Summary and Analysis
Part 2: Chapter I
The first chapter of Part Two is narrated in Meursault's frequent matter-of-fact tone, describing his first interrogation by police officials. At first, he says, nobody seemed to have much interest in his case. Interestingly, this attitude is, more or less, how Meursault views the matter. He is not deeply concerned about his case or the possibility that he has committed the ultimate of crimes — murder. Instead of his telling us about his internal feelings, which he seems to ignore or lack, he describes, in bare outlines, the boredom of the police official's questioning and the repetition of giving again and again his name and address and occupation.
Meursault has so little comprehension of what is happening that he is surprised when an examining magistrate asks him if he has obtained a lawyer. Meursault's answer is succinct and honest: no, of course not. To Meursault, it didn't seem necessary to find a lawyer, consult with the lawyer, and pay this man a large fee for defending him. That would be too much trouble and Meursault is not sure that it is necessary for him even to have a lawyer. He is, in fact, pleased to learn that the court will appoint a lawyer for the defense; all the bothersome details will be taken care of. To him, this is "an excellent arrangement"; he won't have to waste his time with petty trivials.
Whereas Meursault's first examination took place at the police station and was uneventful, the examination, a week later, before a magistrate is different. To the earlier police officers who questioned Meursault, he was faceless; he was simply a Frenchman who had shot an Arab. This new magistrate, however, eyes Meursault with distinct curiosity. This magistrate recognizes that Meursault is not a typical murderer. From the first, he is curious and even amused at Meursault's naiveté when he is queried about a lawyer. Meursault blandly answers again that he hadn't thought about obtaining the services of a lawyer. Meursault still does not know whether or not a lawyer is necessary, for a lawyer still seems superfluous; we know Meursault killed an Arab and he knows that he killed an Arab. He is confronted with legal mechanics and is a stranger in this new world, without any knowledge of this foreign, legalistic environment. Whereas his former life had been lived in fragments, this new life is a highly regimented system.
To Meursault, his case is simple. Lawyers are only necessary when a case contains a multiplicity of details and ambiguities, or there is a reasonable doubt as to the seriousness of the crime. There is nothing to argue about when Meursault's case is on the docket; he is not callous or being canny in displaying such an attitude. It is only a formality that he be required to have a lawyer and he is again relieved to hear that he will not have to bother with certain prescribed formalities.
There is a sense of the examination being surreal to Meursault. He finds himself concentrating on the room where he is being questioned. It is more like a living room than a questioning room for murderers. There is an absurdity about the bourgeois curtains, the dumpy armchair, and the simple lamp. Once more, Meursault seems to have removed himself from the scene and seems to be viewing it from another point of view, watching another man answer questions in this "ordinary sitting room." He admits that he doesn't listen to the magistrate very seriously because he has read descriptions of how such examinations are held and this does not conform to the stark, brutal descriptions in novels. This examination, to Meursault, seems "like a game." This is a telling statement. In a preface to the British edition of this novel, Camus states that Meursault is condemned and guillotined because "he doesn't play the game." Meursault dies because he refuses to lie in a court of law; he dies, says Camus in the same preface, "for the sake of truth."
There are no anguished feelings of guilt within Meursault as he relates the details of his interview; instead, he tells us about the physical features of the magistrate, who gives the impression of being highly intelligent except for one small aspect — his mouth has a rather ugly, nervous tic. Camus combines this stroke of description with the ridiculousness of an examination for murder taking place in a living room, suggesting further absurdity when Meursault admits that, when leaving, he does so almost as if he had finished a chat. He is ready to extend his hand and say good-by to the magistrate. Then, momentarily, Meursault remembers that he has killed a man. Yet his use of the word "man" is not wholly convincing. If he felt that he had actually murdered another human being, surely there would be more internal struggling within himself as to why he did it. There seems to be none. And his admission that he remembered "just in time" about the murder is almost an aside, as though he had forgotten something far less important than taking the life of another man.
When Meursault talks with the lawyer that the court has appointed, he agrees to follow the lawyer's advice. The lawyer already knows that Meursault's case is not the simple case that Meursault is convinced it is. For example, he does not like the possibility that he will have to explain Meursault's attitude toward his mother's death. He tells Meursault that the police know that, according to rumors, Meursault showed "great callousness" during his mother's funeral. This matter of Meursault's callousness bothers the lawyer. If Meursault evidenced a lack of feeling during his own mother's funeral, what defense can the lawyer use when he must explain the actions of his client who has murdered a stranger, without motive? He tries to make certain that Meursault realize the seriousness of this charge of callousness. Only Meursault can help himself in this court of law, he says.
