The Outsider: Chapter Notes – Part 2 Chapter 2
· Chapter 2 gives an account of Meursault’s time spent in prison. He does not like to talk about this part of his life and briefly mentions that he was not actually in prison for the first few days.
· Marie visits Meursault for the first and only time as she is later denied visitation rights because they are not married. He is happy to see Marie and notices her physical appearance, for instance how beautiful she looked. However, he also seems unfocused and not attentive to Marie because he is able to perceive details of the visiting room and other prisoners with their families.
· After Marie’s visit he starts to realize that he wants certain things he can not have. He desires to walk on the beach and to swim in the sea.
· Towards the end of the chapter, Meursault overcomes his usual routine and adapts to his prison life. His prison becomes his home and he understands that this is apart of his punishment, he does not try to go against the rules and fight the system.
· Meursault talks about how he passes his time whilst in prison: he remembers all the tiny details about his apartment (and discovering things about it that he never before realised from these memories alone), he sleeps for 16-18 hours a day, he reads a newspaper story about a Czechoslovakian man he found between his mattress and bed-plank and spends the rest of his time watching the changes of light and darkness.
“The same task I was pursuing” (page 79) and “The same day I was pursuing” relates to the absurdist realisation that people are constantly in hopeless pursuit of the same task. This echoes the story of Sisyphus: how he continued to push the stone up the hill, just to see it roll back down on the other side, and have to push it back up over and over again. “They lost their names” – (referring to the days) in prison, time. They have no meaning, they are all the same, and just as important (or unimportant) as each other.
When Meursault speaks about his desires for women, he mentions “all the occasions when I’d loved them” (page 76). This is ironic, as we regard the idea of “love” as an important matter, one that occurs generally only once in life. Meursault, however, appears to have “loved” several women whom he has had sexual relations with. This further demonstrates Meursault’s disregard for human constructs, and the absurdist belief that there is no actual truth or meaning, other than tangible evidence. The intangible feelings and emotions experienced by humans have no actual meaning. The word ‘occasions’ also suggests brief moments of time, as if this love is real only for the period of time in which he feels it.
Mersualt being put into prison, isolated from the world symbolises his alienation from society “I’d suddenly realised how closed in I was by my prison walls” (page 75). Since others have not made the same profound realisation as Meursault, he is viewed as an outcast by the other members of society.
Although Marie visits him once, Meursault is still never completely in touch with the outside world once he goes to prison. When Marie visits him, they are still separated by the “rows of bars” (page 72) and the “gap of eight or ten yards” (page 72). This may suggest how Meursault was never really in touch with the world surrounding him. As a result of his absurdist view, he was always alienated from the rest of society, although it only becomes more apparent as the course of the book progresses.
In the beginning of Chapter 2 Marie acted as his only contact beyond prison. After finding out that Marie can no longer visit him, Meursault said ‘my cell became my home’. This symbolizes Marie as his last connection to the world outside of prison, this means not just freedom but the world of social values that exists outside.
We also see that Meursault wanted different things ‘for instance, [he] had a tormenting desire for a woman’. He was being deprived of this because the prisoners are being ‘treated unfairly’ but that is exactly why he is put in prison, he is being deprived of his freedom otherwise it would not be a punishment. Another example is when he does not understand why he is not allowed to smoke a cigarette when he is not causing anyone harm. Later on he ‘realized that it was all part of the punishment’. The fact that Meursault realizes this and can accept it shows how he realizes that all ways of living life (even life in prison) are just a game and that once you are playing a certain game you should follow the appropriate set of rules.
Prisoners usually make deals to receive what they want however although Meursault would like cigarettes to smoke, he does not try to fight the system and break the rules to get them as there is no real point to it. In particular he does not attempt to escape because he realizes that there is no value in escaping because if his life is meaningless then it doesn’t really matter if he is dead. Because there is no value in winning or losing the game all that’s left is to play it properly.
The Meaningless Routines which seem to give Life Meaning
Meursault had to adapt to prison life and live without certain amenities. His day becomes filled with empty routine whilst trying to pass time. Meursault’s empty routine would start as he kills time by ‘remembering things’ in his room and listing every object in it. ‘At the end of a few weeks’ he would spend hours going over and listing everything, he would remember every piece of furniture, and on every piece of furniture, every object and, on every object, every detail, every mark’. This was how he adapted his day, by filling in time and to do this everyday.
Furthermore, at first he ‘didn’t sleep well at night’ as a result Meursault was unable to ‘sleep at all during the day time. However he got into the routine and soon changed his sleeping pattern as he got used to sleeping in a cell. He spent ‘hours doing nothing’ such as he would manage to sleep for ‘sixteen to eighteen hours a day’. So that left him six hours to eat and to think of his memories. The routines that he create here which are obviously without meaning reflect the routines that we use to fill our lives every day that we mistakenly believe do have a kind of meaning.
The routines which he creates, make him become accustomed to his surroundings, as his mother used to repeat, ‘that you ended up getting used to everything. This refers back to when his mother was taken out of the house and put in an old people’s home. His mother ‘cried a lot the first few days’ there because she was not used to it. After a few months she had gotten used to the old people’s home and for that reason she’d start to ‘cried if she’d been taken out of the home’. His mother’s idea of people getting used to everything shows how people can adapt a different lifestyle no matter the conditions, suggesting that, in reality, no life is better than any other because we can get used to everything.
Whatever a person’s situation may be, it is always adjusted to. In the beginning it may seem difficult (and to some possibly even unbearable), but ultimately we get used to any situation we are presented with “”it was an idea of mother’s and she often used to repeat it, that you ended up getting used to everything” (page 75). You are trapped, “there was no way out” (page 79) - this demonstrates the idea that people have become trapped in life, in their empty routines, but unlike Meursault, have not yet realised it and hence have no way out.
This is best summed up in the quotation “So what with my sleeping for hours, remembering things, reading my news story and watching the changes of light to darkness, the time passed” (page 78) which illustrates the absurdist belief that there is no meaning to life, or the empty routines that we follow. They are merely there to pass time, but they have no actual meaning.
Intense Sensory Experience
Physical elements such as sound, and especially light, appear to have a great impact on Meursault. As soon as Meursault enters the visitor’s room of the prison, he immediately begins to describe his surroundings in close detail, even estimating “a gap of eight or ten yards which separated the visitors from the prisoners” (page 72).
Light seems to have an exceptionally strong influence on Meursault, and it is constantly described as “harsh “. When combined with the noise, it even manages to make him feel “rather ill”. This could be because it symbolises change. He is used to the quiet and the dark (previously of his apartment, but of his prison cell in this chapter), and as a result the light appears blinding at first. This could depict the fact that once Meursault is exposed to the light, he is able to see everything for what it really is (nothing), and he may not yet have completely adjusted to his absurdist realisation and still needs to take “a few seconds to adjust” (page 72).
The Primacy of Basic Desires
While in prison, Meursault begins to miss particular aspects of the outside world: firstly women – he describes his craving for sexual activity with a woman as “a tormenting desire” (page 76), but he states that it is “only natural” as he was a young man, there is nothing special about love. He also mentions that he “never thought specifically of Marie” (page 76), which reiterates the fact that he has no belief in love, and other such intangible emotions. Marie is merely a method of satisfying his immediate desires.
Secondly, to begin with he also misses cigarettes almost as much as he does women. His withdrawal from cigarettes made him “feel permanently sick all day long” (page 76). The fact that he misses both almost equally illustrates how to him, nothing has any actual value. One would consider a woman to be of more significant value than a cigarette, but to Meursault, both have no value and thus, are equally valuable.
Marie is an important part in his character development because his feelings are mixed about her. On some levels he has a physical connection, since he thinks ‘she looks beautiful’ and on some levels he likes her since he ‘wanted to make the most of having Marie there’. On the other hand he is not desperate to be with her for example in the visiting room where he ‘found the noise quite painful’. Here Meursault is obviously not being attentive towards Marie and is paying more attention to the sensory input from his surroundings indicating how the things that are real to Meursault are the immediate things, which is why Marie only really matters to him when she is around but why he can easily forget about her when he knows that she isn’t going to visit anymore.
Chapter two takes place in a prison right at the top of the town. Life in the prison creates the perfect situation where the importance of routine can be demonstrated. However, ironically, it is in this cell, where he is most confined that Meursault will eventually become truly free, it is where he has his absurdist revelation in the final chapter … as if cutting him off from society allows Meursault to truly distance himself from the social world in which he grew up and realize the meaninglessness of everything, including his own life.
As such the prison may be interpreted as a microcosm for life. It illustrates how people are “trapped” in their own empty routines and mindsets, and have not come to the absurdist realisation that Meursault has. It also depicts how we are able to adapt to most situations we are faced with in life, and how we always end up “getting used to everything” (page 75).
This in turn echoes the old people’s home in the first chapter, which was also an example of a microcosm of life. In both situations, Camus demonstrates how routines are forced into life to create meaning. At the home, the inmates being forced together develop friendships and even romantic interests. Being in prison, the inmates are force themselves to develop new routines which keep them occupied and help them to pass the time.
The visiting room is a location where Camus can once again demonstrate that Meursault’s attention is dominated by immediate sensory details rather than the intangible feelings. He dedicates a lot of time to describing his immediate surroundings – the people, the furniture, etc. Being in prison, he speaks of how he “kept thinking like a free man” (page 75), and wanted to walk on the beach and swim. This shows us not only how much he misses nature, but also how much it means to him.
The narrative style remains first person in past tense, as in the rest of the book and yet again, Meursault’s emotional withdrawal from the text gives it a feeling of being almost a third person narrative. Everything is described by its sensory details, and only the bare, tangible truths are mentioned, rather than feelings and emotions which are common in most first person narratives. Meursault still describes everything (including people) in a completely external manner, for example “a small, light-tipped old lady, dressed in black...” (page 72).
Relation of Part Whole:
Overall, Chapter 2 is where Meursault really begins to realize the valuelessness of all human constructs and how playing the game itself is all we can ever hope to do. He has no reason to try and beat the game; there is no value in it for him. Through out the whole book he does not put any effort into achieving anything and we are left with the impression that Meursault would play any part in any game.