Summary and Analysis
Part 2: Chapter IV
Camus has altered the tone of his narrative slowly as Meursault has, after a fashion, somewhat adjusted to prison life and is now on trial for his life. In Part One, Meursault reacted either positively or negatively or was confused by questions and decisions that he alone could answer or make. Numerous times, the first-person narrative focused on the simplicity of Meursault's reactions. Now, however, even Meursault is aware of the sense of detachment that has grown within him. It was especially evident in the last chapter, and Camus emphasizes it even more in this chapter.
Meursault, for example, is vaguely aware that he is being thoroughly condemned by the prosecutor, yet he himself senses a new, far-reaching indifference to his fate. He is intrigued by the trial. He finds it "interesting," although he is the prisoner who is hearing himself discussed. He is a focal point and, as almost an afterthought, is aware that more is said about him than is said about his crime. Camus' understatements here confirm what we have seen happening in this so-called court of justice. It is, for Meursault, absurd that both his own lawyer and the prosecutor have come to almost the same conclusion after having argued about Meursault's character. They agree: Meursault is guilty. Meursault's lawyer differs only in that he raises his arms to heaven and pleads Meursault's guilt with extenuating circumstances.
Normally, as has been noted, Meursault is a man of few words, but he finds himself, at the present, eager to speak out, to add more to his lawyer's defense. This he has been advised not to do and so he remains silent. To him, it seems as though he has been excluded from the trial entirely and that his fate is to be decided with his having little to do with the matter.
Meursault's fascination with the trial ebbs and recedes; he listens intently, wanting to protest, then drifts away, only half-hearing the vindictive voice of the prosecutor. Meursault is aware of the prosecutor's gestures and his elaborate phrases, but even these, he admits, catch only isolated moments of his attention. It is with almost a sense of impatience that Meursault waits for the prosecutor to continue as he tries to prove to the jury that the murder was obviously premeditated and that it can be summarized as being the "dark workings of a criminal mentality." Camus' ironic sense of comedy is included in the prosecutor's tirades. For the prosecutor, the facts of the crime are "as clear as daylight." Recall that when Meursault fired the shots, he was mesmerized by the daylight. But the sun itself was not clear; it was thickly clotted by Meursault's mental state. And note also that Camus has the prosecutor, in another stroke of ironic comment, add that Meursault's criminal mentality might be called the "dark side of this case." The sun, as we have seen, did darken, blinding Meursault, literally and figuratively. It was so intense that Meursault was blinded by the stinging sweat in his eyes, the blurry vision of the Arab, and he was blinded by the enormity of what was happening. As he said in Part One, the trigger of the pistol simply "gave." Meursault's daylight was so blackened by the sun that he was not even conscious of firing the first shot into the Arab.
Camus' having the prosecutor reiterate the facts of the crime increases our sense of what Meursault must be feeling as he hears again and again the sequence of, for him at least, "chance" events that occurred, culminating in what the prosecutor describes as "cold blooded murder." Underscoring his summation, the prosecutor cites Meursault's education, logically proving that the crime was done by a man capable of premeditation. Had Meursault been a simple, passionate man, perhaps he could have killed the Arab in a moment of madness. But, the prosecutor tells the jury, this is not the case: Meursault had all his faculties and wits about him when he fired the shots and was quite aware of what he was doing. This, we know, is not so. It is seemingly logical, but it is false. Meursault was totally unaware of what he was doing and, later, the reason why he did it. Even now, he cannot explain why he murdered the Arab and, especially, why he fired the four extra shots. To the prosecutor, the four extra shots prove that Meursault was being thorough; to this charge, Meursault has no answer, other than knowing that the prosecutor is wrong.
Meursault admits to himself that he feels little regret; after all, the man whom he shot was a stranger; he was only an Arab, and, to Meursault, the prosecutor is overdoing the emphasis on Meursault's regret. Camus, here, is placing Meursault in the position of a judge — listening, watching, observing, and making decisions as to justice being done.
Meursault tells us that he is a man incapable of regret. To regret, philosophically, includes in its definition a rethinking and contemplation about past actions — these do not exist within Meursault. He is a man of present moments and considers only briefly the immediate future and if the future will contain pleasure. He has never looked backward and contemplated the past, and, for this reason, the entire trial has been an enormously new experience for Meursault. He has had to endure rehearing the past, depicted by the prosecutor, and by his own counsel, and judging their versions of the past with his own.
The prosecutor is a thorough villain; Camus is quite clear in his portrayal of the man, parading him and prancing him before the jury as he states that Meursault clearly lacks a soul and although it would be wrong to condemn a man for something that he lacks, it is logical, and just, that justice cannot tolerate the lack of a soul. Logically, therefore, Meursault is a menace to society. And, although he does not say so at the moment, logically, he could conclude that if one is a menace to society, then, for society's sake, that menace should be done away with — burned, executed, or beheaded.
