Literature Study GuidesThe StrangerPart 2 Chapter 2 Summary

The Stranger | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Stranger | Part 2, Chapter 2 | Summary

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Summary

On the day of his arrest, Meursault is placed in a cell with Arabs, who show Meursault how to roll a mat to make a pillow. Then, Meursault is placed by himself in a stark cell, where he has "a bucket for a toilet and a tin washbasin."

A guard tells Meursault he has a visitor. Meursault goes to the visiting room, where he spots Marie. He notices the crowded room, which is jammed with prisoners in one section and visitors in another section. The prisoners and visitors are separated by two grates, which are about "eight to ten meters" apart. Because of the large number of people and the distance between the grates, many prisoners and visitors yell to communicate. Marie presses against the grate and smiles at Meursault. The conversations of other prisoners distract Meursault. Marie and Meursault exchange greetings, and then Marie shouts that he should have hope. He agrees, but the only hope he feels is the desire to squeeze Marie. She talks about her job above the loud din and keeps smiling. Soon, Meursault has to leave, and Marie throws him a kiss. He looks back at her. Marie presses her face with a "forced smile on it" against the bars.

Alone in his cell, Meursault relates how he often feels the urge to go for a swim and do the other activities of a free person, but then realizes he cannot. These impulses last a few months. After this time Meursault focuses on smaller pleasures, such as the color of his lawyer's tie. The desire for women torments Meursault. He tells a guard that he thinks not being allowed to have women is unfair treatment. The guard reminds Meursault that he is being punished by having his freedom taken away. Meursault has never thought of his situation in this way and agrees. He also craves cigarettes but is denied this pleasure.

To cope with the sensory deprivation of prison, Meursault begins to rely on his memory as his only means of enjoying a pleasant physical life. In fact, he makes a game of it and tries to remember as many details about his room in Algiers as possible. This activity passes the time and keeps him from being bored. In addition, Meursault comes to rely more on sleep. In Part 1, he often escaped from the present by dozing off, such as at his mother's funeral and on the beach. Now, he sleeps 16 to 18 hours a day.

Meursault finds a newspaper article in his cell and reads the article over and over. The article relates a story about a man who left home many years ago. He returns a wealthy person and wants to surprise his mother and sister. However, the mother and sister fail to recognize the man and murder him for his money. When they find out their mistake, they kill themselves. For Meursault the days begin to blend together, "flowing into one another." The guard tells Meursault he has been in prison for five months. Meursault believes it, but the time feels like one unending day. He looks at his reflection in a tin plate and smiles, but his reflection keeps the "same sad, stern expression." For the first time in months, he hears the sound of his own voice and realizes he has been talking to himself.

Meursault remembers the nurse at his mother's funeral saying that there is no way out and "no one can imagine what nights in prison are like."

Analysis

When Marie visits Meursault in prison, she tells him to have hope, but hope for Meursault feels absurd because it places meaning on a world with no meaning. Hope, therefore, intensifies the pain of absurdity.

Throughout Part 1, Meursault uses pleasant sensations to escape from the pain of absurdity. However, in prison, his options for pleasant sensations are greatly reduced. The sensations of physical life have been stripped away from him, and he struggles to cope with this situation. His urges for pleasant sensations are thwarted. He can use various diversions to escape his reality, but they do not alter the fact that he is trapped in prison and in an absurd situation. Through the limitation of his freedom, Meursault is forced to confront the meaninglessness of his life that will end in an equally meaningless death. In this chapter, he tries to find ways to distract himself from his own death. Yet, one of his primary distractions is sleep, a kind of living death.

Meursault could always play the game society expects and say he accepts Christ's forgiveness and was bereft with grief at his mother's funeral. By doing these things, he would appear to accept religious and legal meaning in his life and, as result, might be acquitted. However, Meursault's reaction to the Czechoslovakian news story shows that he views abstinence from societal game-playing almost as a moral principle. He says the story reaffirms that "you should never play games."

This chapter also returns readers to the important theme of miscommunication. Though Meursault does not like to talk much, when he does have conversations, miscommunication often results. Within the institution of the prison, miscommunication increases. In Part 2, Chapter 1, the lawyer and magistrate fail completely to communicate effectively with Meursault and vice versa. In this chapter, communicating well seems almost impossible in the visiting room as people's booming voices echo off the walls. In fact in this chaos, gestures and silence communicate more effectively than words. For example, the small young man and the old woman gazing silently at each other seem to communicate in a more meaningful way than a woman shouting to an inmate about leaving a basket at the clerk's office.

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