The Stranger

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The Stranger Book 2, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As the trial continues the next day, Meursault reflects that "it's always interesting" to listen to people discuss you, even on trial, and, at his trial, "maybe more [was said] about me than about my crime." Still, he can see little difference between his lawyer's speech and the prosecutor's: the former proclaims guilt with an explanation while the latter proclaims guilt without one. They seem to argue the case without regard to Meursault's opinion, and he wants to interrupt to say something. But he realizes he has nothing to say, and he notes, too, that he "got bored very quickly" with the speeches, and tuned out.
Meursault's description of the difference between his lawyer's and the prosecutor's cases encapsulates what's at issue: meaning and intention. Though both sides agree Meursault shot and killed a man, they disagree about the meaning of that action – the prosecution insists it was intentional and evil (and that Meursault is himself evil); the defense insists it was unintentional and simply unlucky. Meursault, meanwhile, finds the attribution of any meaning at all to be pointless and boring, and barely pays attention.
Themes
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
The prosecutor attempts to show that Meursault's crime was "premeditated," relying on "the blinding clarity of the facts, and…the dim light cast by the mind of this criminal soul." He reminds the court of Meursault's "insensitivity" towards Maman and association with Raymond. Meursault finds his argument "plausible," and privately agrees he has no remorse. Yet he wishes he could explain to the prosecutor "cordially, almost affectionately" that he's never felt true remorse for anything.
The prosecutor claims to rest his case on the "clarity of the facts" – yet not only are his facts themselves unclear (since they're subjective opinions about Meursault's "insensitivity") their relevance to the case is also extremely murky. Meursault has never felt remorse for anything because he never sees meaning in anything; everything is just something that happened—how could he feel remorse for that?
Themes
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
The prosecutor talks about Meursault's soul, or lack thereof. He says it isn't Meursault's own fault he has no soul, but calls for "loftier…justice" over "tolerance" in this case in which "the emptiness of a man's heart becomes…an abyss threatening to swallow up society." The prosecutor connects Meursault's crime to the parricide being tried the next day. Both crimes sever their actor "from society in the same way." He proclaims that Meursault is not only "morally guilty of killing his mother," he "is also guilty of [parricide]." He asks for the death penalty.
The prosecutor is muddling multiple arenas of justice when he should be sticking strictly within the bounds of legal justice. His discussion of Meursault's soul introduces divine justice. His discussion of Meursault being "morally guilty" brings in ethical or moral justice. Of course, the prosecutor is just trying to get a conviction, and in contrast to Meursault he does understand people and how susceptible they are to a good story.
Themes
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Given a chance to add onto the prosecutor's speech, Meursault, dizzy in the heat, claims he'd "never intended to kill the Arab," then blunders on, saying he did it "because of the sun." The court laughs.
Again, Meursault's honest answer—once again driven by the heat, the symbol of the indifference of the world—holds no purchase in court, and entity whose entire purpose is to ascribe value and intention to actions, while Meursault can't comprehend that any actions have value or intention.
Themes
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
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Meursault's lawyer gives his summation, speaking in the first person as if he were Meursault. Meursault is surprised at this tactic, thinking it's a way to "exclude me even further from the case" but when he questions his lawyer he's told it's standard procedure. He finds his lawyer ridiculous, much less talented than the prosecutor. His lawyer also discusses Meursault's soul (though positively) but he doesn't mention the funeral, which Meursault finds "a glaring omission."
Meursault has professed to think people are interchangeable (and told Marie so to her face), yet he is uncomfortable when the principle is applied to himself. Meursault assesses the trial with personal indifference, noting the prosecutor is more talented without seeming to register the implications of that talent for his own life.
Themes
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
All the talk about his soul has given Meursault "the impression of a colorless swirling river that was making me dizzy." He focuses, instead, on the ice cream truck he can hear outside and recalls "the simplest and most lasting joys" of small, particular details. Overcome by the trial's "pointlessness," he wants to return to prison to sleep.
As usual, Meursault is more comfortable with physical than with mental or emotional experience. Others might call the sounds outside trivial, but Meursault finds them "lasting" and the trial "pointless."
Themes
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
The jury files out to determine the verdict. Meursault's lawyer is confident that Meursault won't be sentenced to death. After forty-five minutes, the jury returns and Meursault is brought in to hear the sentence passed. He is told "in bizarre language" that he will be decapitated "in the name of the French people." He sees "a look of consideration" on everyone's face. His mind is blank and he declines to speak when given a chance to.
Unacquainted with legal procedure, Meursault finds the formal rhetoric of the court sentence "bizarre." He sees the same look on everyone's faces – "a look of consideration" – but either does not recognize or cannot understand the feeling associated with that consideration.
Themes
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon