Summary and Analysis
Part 2: Chapter III
Because of Meursault's ability to cope with the usual boredom that accompanies imprisonment, he tells us early in this chapter that, in truth, the eleven months he spent in his cell did not pass slowly. He adds that as his trial approaches, another summer has come. Almost a year has passed since he shot the Arab.
On the day Meursault's trial begins, Camus colors it, characteristically, with "brilliant sunshine." Sunshine has been described, metaphorically, in many various guises throughout the novel, but on this particular day, it is "brilliant." There seems to be added hope in the remark of Meursault's lawyer, during which he assures Meursault that the trial will be brief, lasting only two or three days. Meursault's case, it seems, is not important because the case immediately following his deals with the murder of a father by his own son, a trial that probably will take some time.
Meursault is almost relaxed; the sense of game-playing returns as he describes the noises of the courtroom, reminding him of small-town "socials," when a room is being cleared, after a concert, for dancing. He even refuses an offered cigarette, once his greatest deprivation, and, further, he anticipates the prospect of witnessing a trial. His own trial does not seem to trouble him at all; he is far more interested in the spectacle of being a witness to another device of the legal machinery that has attempted to control his world for these eleven months. This is a novelty to a man who has had — except in a single instance — no visitors, other than legal interrogators, for almost a year, living in a narrow cell with memory, sleep, and in-numerable recreations of a clipping about a murder in Czechoslovakia.
Once inside the prisoner's dock, however, the atmosphere of the court changes. Although the blinds are down, light filters through them and the air becomes "stiflingly hot," especially since the windows are closed. Only then does Meursault see the row of faces opposite him. Earlier he had considered that he would be "witnessing" a trial; now he is confronted with the prospective jurors, who will be witnessing his trial, listening to witnesses for and against Meursault. But, like the Arab, they are nameless, almost faceless; at this point, they are merely a body of people. He does not comprehend that they are individuals with names and private lives and emotions. He is amused at their stares because he realizes that they are looking at him for signs of criminality. He feels the absurdity and the almost comic aspects of the situation, the unreality of his being confronted by strangers, intently analyzing him as an object on display.
Slowly, as he has done on previous occasions, when he becomes too warm, he begins to feel dizzy. Time becomes heavy once more as he finds that he must continue to endure being the focus of attention by a sea of faces that he cannot recognize. Never before has Meursault been such a focal point. Before the murder, he was, we have to suppose, sufficiently ordinary looking that no one took a second glance, either admiringly or disparagingly. He — a nobody — is, suddenly, someone vastly important. The policeman to the left of Meursault explains that the newspapers are responsible for the dense, crowded courtroom. He even points out the press reporters sitting at a table, just below the jury box. One journalist knows the policeman and shakes hands, seems friendly, and later wishes Meursault good luck. When Meursault looks out upon the courtroom, he senses that, perhaps, he should not be here, for the people beyond him are exchanging remarks and seem to belong to a club; he feels ill at ease only because he is alone, an outsider, a stranger, or, as he puts it, a "gate-crasher."
Meursault's case, he discovers, is not as simple as he thinks, and, we are led to believe, the crowded courtroom is particularly fascinated by Meursault. The journalist friend of the policeman beside Meursault says that because news was scarce, the journalists have been featuring Meursault's murder of the Arab, along with the news and the gossip surrounding the patricide. Thus the amplification has already begun and Meursault has been ignorant of the fact that his name and his murder of the Arab have been written about by journalists. Since the two murder trials are scheduled one after another, they have, by chance, become linked into a grotesque curiosity. One of the correspondents, it is noted, even came from Paris to cover the patricide but was asked that as long as he was present, he cover the details of Meursault's trial.
All of this is said to Meursault thoughtlessly, and Meursault, in turn, does not understand the interest in himself and his trial, for he almost comments that it was kind of the Parisian reporter to spend time listening to Meursault's trial, but he stops short when he realizes that it would sound silly. The journalist goes back to his colleagues, with another friendly wave of his hand, and the journalists again chatter and laugh together, all seeming "very much at home." Camus is emphasizing the coziness, the sense of comradeship on the part of the press, in addition to that of the crowd in order to point out Meursault's feeling of aloneness and the feeling that he is an outsider, a stranger in their midst.
The account of the trial's opening is discussed quickly because Meursault does not understand the legal maneuvering and rules of order and is conscious, mainly, of a single journalist who is eyeing him but betraying no emotion.
