Study Guide

The Stranger Part 2, Chapter 3

By Albert Camus

Part 2, Chapter 3

  • By the beginning of summer (it has been a full year since the shooting), trial has been set for June, in the Court of Assizes.
  • Meursault's attorney tells him that it wouldn't last more than two or three days because a more interesting parricide (the murder of a family member) case is coming up after his trial.
  • Trial opens with the sun glaring outside (surprise) and the air stifling inside. The room is filled with people—the panel of judges, the deputies, the bailiff, the jury, the prosecutors and lawyers, the potential witnesses, and the press. Shortly before court is in session, one of the journalists tell Meursault that since summer is the slow season for news, the press has gotten all worked up about Meursault's case; it and the parricide are the only things worth writing about.
  • The presiding judge reins in the courtroom, questioning the prosecution, defense, and finally instructing the jury. He then proceeds to call witnesses for examination and cross-examination.
  • The room gets hotter, and to demonstrate as much, everyone fans themselves with papers.
  • Meursault's examination begins right away by the presiding judge. First he asks Meursault's name, age, date and place of birth, and occupation. Then it proceeds to Maman and the question of why Meursault put her in the home.
  • Meursault says it is because he doesn't have the money to hire private help. When asked whether the decision was hard on him, Meursault responds that no, it wasn't, since Maman didn't expect anything from him anymore.
  • The prosecution continues the line of questioning, but on the issue of intent. When asked whether Meursault intended to kill the Arab, Meursault answers no. Well, then, why did he return—armed—to precisely the same spot? Meursault answers that it just happened that way.
  • With that, the hearing is adjourned until the afternoon, at which time the witnesses will be called.
  • Meursault is taken back to the prison for lunch and promptly back to the courthouse thereafter.
  • By now, the courtroom has gotten even hotter.
  • The director of the home is called to the stand first. He testifies that Maman did complain of Meursault often, though that is customary. Even so, she did resent being put in the home.
  • He adds that Meursault seemed "calm" the day of the funeral, "calm" meaning he didn't want to see Maman, didn't cry once, and left without paying respects at her grave. Moreover, he says, Meursault did not even know Maman's age.
  • By now the prosecutor is positively gleeful; he passes his turn to question.
  • Meursault feels the sudden "stupid urge to cry," as he realizes how much all the people in the courtroom hate him.
  • The caretaker is then called to the stand, and answers more or less the same questions. He testifies that Meursault hadn't wanted to see Maman, that he had smoked and slept at the vigil, and that he had some coffee as well. The prosecutor is now exultant, noting to the jury that a good son would have refused coffee and cigarettes.
  • Thomas Perez is the next witness. He testifies that he had never met Meursault before the funeral, and that his own "sadness" prevented him from being able to see the young man anyway.
  • The prosecutor asks Perez if he saw Meursault cry, and he says no, he didn't.
  • In a burst of clever lawyery-ness, Meursault's own lawyer asks Perez if he saw Meursault not cry, to which Perez also must also answer "no." In other words, just because Perez didn't see Meursault cry, it doesn't mean he never did.
  • The defense lawyer, exulting in his cleverness, announces with finality: "Here we have a perfect reflection of this entire trial: everything is true and nothing is true." An absurd proclamation. Shmoopers, take note.
  • A five minute recess is had by all, during which the defense attorney, still quite pleased with himself, tells Meursault that everything is working out fine.
  • Afterwards, Celeste is called by the defense. The prosecutor questions him, and Celeste testifies that Meursault is a customer and a friend of his, and though he may come off as withdrawn sometimes, he is "a man."
  • You know there's something wrong when this is the best defense of your character you've heard so far.
  • With respect to the crime committed, Celeste says that it's pure bad luck, that everyone has bad luck, and that it leaves you "defenseless" when it happens. Celeste's further attempts to support Meursault are cut short by the presiding judge. Helpless, Celeste looks at a grateful Meursault and trembles.
  • Marie is called next. The prosecutor gets nasty with her, calling her Meursault's mistress and their relationship an affair. He has her go detail their first date together, which, in case you forgot, was the day after Maman's death.
  • Marie resists, but has to testify. She goes over the swim, the movies, and the hanky-panky at Meursault's apartment. The courtroom is completely silent when the prosecutor notes that the movie was a comedy by Fernandel. Marie begins to cry—it's not as bad as it sounds! She insists Meursault didn't do anything wrong. The bailiff ushers the sobbing Marie out at the signal of the judge.
  • Well that just about does it. Masson's and Salamano's subsequent testimonies are basically useless in trying to establish any good character on Meursault's part. No one seems to understand.
  • Raymond is the last witness. He blurts out that Meursault is innocent. The judge reprimands him, as he's supposed to be calmly relating facts, not blabbing on about his opinion. The prosecutor gets nasty with Raymond as well, painting a picture of him as a girlfriend-beater, a pimp, and an accomplice of Meursault's. He makes it pretty clear that Raymond was out to kill the Arab in order to settle this business with his ex-girlfriend/mistress.
  • Meursault's attorney objects, asking whether Meursault is on trial for burying his mother or for killing a man.
  • It's a good point, but the prosecutor refutes it; he claims there is a "profound, fundamental, and tragic relationship between the two."
  • The courtroom seems to side with the prosecutor as he closes trial with the statement that Meursault had "buried his mother with crime in his heart."
  • Questioning is adjourned.
  • Meursault reflects on the town he once loved and the moments when he was once happy. But then he uses a different word, "content," to describe his former life. He notes that he used to sleep easily, dreamlessly, and that it seems a given life path can lead to prison just as easily as it can lead to anything else.