The Stranger

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The Stranger Book 2, Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Book Two opens on Meursault in prison, calmly and agreeably observing the judicial procedures unfolding around him. Thinking his case "pretty simple," Meursault does not hire an attorney. The court appoints one. His lawyer refers to accounts of Meursault's "insensitivity" at his mother's funeral and asks Meursault if he had "held back…natural feelings." Meursault replies that he has "lost the habit of analyzing myself," that he "probably did love Maman, but that didn't mean anything," and that his "physical needs often got in the way of my feelings." He claims he wasn't holding back feelings.
Like Book I, Book 2 opens with Meursault showing indifference in a situation that would make most people highly emotional. Now Meursault is calm after being arrested. His lawyer evokes Book I's opening by recalling Meursault's behavior at his mother's funeral. Again, "natural" proves a crucial word - the lawyer uses it to mean "emotional" or "familial." Again, Meursault insists love is meaningless. Meursault's concern for "physical needs" over "feelings" has been in evidence throughout the novel.
Themes
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
He points out that the funeral is irrelevant to the case but the lawyer suggests otherwise. Disgusted with Meursault, the lawyer leaves angry. Meursault wishes he'd had a chance to explain that he wanted them to be on good terms, not for the sake of his defense, but "good in a natural way."
The lawyer knows that what may be technically irrelevant to a case may nevertheless be relevant in other ways. Meursault's use of "natural" is curious – he may mean "a friendly way," as opposed to "a professional way."
Themes
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
Soon after, Meursault is taken to the examining magistrate who, after questioning, explains that Meursault "interested him," that "he would do something for me." The magistrate gets passionate and takes out a crucifix, attesting to God's willingness to forgive all crimes and asking Meursault whether he believes in God. When Meursault says he doesn't, the magistrate grows indignant, "screaming irrationally" that all men believe in God, and that to admit doubt would be to render his, the magistrate's, life meaningless. He shouts, "Do you want my life to be meaningless?"
The examining magistrate starts out wanting to "do something" for Meursault by converting him to Christianity, but he soon begins asking Meursault to do something for him: he needs Meursault to believe in God in order to protect the meaning of his own life. This meeting raises an issue that will come into play throughout the trial—Meursault's disinterest in the structures that give meaning to other people's lives are taken by others as a threat to them and to society. One might argue that Meursault has some form of Asperger's or autism, but that the society around him can't accept his difference because it requires everyone to believe in the traditional structures or meanings. This suggests a kind of nervousness within society—a secret mistrust of its own beliefs that it can't reveal even to itself.
Themes
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Meursault is unwavering and the magistrate tires, claiming never to have seen a criminal with "a soul hardened as yours." When asked whether he feels sorry about the murder, Meursault responds: "more than sorry I felt kind of annoyed." All subsequent meetings with the magistrate are civil, disinterested, and calm and Meursault, enjoying them, feels he is "'one of the family.'" The magistrate "cordially" calls him "Monsieur Antichrist."
The examining magistrate is disturbed by Meursault's unwavering indifference and rationalism but Meursault feels much more comfortable in the absence of passion –it's "civil" disinterest (rather than emotional intensity) that Meursault feels he can enjoy and relate to like "'one of the family.'"
Themes
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
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