a moral life due to the standards of society. Camus wants him to find his morality through another venue. Meursault however has a difficult time paying attention to either lawyer and notices instead that it is hot during the tirade of the prosecutor. Meursault gets his chance to respond and the judge is glad to hear that he has a defense. Yet when pressed to answer why he killed if he did not intend to, Meursault cannot. This moment parallels the interrogation of the magistrate and how Meursault just did not know how to respond to why he hesitated before firing the last four shots. There was no reasoning. Camus has created a murderer without any justification and forces our society to deal with him. Meursault is not a monster but neither is he innocent. He had no motive or justification for his act whatsoever. All he can remember is the effect of the physical elements of the day, namely the beating sun and red sand. The court only laughs, this type of human can not be real.
Meursault's humanity is reduced further during the summation by his own lawyer. He understands the replacement of his own name with the pronoun "I" by the lawyer to be a further exclusion of his own voice from the trial. He is not on trial, but his morals are. His lawyer's lesser talent as compared to the prosecutor is evident to Meursault who feels as if he is observing the entire process instead of participating in it. Camus has set up the ironic case where the man condemned for his indifference and avoidance of societal code is pushed aside by the court and forced to be the outsider when he wishes he could speak on his own behalf. Meursault's distance takes him to the ice cream vendor outside instead of the speech of his lawyer. He is attacked by memories, beginning to feel the power of memory and the value of moments in life which bring happiness. Those moments of Marie and swimming are his to keep and cherish but he has lost the ability to enjoy and form new moments. This loss strikes him for the first time and it is in the face of this loss that he is able to realize an intrinsic value which he had heretofore ignored in the lost moments. Faced with his memories and the emptiness of the adjourned court, of the sun setting both physically and metaphorically, Meursault cannot feel anything in his heart for his surroundings.
When Meursault is led into the court to hear that he is to be decapitated by the guillotine, the moments move very fast. He does not make eye contact with anyone and most eyes have turned away. He is a condemned man. Note that the bizarreness of the verdict is echoed in the bizarre language Meursault tells us the verdict is read in. The claim that he is being killed for the French people in the public square is both surreal and contradicted by the feelings he picks up on the faces of those now turned to him. The gentleness and consideration toward a men they just condemned seems out of place and paradoxical. The process has been ludicrous and takes a ludicrous end where a man is condemned for something other than the crime he committed and then is to be killed in the name of many people whom he will never meet. Meursault has nothing to say because it would not matter. The paths in the sun could have led either way.
Chapter 5 Summary:
The chapter opens with Meursault's declaration that he has refused the chaplain three times. He has nothing to say and will see the chaplain soon enough at the execution. What he does care about is escaping the inevitability of the machinery of his execution. Meursault wishes that he had paid closer attention to executions in books and such so that he could hold on to the thought of one escape, one possibility. He realizes though, there is little chance for that. Still he finds it very difficult to accept the absoluteness of the machinery he is faced with. The absurdity of the verdict being handed out at a certain time for the good of a certain people decided by random people just like himself hits him full force. It all seemed so haphazard and arbitrary. Nevertheless, the verdict would be very real for him. He remembers a story his mother had told him about his father, whom he had never met. He was originally disgusted by the idea his father chose to go to an execution once knowing the idea made him sick. Meursault wishes he would be in the position to be able to live and go to every execution. But he is getting carried away.
Other times Meursault would make up new penal laws where the convicted would have a slight chance of escape every time. He imagines a mix of chemicals which would kill a man who drank it nine times out of ten. The trouble with the guillotine was that it did not afford even the slightest of possibilities. Even worse, the condemned has to hope that it works smoothly the first time which sets up the paradoxical situation of the condemned being "forced into a kind of moral collaboration." He is disturbed to realize that he has imagined the guillotine much more romanticized like in the French Revolution where in fact it is simpler and on ground level so one must approach it like another man. Two other things he thinks of constantly are his appeal and dawn. He would try to picture his heart no longer beating but could not. He figured the executioners always come at dawn so he would lie awake at night waiting, so as not to be surprised. He found that the red streaks of dawn always made him happy because he had another twenty-four hours of life. As for his appeal, he knew to think realistically about it and he worked to convince himself that it would be refused. At this point, he could give himself the permission to entertain the idea of being pardoned. If he could approach this idea rationally, ignoring the joy in his heart, he was afforded one calm hour.
