The Outsider: Chapter Notes - Part 2, Chapter 3
· Meursault’s trial begins as the trial progresses the priority shifts from the actual murder to Meursault’s character.
· The prosecutor attempts to link the death of his mother and him killing the Arab man and we see that the case becomes dominated not by Meursault’s behaviour on the beach but rather his behaviour at his mother’s funeral. Hence the prosecutor calls upon a few people such as the warden and questions them about the funeral of Meursault’s mother.
· Marie, Salamano, Raymond, Celeste, and Thomas Perez are called by the “defense” and are questioned by both the prosecutor and Meursault’s lawyer,
· Meursault is brought back to his cell
The Absence of Real Truth
At one point the judge states that he’ll judge the case objectively which is ironic for in an absurd universe there is no truth, only relative truths, therefore justice itself is arbitrary and subjective.
The absurdist idea that our actions have no real meaning is reinforced as Meursault eventually states that there is little difference between peculiarities and criminality suggesting that there is nothing really ‘wrong’ about criminality – it is just difference: “I know it was a silly idea since it wasn’t peculiarities they were looking for here but criminality. There’s not much difference though” Since nothing has any meaning in his absurdist world then the idea of criminality is purely subjective therefore the definition of crime is in fact also meaningless. This reveals that Meursault knows how society tends to judge but also knows it to be untrue, at least to him as the truth is often distorted by people’s opinions, especially the opinions towards Meursault’s character which is more of an issue at the trial than his crime itself, conveying the ironic subjectivity of the justice system.
Salamano repeats “you must understand” no body does. I think Salamano believes that he shares common ground with Meursault possibly because the relationship Salamano had with his wife was very similar to the one with Meursaults mother in that they both “got used” to their place. However, all of the character’s who attempt to defend Meursault tend to try to defend him on the grounds that he has been misunderstood whereas the problem is that his lack of ‘normal human feeling’ has been understood only too well. What hasn’t been understood is that these ‘normal human values’ don’t really mean anything, although this is not what Salamano is trying to say.
“As if a familiar journey under a summer sky could as easily end in prison as in innocent sleep.” I feel that this quotation outlines the idea that we do in fact live in a random universe. In my opinion Meursault has realized this and is able to ignore human constructs, such as the justice system as a stochastic universe in which everything means nothing is completely fair anyway.
Meursault’s Absurd Attitude and Indifference
Meursault resumes his indifferent and unconsciously absurd outlook throughout the trial as he does not seem to attach any importance to the events unfolding before him even though it is his life that is hanging in the balance. Indeed Meursault even manages to find amusement in particularly grim situations, like when he realizes the similarity between the court and a ballroom, or when he describes it as a tram full of passengers. After pointing out that he’s not nervous he tells a nearby guard that it “would be interesting” I think this is a good portrayal of how indifferent Meursault is to the predicament, adding to notion that he realizes that what is beyond his control is simply that.
He doesn’t seem to care about how he has been misrepresented in the newspapers and is even quite friendly to the newspaperman who admits to doing this. His indifference is further emphasised when, mid-way through the trial, as the witnesses are describing his demeanor during the funeral, Meursault realizes he is guilty and it is made more apparent when he doesn’t react to his lawyer’s comment that his case is unimportant to the courts, or when Meursault withdraws his complaint over the amount of questioning he is being subjected to. Finally, he doesn’t seem to care too much about the situation, after being brought back for the second part of the trial, he’s tired enough to only vaguely remember why he’s there.
However again we see vestiges of normal social values when Meursault feels like crying because all of these people hate him: “I stupidly felt like crying because I could tell how much all these people hated me.” This line exposes the natural feelings all humans feel regardless of their philosophical views. Though Meursault may not regret his crime, he certainly feels the impulses of regular human beings. Therefore, while Meursault’s actions may seem different to regular people, he is still human to some extent. Meursault still cares about what others think of him despite himself, caring little about others. This echoes the strangely moral statements he makes in Part 1, Chapter 6 when he tells Raymond that he can’t shoot the Arab until the Arab makes a move. More importantly, however, this contrasts to later on in the novel when he wishes to be greeted with cries of hatred as he is executed. This change is important as it reflects how, after his revelation in Chapter 5 during the conversation with the priest, he has now fully embraced the absurdist view.
