Study Guide

The Stranger Part 2, Chapter 5

By Albert Camus

Part 2, Chapter 5

  • Meursault has refused to see the chaplain three times; he has nothing to say to the holy man. Meanwhile, he's been moved to another cell and can see the night sky.
  • Meursault occupies his days with thoughts of escaping "the machinery of justice"; it is this hope for escapes that counts, he thinks. Perhaps the guillotine will break before it reaches his neck. This is all great and Shawshank Redemption-y, but then he realizes that even if he escapes temporarily, he will not ultimately.
  • Yet he still cannot accept the certainty of his own death. He claims there's something "out of proportion" between the verdict being read and the events that had passed since then. Every detail of the circumstance—the men who read the verdict, the fact that he is in French territory, the time of day the verdict was read—seems to detract from the seriousness of the matter. It's all just so ridiculous.
  • Meursault reminisces about a story Maman once told him concerning his father, whom he never met. Once, his father watched a public execution and threw up.
  • Meursault now resolves that if he ever gets out of prison, he'll go and watch every possible execution. Why? Because it is the only thing that could ever possibly interest man.
  • Meursault also fancies reforming the penal code, realizing now that the most important thing is to give the condemned man a chance. Even one in a thousand—a kind of lottery—would be good enough for hope. The cruelest thing about the guillotine is that you have absolutely no chance for escape at all. It is so certain.
  • Two other issues occupy Meursault: the dawn (because that's when the executors always come) and his appeal.
  • Meursault now spends his nights waiting for that dawn. After all, he has never liked being surprised.
  • He thinks about the appeal as a glimmer of hope. Yet even then, he assumes the worst—that he's going to die. Everybody, he says, knows life isn't worth living; it doesn't much matter whether you die at thirty or seventy. You die all the same.
  • When Meursault thinks about being pardoned, his "hot blood […] surge[s]" through his body with delirious joy—but no, he has to remain calm.
  • Meursault thinks about Marie, but nothing substantial. Without the union of their bodies, there isn't anything to keep them together. Besides, once he's dead, she won't matter to him anymore.
  • The chaplain comes to visit. Meursault shudders, which is not the friendliest of greetings.
  • The chaplain is gentle at first, as Meursault declines every offer of salvation. Meursault is adamant about not believing in God and not wanting anyone's help.
  • At one point, the chaplain throws his hands up in annoyance, unnerved by Meursault's bullheaded behavior. Meursault's only response is that when you die, you die, and nothing remains. There is no afterlife, no salvation, and nothing "God" could offer him anyway.
  • The chaplain says he pities him. Even if the appeal is granted, Meursault has to cleanse his soul from the "burden of sin." The point is, even if escapes the human justice system, he still has divine justice to deal with.
  • Not surprisingly, Meursault finds all this talk rather annoying. So does the chaplain.
  • The chaplain does the mature, adult thing and has a temper tantrum. He declares that he refuses to believe Meursault's bleak outlook; surely, at one time, Meursault must have wished for another life?
  • Sure, Meursault answers, of course, but his wishing was no different than a wish to be rich, or to be a better swimmer… it is all the same. Meursault finally declares he has had enough; he has only so much time left, and he's not going to waste it on God.
  • The chaplain starts calling Meursault "son" and prays for him.
  • Something in Meursault snaps, and he, too, follows the Chaplin into temper tantrum territory. Yelling, he insults the chaplain, tells him not to waste his prayers, grabs him by his collar, and screams on and on.
  • Among such screaming are a few important details: 1) The chaplain can't be certain of anything, especially his own being alive, since he's living like a dead man. 2) All he (Meursault) has is his own death, but he has as much a hold on it as it has on him. 3) His whole life he has had "a dark wind" approaching, a wind that made other people useless to him, since everyone, everyone is made equal by it.
  • Finally, at the threat of the guards, Meursault lets go of the chaplain who, eyes full of tears, disappears off down the hall.
  • With the chaplain gone, Meursault calms himself down and falls asleep.
  • Just before dawn, he awakes to the wonderful smells of the earth and the peace of summer.
  • Meursault thinks about his mother. He thinks he understands why she had a boyfriend (that Perez guy) at the end of her life; so close to death, she was ready to live life again.
  • Meursault now feels the same way—ready to live. He opens himself to "the gentle indifference of the world" and finds that the world is very much like himself—it's his brother, in fact.
  • Finally, Meursault declares that all that remains, for him to feel less alone, is to wish for a large crowd of hateful spectators to be present at his execution.