In one of these hours, the chaplain visited. For the first time in awhile Meursault had been thinking of Marie. He realized she may have stopped writing because she was sick or dead and he did not need to think about her dead. No one would think of him after he was dead. The chaplain enters and seems gentle to Meursault. He asks why Meursault has refused him and Meursault answers that he does not believe in God, explaining that it was unimportant. The chaplain's thoughts did not really interest him. He says that he is reacting out of fear and not despair and explains that he does not want any help because he does not have time for things that do not interest him. The chaplain addresses Meursault as "my friend" and declares that all are condemned to die but Meursault does not take consolation in that and states that he would face a later death the same as his approaching one. The chaplain then stares at him which reminds Meursault of a game he has played with friends. He asks if Meursault really believes that after death there is nothing and Meursault replies yes. The chaplain is very upset and explains that divine justice is everything. Meursault notices that the chaplain has only the room to sit or stand.
Finally, the chaplain points to the sweating stones of the cell and says even the most wretched have seen a divine face in them. Meursault knows the stones well and the only face he had looked for was Marie's and he had never found it. The chaplain wonders if he really loves the earth so much. Meursault is just about to ask him to leave but the chaplain refuses to believe that Meursault has never wished for another life. Meursault agrees, he wishes for a life where he could remember this one. The chaplain promises to pray and Meursault snaps, grabbing his collar and yelling. The chaplain's certainty is worth nothing real. He lives his life like a dead man. Meursault may only have death to wait for but at least he could hold on to it. He had made his own choices in life, knowing nothing matters. Meursault has waited his whole life for this moment of vindication. No one else's life effects his own, what would it matter? The guards tear him away from the chaplain and the chaplain leaves.
Calmer, Meursault throws himself on the bed and sleeps until the starlight wakes him. The peace of the summer night soothes him. Right before dawn, the sirens blast. He thinks of Maman for the first time in a while and is able to understand her taking a fiancé so close to the end. She had felt ready to live again when faced with death and no one had the right to cry over her. Meursault feels ready to live it again as well and opens himself to the innate indifference of the world, feeling as close to it as a brother. He realizes he had been happy and was happy again. The final consummation, he hopes, would be a crowd of hating spectators at his execution. Then, he would feel less alone.
The reader is transported into the cell with Meursault at a point where he has already been approached and has denied the chaplain three times. His inner thoughts have moved for the first time that we see from the external sensations he enjoys or the physical elements of the world he observes to a type of fear, apprehension, and searching for escape. He is less marginalized from the goings on of the court system and institutions around him. He realizes that he is trapped in a machinery which would be very difficult to stop. There is a sense of wish and regret for the past in Meursault which was never noticeable in the past. He wishes that he had taken stories of executions more seriously before so that he would know of one where the condemned had escaped the inevitable machinery of the state. The hope for a future event has been born in Meursault's mind.
He mentions that if he knew of even one escape, "my heart would have taken over from there." His heart has never been an issue. In the courtroom, when the summations had finished, his heart was cold. With Marie, his heart was cold. Faced with death, he wishes to have one little piece of life to hold onto and give to his heart. With nothing to feed his heart, he wishes he had always fed it. He yearns for a chance which could play to his imagination and allow him the freedom of knowing there was a possibility of escape. He mentions hope and imagination as he never would have allowed himself to before. They never would have mattered. Facing the end of all time, nothingness, he realizes that to live, they matter. The vagueness of the absolutes set down by the court strike him with such irony that the reader cannot help but agree with him as to the arbitrary nature of events surrounding his indictment. The decision could have gone either way. How could they decide on the seriousness of a man's life by considering such vague notions as the people of France? Were the French people a decision-making body of one voice and intent? No, yet somehow that term gave the courts in Algeria the right to judge one man's morals against a code they themselves had codified.