Consider, also, in this chapter that Camus manipulates the prosecutor's oratory so that when the man is condemning Meursault, he continually refers to the case following Meursault's — the murder of a father by his son. He links, within the consciousness of the jury, the idea that extenuating circumstances are no excuse. A murder is a murder and an execution is a murderer's just reward. He preys upon the jury, trapped in their seats, in order to construe a physical murder of a father by a son with a "moral" murder of a mother by her son.
The prosecutor adds that when he asks for the death penalty, he has never asked for a capital sentence with so little pain. Because Meursault is heartless, the prosecutor feels no qualms because, being a religious man, he is following not only his own conscience, but his sacred obligation. He is now dealing with a criminal who lacks a "spark" (a light image, again) of human feeling.
Meursault's reaction is both physical and one of anguish. When the prosecutor sits down, Meursault is quite overcome, he says, but he is not wholly defeated because of what the prosecutor has said. Meursault is suffering terribly from the heat, he tells us first, and then adds that he is also amazed at what he has been hearing.
Meursault, given a chance to speak, says briefly that he had no intention of killing the Arab. After the long harangue, the contrast between his defense and the prosecutor's defamation is striking. Meursault's only defense for his act was "because of the sun." That is all: "because of the sun." Meursault adds that he spoke too quickly and ran his words together; actually, what he said is of little importance for we are sure what the verdict will be.
Court is adjourned and is continued the following day with no hint of what Meursault thought about during the evening as he waited for the trial to resume. Whether or not he has changed during the interval, we see that little has changed when he is brought back into the courtroom. The fans are still waving before the faces of the jury and the speech by the defense seems as endless, if not more so, than that of the prosecution. Meursault removes himself from the proceedings, as he has done before; in effect, this is what has happened to him, by order of the court. His lawyer has been used, instead of Meursault himself, to explain the murder and its circumstances. This is particularly vivid to Meursault when he realizes that the lawyer is so enthralled in recounting the murder that he becomes confused and says "I killed a man."
Meursault realizes that he is judging his lawyer and that the man is not nearly as "talented" as the prosecutor. This is appallingly evident in the lawyer's failing to summon to the attention of the jury the issue of the trial: Meursault is on trial for killing an Arab — not for his actions at his mother's funeral and certainly not for any of his adventures with Marie and Raymond. In addition, Meursault tells us nothing of his lawyer's defense concerning why Meursault was carrying the gun in the first place. Thus we must assume that the lawyer did not mention the subject. Further, the lawyer fails to grasp the easiest explanation possible for Meursault's shooting the Arab: Meursault saw that the Arab had a knife; the initial shot was fired in self-defense, and the ensuing shots were fired because of panic and fright. This makes absolutely good sense and is logical and carries sufficient persuasiveness that the jury probably would accept the truth of such statements. But such explanations are not even brought to their attention. At times, therefore, Meursault's lawyer seems to be a dolt, feeble and ridiculous, especially when he counters the prosecutor's arguments concerning Meursault's soul.
To our dismay, we listen to him return to the matter, once more, of Meursault's mother. This is rhetorical quicksand, a subject that has engulfed the entire trial and has been given a thorough damnation by the prosecutor. The defense says proudly that such institutions as the Home are excellent and are promoted and financed by the government. His logic is absurd: Meursault's soul exists because he was sufficiently humane to put his mother into a "government" Home.
It seems, at times, that Meursault can bear hearing no more, for not only can he not defend himself, he cannot explain his actions. The repetitious recreation of the past sickens him; he feels as though he could vomit because of the rush of memories flooding over him. And, in his remembering, consider that Meursault remembers the physical, not the philosophical, aspects of scenes — the warm smells, the color of the sky at evening, the feel of Marie's dress, and the sound of her laughter. These sensations are denied to him, and never before has Meursault been confronted with the disappearance of an entire world. Formerly, his life was composed of warm skies, swimming, and sex, and little thought was given to one day following another and the disappearance, forever, of present moments that he was delighting in.
The trial over, Meursault is so exhausted that he utters a naked, blatant lie; he says that his defense has been fine. His insincerity troubles him a bit, but he is far too tired to judge whether or not it could be labeled, decisively, "fine." Ironically, we pause and consider that had Meursault "played the game," had he wept during the trial, wrung his hands, exhibited any emotion or remorse, the prosecutor's case would have failed.
Even Marie's presence cannot rouse Meursault now from his stupor as he awaits the verdict. He reveals that he feels as though his heart had "turned to stone," leaving us with an ironic affirmation that Meursault is, indeed, heartless.
When he hears that he is to be decapitated in "some public place," he says that he sensed a respectful sympathy within the courtroom and then he "stopped thinking altogether." We do not; we cannot. We continue thinking and questioning the justness of such a verdict.