Meursault's consciousness of being an outsider in a courtroom linked by a strange common bond disappears as soon as the witness list is called. Raymond, Masson, Salamano, the doorkeeper from the Home, old Pérez (his mother's closest friend), and Marie slowly emerge from the faceless blur of people, standing, then filing out of the room through a side door. Céleste, the owner of a restaurant that Meursault used to enjoy drinking and eating in, is the last to leave. And, by chance, Meursault is startled for a moment at the woman who is beside Céleste. It is the robot-woman whom he observed one evening, but Meursault has little time for thinking about her, for his trial begins immediately. With a touch of black humor, Camus has the judge describe himself as a "sort of umpire," recalling what Camus said about Meursault's being finally condemned because he "wouldn't play the game." The judge vows to be scrupulously impartial. This is nonsense, as we well know, for no one is able to be impartial, to any great extent, about a death or, in this case, a murder. He closes by citing that the case will be handled "in the spirit of justice," another ironic comment: justice will not enter into Meursault's trial. His trial will not be impartially viewed, argued about, or judged, and his sentence will not be the result of impartial justice.
After a brief reference to the heat and the public fanning themselves with newspapers and the three judges fanning with plaited straw fans, the judge begins his questioning of Meursault.
Like a child, Meursault is vaguely annoyed that he must once again answer questions about his identity and give particulars about the crime, but he reasons, like a child, that perhaps this might be the best procedure; it would be wrong if the wrong man were on trial. His innocence mocks the idea of justice having begun, for in a sense, Meursault is being tried for a wrong that he committed, and he will be sentenced for the wrong reasons. His attitude, at this point, is as though he is a spectator, viewing himself, reciting names and places which he has done so many times previously. Indeed, even as the judge questions Meursault about the account of the murder, it is as though another person were answering "Yes, sir," as instructed by his lawyer to do. Instead of listening to the judge's questions, Meursault allows himself to concentrate on the youngest journalist whose eyes are fixed on him, and, at the same time, he notices the little robot-woman.
When the judge finishes his routine questioning, he launches into matters that he says might seem irrelevant, but that are in his opinion, highly relevant. Remember, at this point, that the judge promised to be impartial. Thus Meursault is prepared for what he describes as the "odious" matter of his mother's death.
To the questions about his mother, Meursault is very honest. The questions are, to him, simple. He sent her away because there was not enough money for them both, and neither he nor his mother was particularly distressed at the parting. Neither he nor his mother, he adds, "expected much of one another" — or anybody else. Therefore, the new condition and the adjustment were easy.
The prosecutor is quick to take advantage of Meursault's simple explanations. It is easy for Meursault to explain to him that he had no intention of killing the Arab and that his carrying a revolver was merely a matter of pure chance. This is the truth, we know, because we are certain of the truth of this man's first-person narrative.
The truthfulness of Meursault's explanations helps confirm what he says happened after the prosecutor has finished. When he says that he couldn't "quite follow what came next," we are sure that he could not. Meursault is easily and often confused. We observed several instances of this in Part One and especially in the first two chapters of Part Two.
The call for adjournment bewilders Meursault, as does his being hustled into the prison van and given a midday meal. He is tired when he is returned to the courtroom, confronting the same faces and starting the trial over again. This is, in a sense, punishment for Meursault: in addition to his being tired and disconcerted by the court proceedings, the heat has increased. Meursault is sweating, barely conscious, and now all of the people in the courtroom have fans and everyone is fanning themselves — except the young journalist and the steel-eyed robot-woman.
The evidence against Meursault's rumored callousness is first confirmed by the warden of the Home. He swears that Meursault's mother complained about her son's conduct and that she reproached him for sending her to the Home. Meursault fails to comprehend the importance of what has been uttered to the jury. To him, the warden of the Home has not qualified his answers, and, in addition, it is natural for old people in Homes to resent, at one time or another, being sent there. This fact does not surprise or alarm him.
The warden becomes embarrassed when he has to explain, however, Meursault's "calmness." Calm, normally, is a word with positive connotations; here, it is damning as the warden explains that Meursault's calmness consists of not wanting to see his mother's body, not shedding a tear, and not even knowing his mother's age. According to the Code, the judge asks that the warden identify the man so described as the prisoner Meursault. It is a formal question but one that the prosecutor relishes. Meursault is riveted now even more tightly into his role of an unfeeling man, a man who could kill in cold blood. Meursault notes the look of triumph on the man's face. It would be foolish for him to burst into tears, but being the focal point of so much hate as he feels bearing upon him, he does want to cry. He has never before sensed such loathing by another person.
The doorkeeper at the Home adds to the warden's damning evidence, adding that Meursault declined to see the corpse, that he smoked cigarettes and slept, and even drank coffee with cream. Of course Meursault is "guilty" of that. Those facts are truth. The frightening aspect of this testimony is that Meursault begins to feel guilty and becomes even more aware that he is being condemned on false charges when the doorkeeper is asked to repeat his statements about smoking and about drinking coffee. A heat of indignation encases the courtroom. Guilty as charged, one might say. But the murder of the Arab has scarcely been touched on; little mention is made of Meursault's killing the native. The focus of the trial, thus far and throughout the remainder of the day, will be on Meursault's behavior during the weekend after his mother's burial.