Asking Meursault if he felt any grief at all during the funeral, the lawyer is distraught when Meursault replies that the question is terribly odd. Meursault would have been embarrassed to ask anyone such a personal question. He admits that he doesn't think much about his feelings and that his "detachment" has increased in recent years. Most questions are difficult for Meursault to answer, as we have seen, unless he can answer them with a simple yes or no. When a question requires thinking and considering, Meursault becomes confused and wonders why he is being asked such a question, particularly questions with philosophical dimensions. Truthfully, he knows that he was quite fond of his mother. But note that he does not say that he loved her. At this point, Meursault says only that he was "quite fond" of his mother. This is the most positive statement he can make, which does not carry much legalistic clout, especially when one is considering a charge of callous, cold-blooded murder.
Meursault considers himself just a normal man, yet note that the magistrate looks at Meursault with much curiosity, and even Marie earlier wondered if Meursault's oddness was one of the reasons she had fallen in love with him. All of the accumulated evidence convinces us that Camus is showing us that Meursault is certainly not "just a normal man." In another example, Meursault reveals something to his lawyer that an ordinary man, in a cell waiting for a trial, would not utter. Meursault says that all normal people probably have, at one time or another, wished the death of those they loved. He adds that his thought occurred to him as sort of an afterthought; he does not realize the potential gravity of what he has said. To him, it is just an after-thought, a harmless musing.
It is little wonder that Meursault's lawyer is greatly perturbed. He begs Meursault not to make such damning statements during the trial. And Meursault promises — for one reason: "to satisfy him." He has done this repeatedly: he helped Raymond because he wanted to satisfy him; he promised to marry Marie to satisfy her. But now he warns the lawyer that his promises are not iron-bound. He explains that his "physical condition at any given moment" usually influences what he says and does and how he feels. This is rare insight for Meursault to realize about himself, and it is rarer still for him to admit such a statement, when his life depends on convincing a jury that he should not be executed for murdering another man.
With almost child-like innocence, Meursault tells the lawyer that he'd rather that his mother had not died. Meursault considers this a strongly positive statement. Merely because he did not weep carries no importance because he was hot and tired that day; were it up to him, his mother would be alive today. But she died. It was not his fault and it is astonishing that the lawyer can place so much importance on the fact that, because of the heat and Meursault's fatigue, he did not weep at the funeral.
The lawyer, who is what most readers would probably consider "normal," feels sure that Meursault will want to say that on the day of the funeral that he managed to keep his feelings "under control." This is impossible for Meursault to do. It would be a lie. We are not surprised when Meursault says that the lawyer looked at him queerly and seemed slightly revolted, saying that the head of the Home and some of the staff would be witnesses, proving that Meursault was devoid of feelings for his mother. The prosecution has powerful weapons to use against Meursault.
It is beyond Meursault's comprehension what the death of his mother and the death of the Arab have in common. To him, they are two totally unrelated events. The lawyer, however, knows how facts can be twisted and misinterpreted; in this particular case, the prosecution wouldn't even have to make sly, subtle charges. Meursault's attitude toward his mother's death can be used with blatant reminders in order to convince the jury that, before them, is a man who has no feelings, evidenced by witnesses, for his own mother's death. Thus he is capable of killing — because of his lack of feeling. The lawyer warns Meursault that it is evident that the prisoner has never had any dealing with the law. Meursault notes that the lawyer looked "vexed" when he left.
Meursault does not want understanding and sympathy from the lawyer, and he admits being tempted, at times, to assure the lawyer that he is only "an ordinary person." But he does not because, as he says, he is too lazy to do so.
Later that day, when Meursault is taken to the examining magistrate's office, he notes, first of all, the intense heat in the room and that it seems to be flooded with light. Already we have seen how sensitive Meursault is to heat and light and so this visit begins badly. The heaviness of the heat is an omen, presaging the magistrate's statement that the lawyer cannot be present and that Meursault may, if he wishes, reserve answering any questions. There is little doubt as to what Meursault will do; he will answer for himself. From the beginning, he saw little use for a lawyer, other than the fact that the Code demanded he have one.
The interrogation is brusque. Meursault, the magistrate says, has the reputation of being taciturn and somewhat self-centered. These charges are negative; one might use other words and say that Meursault is a man who minds his own business and gives nobody any trouble. Meursault's answer to the magistrate's question as to whether or not the charges are true is, one might say, taciturn. Meursault rarely has much to say, so naturally he doesn't say much. He is very logical and very honest as he answers the magistrate. Again, the naiveté of Meursault amuses the magistrate, who smiles at the answer, adding that his question, at any rate, has little or no importance, which is exactly what Meursault has said — why say or ask anything when there is nothing of importance to be said?
