Literature Study GuidesThe StrangerPart 2 Chapter 3 Summary

The Stranger | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Stranger | Part 2, Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

In a courtroom Meursault attends his trial, which takes place on a hot summer day. He notices the jury, which appear as a group of faceless people staring at him. He watches the preliminaries of the trial and notes the friendliness of the people. A member of the press talks to Meursault and says he is playing up the trial in the papers. Many reporters attend the trial. One of them, instead of taking notes, just watches Meursault. Meursault sees the witnesses, which include the director and caretaker from the home, Raymond, Masson, Thomas Pérez, Salamano, Céleste, and Marie. Also, the little, robot-like woman from Céleste's restaurant is at the trial, watching Meursault.

The judge questions Meursault's motivation for placing his mother in a home. Meursault responds with financial reasons. The prosecutor asks why, on the day of the killing, Meursault was armed and returned to precisely the spot where he had previously confronted the victim. Meursault says, "[I]t just happened that way." Meursault is taken to the prison, is fed, and is returned to the courtroom. He feels somewhat overwhelmed by the heat in the room. The director goes to the witness stand and is asked questions about Meursault's attitude at his mother's funeral. The director says that Meursault seemed calm, did not cry, and left without paying respects at the grave. The prosecutor seems pleased by these responses. Meursault feels hatred from the spectators in the courtroom. The caretaker is also questioned about Meursault's behavior at the funeral. The caretaker replies that Meursault smoked, slept, and drank coffee. The people in the courtroom seem stunned by this response, and Meursault comments, "I realized that I was guilty." The prosecutor emphasizes Meursault's callous behavior at his mother's funeral.

When questioned, Thomas Pérez says he was too distraught to notice whether Meursault cried or did not cry at the funeral. When Céleste is questioned the restaurant owner stresses his friendship with Meursault and claims that his shooting of the victim was just bad luck. Meursault feels grateful for Céleste's testimony and feels as if he wants to "kiss" him. Then Marie testifies, admitting to getting romantically involved with Meursault and going to see a comedic movie with him on the day following his mother's funeral. The prosecutor again emphasizes the callous behavior of Meursault. Marie is distraught that the prosecutor twists her words. Masson and Salamano also testify.

During Raymond's questioning, he stresses that the Arab victim of the killing hated him, not Meursault. He also claims that Meursault writing the letter that "set the whole drama in motion" was just chance. The prosecutor sarcastically says that "chance" could be accused of many things in this case, such as Meursault failing to stop the fight between Raymond and his mistress. Then, the prosecutor declares that Meursault is "a monster, a man without morals." In his rebuttal the defense attorney wonders aloud whether his client is "on trial for burying his mother or for killing a man," and spectators laugh. The prosecutor next accuses Meursault of committing a "crime in his heart." As Meursault is transported back to his prison cell, he notices pleasant sensations, such as "the shouts of the sandwich sellers," which used to fill him with contentment.

Analysis

The courtroom is described in terms of entertainment, reinforcing for Meursault the absurd nature of the trial. Meursault hears the sounds of the trial being set up, which reminds him of a hall being cleared for a dance. Later, he remarks that there really is not much difference between being on trial for a crime and being a source of humor for spectators. Also, when he watches people greeting each other, he feels as if he sees members of a social club that does not include him. These comparisons all suggest that Meursault views the trial as a farce, especially since his world view is completely at odds with traditional law.

After the stage is set for the farcical trial, the prosecutor applies a familiar but erroneous and absurd tactic to convict Meursault of the act of killing. He puts Meursault on trial for his character, not for the specific crime. Camus once summarized The Stranger by saying that a man who does not cry at his mother's funeral "runs the risk of being sentenced to death." Indeed, Meursault is on trial for holding nontraditional views that offend his society. By this account, he is guilty and he knows it, but his guilt is absurd. It has nothing to do with the truth.

The courtroom functions as a symbol of society and its traditional views. Meursault sees the jury as group of faceless people. As a result, he cannot distinguish one juror from another. They are like the mourners at Maman's funeral and, for Meursault, like society in general. The courtroom also contains almost every character of any significance in the novel, even the little robot woman from Céleste's restaurant. Indeed, most of the witnesses, such as Céleste and Salamano, have no direct relation to the killing itself. This gathering also suggests that Meursault is not on trial for a crime but instead for his character. Society, and not the court of law, is judging Meursault for his nontraditional views.

However, not everyone lacks understanding of Meursault. One of the reporters does not take notes, but instead watches Meursault. Some scholars believe this reporter might be Camus himself, who used to work as a reporter. Simon Lea states that Camus includes himself in the novel "with a small cameo as a young reporter in a blue suit [sic]." In fact, when Meursault notices this journalist, he gets the impression of being watched by himself, perhaps because he is being watched by a person who understands him. In contrast, the other person who steadily watches Meursault is the little robot woman, but for different reasons. This women, obsessed with routines, is curious about how this man, who seems a strange outsider, fits into her controlled view of life.

Camus continues to develop the theme of detachment through Meursault's tendency to view the trial as if he is an outside observer. Meursault feels like an intruder at the trial and becomes paranoid that everyone in the courtroom hates him. Curiously, another type of outsider in the courtroom is the Arab community, which is again faceless and lacking in description. The prosecutor and judge seem to view the Arabs as unimportant. They rarely refer to the Arab man who was killed by Meursault. Instead, the legal authorities focus on their own agenda, namely the upholding of their traditional Christian morality.

The courtroom scene heightens the absurdity of life for Meursault. Earlier, he calmly accepted the meaningless of life as he went about his daily business. However, now the stakes have been raised. The absurdity of life could end in Meursault's death, and he feels uncomfortable in the physical life of the hot courtroom. As the trial progresses, the court gets hotter and hotter. Meursault has been thrust into a situation where he can no longer use pleasant sensations to escape the absurdity of life and therefore must face it, as well as death, more directly. He longs for the pleasant sensations of escape he enjoyed before he was arrested, but they have been torn away. As a result, he can no longer find contentment.

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