In chapter 2, the prison for him becomes his new world which is unwilling to adapt to “otherwise it wouldn’t be punishment”(page 76) but which he eventually “gets used to”. He even tells of what his mother says (in earlier chapter) about that you can even get used to living in a hollow tree with nothing to do but look at the sky, birds and clouds. The prison-life therefore becomes his new routine. This then continues into chapter 3 where the court also becomes his new, more elaborate, routine.
Meursault’s Self Destructive Honesty
Meursault is totally honest about his lack of feelings for his mother, despite the consequences for himself because the consequences do not matter. He doesn’t avoid lying because lies are wrong but more because lying to save himself would suggest that he is a thing of value and that saving this thing has a purpose when, in an absurd universe, this is untrue because nothing has value.
When the caretaker points out that Meursault smoked and drank coffee at his mothers funeral, he makes a point of acknowledging that he offered the caretaker a cigarette, even though it may damage his case. He isn’t even afraid, to admit Raymond is his friend after he’s depicted by the prosecutor as a monster and he actually affirms quite happily that they are ‘mates’.
Everybody in the courtroom is treating this event as if it was it was a familiar, ordinary affair. The conversations that the characters have with one another all suggest that everyone is playing their part and the only one who isn’t really is Meursault who is not showing enough remorse. The bell signifies the mechanical nature of situation.
The Sun is again an important symbol punctuating important points in Meursault’s life: “I knew as soon as it got hot something new was going to happen to me.” In addition, Meursault’s isolated observations of sensory details continue reinforcing how Meursault lives in a world of the immediate present, constantly affected by the most recent sensory input because these, at the end of the day, are the only real things.
The phrase “I nearly thanked him again. But I thought it would sound ridiculous”
This phrase echoes Meursault’s apology to his boss wherein he seems to have trouble understanding what would be acceptable to society to say. As such he makes comments which most people would find strange or even unacceptable. This suggests that Meursault does not understand the “norm” which has been set by society, something which we take for granted as natural and obvious. The part “I nearly thanked him again” refers to Meursault thanking a journalist for hoping that his case goes well, however he nearly thanks him again for saying that they had “blown his case up a bit”.
In this chapter, we meet a young man in the “tram” filled with journalists who strangely is not taking notes or writing like all of the other journalists, but, along with the mechanical woman from the café, is simply staring at Meursault during the entire hearing and while most people are disgusted by Meursault’s absence of feelings these people do not seem to be. We never know why this is, but they may be absurdists too who have realized the same thing as Meursault and so empathise with him? This interpretation could be strengthened by Meursault’s comment “I had the peculiar impression that I was being watched by myself.”
This chapter is set in the courtroom which is used to illustrate the authority of the social institutions of Meursault’s world. The fact that the trial is a bit of a farce because he is condemned not for the murder which he did commit but for the tears he did not shed at his mother’s funeral reveals how empty these social institutions are. This setting also gives Camus an opportunity to once again to reveal Meursault’s indifference to his own fate as is shown during his short talk with his guards when he says that it would be “interesting to watch a trial” because he’d “never had the chance to see one before”. Finally the trial in the court takes on the same repetitive, routine appearance of the days in prison.
We continue to see the world from Meursault’s first person perspective to allow us to appreciate what an absurd view of the world would really be like. However, for virtually the first time Camus gives Meursault something similar to emotions, e.g. he wants to cry when he realizes his guilt although once again these emotions are unlike those of other people as they seem to last shorter and seem to have less depth in them. The focus on sensory details does, however, continue to dominate and this is well illustrated by the quotation “he was busy stabbing a pencil into the headings of his files” where Meursault describes the action but seems to have no understanding of the emotions underlying the lawyer’s behaviour.
Relation of part to whole:
Essentially, this chapter is important in this book because it not only gives further insight to Meursault’s character but it also propels the plot forward to the final chapter where Meursault, sentenced to death, eventually has his absurd revelation. This chapter is intricately linked to what happens before the trial because most of the trial is based on what happens before the chapter and what happens during the funeral and thus we can see how society treats those people who are Outsiders.