Meursault's uniqueness intrigues the magistrate, who, Meursault notes, leans forward, fastening his eyes deeply and raising his voice a little. The magistrate, obviously, has never interrogated a man who was so bluntly honest. Or perhaps stupid. He admits the charge of murder doesn't interest him as much as Meursault, himself, does. He is puzzled about Meursault's participation in the crime more than he is in the crime itself. Meursault is not puzzled; he assures the magistrate that what happened is quite simple, and he is puzzled only that the magistrate wants to hear the story again, for he says that he has told the magistrate about Raymond, the beach, the swimming-all the details-during their first interview. But Meursault consents, rather unwillingly, to retell the story and when he finishes, it is with a sense that he has wasted time repeating what he already has said and that he feels as though he has never talked so much in his life.
The magistrate promises to help Meursault, partly because Meursault interests him, but he questions him, as did the lawyer, about Meursault's relationship with his mother. As to his loving his mother, Meursault says that he did, "like everybody else." There is a noise behind him when the clerk pushes the typewriter carriage back and seems to be crossing something out. This is a moment in which Camus foreshadows the irony of Meursault's discussing love "like everybody else" and his eventual fate, which will be determined by the jury's failure to believe that he can love "like everybody else." As a result, because of the murder and Meursault's failure to weep at the funeral, he will be crossed out, executed, as efficiently as the typist here corrects an error.
The magistrate's next question causes Meursault to pause before he answers. He emphasizes that he did not shoot five consecutive shots. He tells the absolute truth. He fired one shot, killing the Arab, and then, after a short interval, he fired four more shots. And he cannot explain the interval between the first shot and the others, but he relives that instant, probably due to the intense heat and light in the magistrate's room. He sees the glow of the beach hovering again before his eyes. He cannot answer the magistrate's question, even after the magistrate waits, fidgets, half-rises, sits down again, and asks for an answer. He insists on an answer, but Meursault remains silent.
Meursault's silence transforms the magistrate, whom Meursault once thought looked like a most intelligent man, into a madman. Waving a silver crucifix, he rants that he believes in God Almighty and that even the worst of sinners (presumably, Meursault) can obtain forgiveness. But, first, the magistrate says, there must be repentance, and the sinner must become "like a little child." Again we encounter irony, as we have viewed Meursault's childlike behavior and responses to the magistrate. The madness of the magistrate, in turn, transforms Meursault. He becomes alarmed. This supposedly sane judge of men is brandishing a silver crucifix before Meursault's eyes — a weapon very similar to the knife that the Arab flashed before Meursault and on which the light blazed.
Meanwhile, the office is becoming more stiflingly hot and big flies are buzzing on Meursault's cheeks. It is a scene of punishment — by the heat, the flies, and by the magistrate. Meursault realizes that such odd behavior is far more typical of a criminal, and Meursault, enduring silently, is the criminal. Furthermore, he becomes truly criminal to the magistrate when he admits to a disbelief in God. In despair, the magistrate says that if he ever doubted that God existed, his life would have no meaning; it is as though he is accusing Meursault of trying to convert him to being a non-believer, asking Meursault if he wishes the magistrate's life to have no meaning. Childlike, Meursault cannot follow the logic of the magistrate; how could his wishes have any effect on the magistrate's faith in God?
Meursault has had enough and is willing to lie in order to escape from this asylum of heat and talk of sin, but, instinctively, he says that he must have shaken his head, meaning No, when the magistrate asked him a final time if he believed in God.
The silence that follows is similar to the silence between the first shot and the following four shots. The magistrate is convinced, he says, that Meursault is the most hard-hearted criminal he has ever known; everyone else has wept at the magistrate's performance with the crucifix, the symbol of Christ's suffering. As he did not at his mother's funeral, Meursault does not weep now.
The lawyer and, especially, the examining magistrate have struggled to find and give meaning to their lives. Meursault never bothered to consider whether or not his life had "meaning." His attitude is frightening and threatens the philosophy of society: once one is born, life must be lived, and suicide is a sin and one's life must be governed by principles and purposes. This kind of reality, however, is not Meursault's, and, for that reason, he is accused of lacking "feeling." Meursault has feelings, but his feelings are not coalesced into a systematic, moral unity.
The interview ended, Meursault admits that he does not feel total regret for what he has done; what he feels is "less regret than a kind of vexation." Subsequently, during the many interrogations with the magistrate, the lawyer accompanies Meursault, attempting to have Meursault amplify his previous statements. And, sometimes, Meursault notices, they take very little notice of him. The magistrate seems to have lost interest in this queer, hard-hearted man who denies the existence of God. To them, Meursault becomes a non-person; neither man is hostile toward him. Ironically, Meursault says that he felt that sometimes he was "one of the family."
The interrogations last eleven months and Meursault is transformed into almost enjoying the ordeals. He takes delight in the magistrate's dismissing him and addressing him as "Mr. Antichrist." Any semblance of reality has been reversed within this court of which is supposedly stark reality.