Embarrassment follows the doorkeeper's statement when Meursault's counsel asks the doorkeeper if, in fact, he too did not smoke. He did, he confesses, but he took the cigarette "just out of politeness." Meursault confirms the truth of giving the cigarette, which gives the doorkeeper so much relief from being accused of also smoking that he confesses that it was he who suggested that Meursault have some coffee.
The statements made by old Pérez are even more damning for Meursault, for the old man recounts that he himself fainted during the funeral and speaks of his being "a great friend" of Meursault's mother and that his grief and his shock were so intense during the funeral that he barely noticed Meursault. He also says that he did not see Meursault shed a tear, but he cannot "swear" to such a statement.
Céleste's testimony begins on a positive note; he admits that Meursault was a customer of his and also a friend; when asked whether or not Meursault was a "secretive" sort of man, Céleste answers instead that Meursault "isn't one to waste his breath, like a lot of folks," meaning the prosecutor. Clearly, he is trying to help Meursault, saying that he paid his bills. When asked about his opinion of the murder, he says that, in his opinion, it was a stroke of bad luck, an accident, and is abruptly dismissed when the judge observes that this trial is being held for just such reasons: to judge such "accidents."
Marie's testimony is ripe for the prosecutor as he draws forth that she and Meursault made love the day following Meursault's mother's funeral; in addition, he forces her to confess that they met while swimming and that they attended a movie together before having sex. Then the prosecutor brings the trial to a halt with a startling silence, following his statement that the movie they attended was "a comedy film." He pleads with the jury to remember, foremost, that the man they are to judge did these three acts on the very day following his mother's funeral.
Marie's tears and pleas for understanding are of no help; she is led away and the hearing continues, with scarcely anyone paying any attention to the testimony of Masson or Salamano. Salamano, like Marie, asks for understanding, but it is obvious that his attempt is as futile as Marie's tears were.
Raymond, the last witness, states that Meursault is innocent. This is a rash statement, but one typical of the volatile Raymond. One might think that he protests too quickly. He does explain that Meursault had no motive for killing the Arab, that it was he, Raymond, who had the grudge against the Arab. Meursault's presence, he says, on that particular day was due to "pure coincidence." This is true, but the prosecutor knows a great deal about this murder, for he asks Raymond about Meursault's writing the defaming letter to the dead Arab's sister. To this question, Raymond can answer only that it was mere chance, which gives the prosecutor an opportunity to chant "chance" and "mere coincidence" as playing much too large a role in the murder. For example, he points out that Meursault did not interfere when Raymond beat up his mistress, that Meursault swore falsely to the police about Raymond, and points out that this man, who states, unequivocally, that Meursault is innocent, is well known as a pimp, as a man who makes a living on the prostitution of women. Meursault is, therefore, pinned against a sordid backdrop of prostitution, brutal fights, a liaison of his own, and a perverted "calmness" during his mother's funeral. The prosecutor describes Meursault as inhuman, a monster, wholly without morals, a man who indulged himself in an orgy following the death of his mother, and killing a man as part of a vendetta for his best friend, a pimp.
When Meursault's lawyer protests that his client is on trial for murder and not for his associations with certain types of friends or matters happening during and after his mother's funeral, there are a few titters from the courtroom audience. When he tries to gain understanding for his client, the lawyer's gestures are awkward and the prosecutor is fast on his feet to emphasize that the two elements mentioned are the vital link in this case: Meursault is a criminal at heart. And Meursault notices that "these words seemed to take much effect on the jury and the public."
This statement is certainly true, for if it was the doorkeeper who is the blame for Meursault's drinking coffee; he is guilty of defaming Meursault's character, which the prosecutor is attempting to do also. And, if the doorkeeper is guilty, then Raymond, by extension, is guilty for suggesting that Meursault write the letter, and Marie is guilty for suggesting the comic movie that she and Meursault attended together. But, remember that in each case, Meursault was given a choice; he could have said no. He must now assume the responsibilities for his actions. One cannot define his actions as models of behavior, and the prosecutor is alert to this, damning Meursault's moral sense, logically, but for the wrong reasons. Later, Meursault will be labeled a monster because he disobeys conventions; that is, he does not "play the game." Clearly this is the prosecutor's most valuable weapon against Meursault and he uses it repeatedly and stunningly. The first day of the trial finished, Meursault is conscious, first of all, of a summer evening out-of-doors; later, sitting in the darkness of the truck, memories return to him of things that had mattered, but things that he had never given value to before — sounds of a town that he had loved, a certain hour of the day, the languid air, birds calling, and streetcar noises. Once, he was unconsciously content with life, but he did not know that he was content or that he was "living"; only now, in this prison of the moving vehicle, does he realize what has been taken away—forever — from him.