Meursault turns more now than ever to the power and necessity of memory. He recalls thoughts of Maman which make her more of a living force than she ever became in Part One. The story of his father going to executions gives Meursault a past and reality which he had never been afforded by Camus up to this point. He wishes he could fill the shoes his father had walked in. This desire to preserve the past as well as hope for the future points to a distinct and monumental difference in the new Meursault. As he showed signs of during the last chapter, he welcomes a past and future. Meursault begins to appreciate moments in life where one can do that and look forward to doing that and look forward to remembering having done that. His imagination is finally put to use and he comes up with new penal codes which allow for chance. Earlier he would have said that chance did not make a difference and that a path could go either way. Yet when faced with a path having a finite end in sight, he realizes that one wants power over the stops along the path. It is absurd to want a power that will amount to nothing in the end but when faced with end, he realizes that to live a life until that point is to want that power. Similarly to how he has mistaken ideas of the guillotine gathered from images of the French Revolution, his ideas on much of what can be valued in living a life were mistaken.
Meursault's preoccupation with the thoughts of his appeal and dawn apply to many issues which have been discussed about character. The appeal points to his need for hope, as futile as he realizes it must be, and forces him to question his own notions of death. Though he rationally knows that it makes little difference when and how one dies since all people must die, he cannot help but feel the surge of delight when he thinks of his dying being delayed. The future has entered his visceral vocabulary. He must dismiss this in order to control his passions (which he had never before recognized) and to allow himself the even more futile dream of being pardoned. It is these dreams and thought which could succeed in calming Meursault because he had opened up a valve of emotional response, expectation, and hope. Allowing the pardon soothed the need for escape. Furthermore, Meursault forces himself to stay awake for dawn every morning because he is dealing with the fear and apprehension, with the waiting, of his own death which he knows will come at dawn. The streaks of light each morning as another night passes are gifts to Meursault and represent another day of life.
The life he is allowed one day at a time is much too limited for the scope of vision Meursault has become open to by facing the coming of his own death. In his eyes, the chaplain is interfering with the first time in his life when he has tried to live. He is not deciding to play the game of society's codes and he is not transforming his moral character. He still, as he vehemently alerts the chaplain, does not believe in God or look for His help. In contrast, the chaplain appears to be playing a game with Meursault as he stares him down. Meursault holds solidly that death will bring only nothingness. This does not depress Meursault nearly as much as it does the chaplain. Meursault wants to use his time left to live and relive the moments of his life. When Meursault points out that he has never seen a face or sweat in the stones of his cell, the priest recognizes his sincere attachment to the earth as opposed to any external or divine force. Meursault was living now solely for himself. He did not mourn the supposed death of Marie and expected no one to mourn for him. In fact, he realizes what he wants most is another chance to remember the life he has had and relive it again. There is no need to mourn. He simply hopes that he can enjoy remembering this time he has spent on earth for a little longer.
Meursault feels vindicated from the moral crime he is indirectly charged with because he realizes that no one should have mourned for Maman. She had taken the chance to really live life at the end once freed from her life obligations. The chaplain, on the other hand, does not focus on the here and now but on the divine and the afterlife which he has no control over. Meursault acknowledges Camus' belief that this attempt at life is synonymous to death. One must live and make meaning in life without the pretext or motivation of God or the absolute. Only man is responsible and his life is worth no more than any others. He must make it meaningful so as to enjoy what he can out of it. The prose is beautiful at the end of the novel because Meursault has been transformed into the type of hero Camus has been looking for. Meursault comes to terms with the absurdity of life and the nothingness of death and prepares to meet both equally and courageously. Camus states slyly in one interview that Meursault is the only true type of Christ figure which we should have. One must admit that Christ too is executed for maintaining his belief in the truth.
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
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